If the New York Jets fall short in their pursuit of a receiver, the current progress should not be forgotten
The 2021 NFL offseason was easy for the New York Jets, whose activities were guaranteed to be rewarded with a passing grade. The preceding two-win campaign sank the franchise to depths so low that anything short of contraction of the franchise would’ve been a step in the right direction – and even some of the more masochistic fans of Gang Green probably wouldn’t have fully ruled out the possibility, at the very least.
Assessing this ongoing offseason will require some overtime. It came after another year that featured only marginal improvement by conventional means (doubling the prior year’s win total only produced four victories) but nuggets of hope were buried in the carnage, not least of which was the late stabilizing of new franchise quarterback Zach Wilson‘s NFL infancy.
No quarterback is an island, so it was up to the Jets to make sure the right assets were acquired to continue the revolution.
The NFL’s most trusted insiders have hinted that the Jets are still trying to make big moves as the ink dries on last month’s free agency contracts. With Las Vegas’ draft still two-plus weeks away, gossip fuels this rare lull on the football calendar, one in which baseball’s return and postseasons on the basketball/hockey circuits struggle to make up for the pigskin’s absence.
The Tennessee Titans have done everything in their power to quell rumors around A.J. Brown but whispers around the fates of D.K. Metcalf and Deebo Samuel have reached deafening levels.
So desperate are we, the football-loving public, for content that Samuel’s Instagram cleanse of all things Bay Area has been designated headline news, even with the hit-or-miss nature of social media purges actually yielding any lasting developments.
Such chaos is music to the ears of the Jets and their supporters. Lacking a four-digit yardage receiver is unacceptable in the aerial-friendly antics of the modern NFL, but it has been the Jets’ reality since 2016.
New York is also simultaneously blessed and cursed with a wealth of draft day assets (four podium trips over Sin City’s opening 38) and a hint of desperation where both general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh could potentially be fighting for their jobs.
The Jets’ record since Douglas took over in the summer of 2019 is by no means entirely the fault of Douglas and Saleh, but the trends could frown upon them. The 13-36 mark over the last three years is third-worst in the NFL (besting only Detroit and Jacksonville) while the sophomore Saleh’s relative brevity is no failsafe, as nine NFL coaches (including his predecessor Adam Gase) have been fired before the completion of their third season over the past four years.
Adding an established big-play threat would not only provide further stability for the Wilson era, but even insert the team at the cusp of the AFC playoff picture, whose frame has denied the Jets for over a decade.
Of course, when one takes the green gridiron oath, they go to it under the assumption of disappointment. But in a time where even climbing to the “in the hunt” column on the networks’ NFL postseason chart is a challenge, the star-crossed franchise needs something, anything, to assure its fanbase that there’s a plan to make things right.
Alas, that’s where the Jets’ past comes to haunt them. It’s easy to blame our football-loving society that deems the simplest green error comedy gold, but it’s hard to truly fault big-play receivers, particularly ones who are seeking greener pastures to chase the Lombardi Trophies, for exploring options beyond Florham Park.
The Jets’ pursuit became a little more painful when newly minted Miami Dolphin Tyreek Hill not only escaped from their grip but rhetorically asked “who?” when queried about how close he came to donning green instead of aquamarine.
Mike Sando of The Athletic described the Jets as being in a “weird purgatory”, one lacking “a selling point to players right now” after Wilson’s roller-coaster rookie year.
Thus begs the question: if these latest rumors fall through, what can be said about the 2022 Jets’ roster?
Asking anyone from the draft class, save for maybe the incoming fourth overall choice, to partake in the team’s quest for visible progress (namely in the standings table) is placing unnecessary pressure on a new name. The amateur comedians will no doubt use the Jets’ potential failure for further fodder, and games featuring the names in question could be the Jets’ best chance at getting a nationally televised game (why else would the country eagerly anticipate a modern Jets-Dolphins game?).
But even if no further help is on its way, it’s hard to quarrel with what the Jets have done and the experienced team they’ve assembled to date.
Watering the postseason drought was, unfortunately, probably a never-realistic endgame of the Jets’ offseason. Crashing the AFC’s postseason party, packed with established contenders (this was a conference where a Los Angeles Chargers team averaging over four touchdowns a game missed the expanded playoffs, after all), would’ve required a massive spending spree, perhaps even a full-on team swap with one of the division winners, to assure any form of contention this fall.
Despite that, the Jets have accomplished modest, yet undoubtedly important, goals. They’ve undoubtedly gotten better by every metric that can be accurately assessed without watching a single down. Hill’s denial, as well as any future rejections from his high-yarage brethren, could also become a blessing in disguise in the sense that a future cap-crippling extension won’t follow.
On paper, many assets made their way to the metropolitan area. Wilson got back one of his favorite targets in Braxton Berrios (rectifying the relative sin of separating Robby Anderson from Sam Darnold) as well as a reliable veteran rusher in Tevin Coleman, a rare New Yorker who has partaken in a recent Super Bowl. Speaking of Super Bowls, the Jets brought in one of its most recent competitors, C.J. Uzomah, to start at tight end. Another, Laken Tomlinson, is set to block in the interior.
The influx of veteran talent to surround Wilson has been a perfect counter to the youthful revolt on defense, though the other side still managed to find some delightful presents under the offseason tree in the form of D.J. Reed and Jordan Whitehead (who will each likely have starting roles in the secondary) while Jacob Martin and Solomon Thomas have been added for experienced depth.
Even in the most ideal of offseason circumstances, one would have to be a dire fan and/or observer to detest what the Jets have done.
There’s always room for improvement, especially in New York. The Jets, frankly, shouldn’t rule themselves out of any move that can make their team better until they’re safely situated back in the AFC playoff bracket, the move that will officially signal their return to NFL relevancy.
But the Jets’ current progress shouldn’t be forgotten if rejection looms. What they’ve done could serve as a sizable, stable building block in turning Florham Park into a football destination.
Big-ticket free agents might avoid the New York area for a perceived lack of championship opportunities. One step more from the Jets and that excuse will lose further merit.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags