Joe Douglas and the New York Jets may have finally found a lucrative gambit where the reward outweighs the risk
Those who don’t wind up partaking in blockbuster projects are sometimes equally remembered as the architects themselves. The mere thought of Nicolas Cage playing Superman, for example, was enough to spawn a crowdfunded documentary.
Franchise fan-casting has perhaps been the one thing keeping New York Jets fans relatively sane over the past decade-plus. Several big-budget names have been attached to the Jets through gossip or legitimate interest. Most have eventually opted for greener pastures, ironically leaving Gang Green behind in the process.
The one successful lure cast to an NFL A-lister … $35 million bait grabbed by Le’Veon Bell … only set the team’s offense back several seasons.
Some of the relative snubs offered by the league’s finest (i.e. Tyreek Hill taking his talents to South Beach) have been blessings in disguise. Even the perfect offseason likely would’ve been offset by the prescience of Adam Gase, and a team plagued by lacks and deficiencies throughout the roster was in no luxurious position to bestow a massive long-term deal to a single big-name.
Such shortcomings have handicapped any real difference general manager Joe Douglas is trying to make in the Jets’ ledgers.
The trend is perfectly on display over the countdown to the 2022 NFL draft. There’s no doubt that Douglas’ offseason booty (which includes Super Bowl bricklayers like Laken Tomlinson, C.J. Uzomah, and Jordan Whitehead) makes the Jets a better team, but breaking into the AFC’s playoff penthouse still seems like a tall task.
That could change with the recent developments out of the Bay Area.
Deebo Samuel’s continued career in San Francisco was always going to be in doubt until his name appeared on a long-term contract offered by the 49ers. The volume of his calls to be moved has only been amplified as draft day approaches. None of the 263 names set to be called in Las Vegas will have the impact of an accomplished dual-threat like Samuel, he of a jaw-dropping 1,770 yards from scrimmage last season.
Needless to say, the first-team All-Pro and Super Bowl participant has drawn interest from a variety of suitors, including Gang Green.
There’s every reason for the pursuit of Samuel to be as futile as the chases for Hill, Davante Adams, Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, and others, as it, again, doesn’t take much research to notice that the Jets are far from the proverbial one move away from the Super Bowl. Moving away from the 49ers would get him out of the team’s quest to nurture 2021 quarterback draftee Trey Lance.
If something like that is going to scare Samuel away, he won’t want to come to a similar situation in New York, where a slightly more seasoned Zach Wilson is going through a similar process. If Samuel is truly serious about moving from a team that was a blown two-possession lead from going to the Super Bowl (and there’s no indication to say he’s not) he probably won’t be aching to go to a team trying to scrape it’s way back to the playoff bracket.
Losing Samuel to his own discretion is one thing. But Douglas can’t get outbid this time around. Even if Samuel doesn’t become the final piece of the Jets’ playoff puzzle, there’s no doubt he can make the Jets a better team both immediately and in the future.
Trading for Samuel would be Douglas’ most impactful move as general manager in terms of instant adjustments to the record. His blueprint brought in Wilson and head coach Robert Saleh, but it was clear from the get-go that each was meant to be a long-term project.
Douglas can preach patience and, indeed, more forbearance will be necessary on the part of Jets supporters. But adding a name like Samuel would show that Douglas is willing and able to go all-out in the Jets’ pursuit of new victories, an aggressive jolt that’s sorely been missing.
Football fortunes already frowned upon Douglas, who was forced into the awkward position of picking up the pieces of Gase’s post-draft war of attrition with the ousted Mike Maccagnan. Nearly three full years into his metropolitan tenure, any move that can be labeled a step forward on New York’s path back to the postseason can be quickly cast aside by the fact that the unlucky Jets have won only an appropriately macabre 13 games since he took over the team’s roster operations.
Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to New York football, but it’s also an endangered species whose eradication has been brought about by the sense of instant gratification social media has only exacerbated to unhealthy levels.
In a rare shift from gridiron tradition, the powers that be are finally looking upon Douglas and the Jets with favor. New York has several coaching connections to Samuel; even if Saleh’s Golden Gate duties centered on defense, Samuel previously worked with names like offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur and receivers overseer Miles Austin.
Furthermore, the Jets would provide a haven of sorts for Samuel and give him what he desires on a personal level. While much would be expected from Samuel if and when the Jets came calling, they’d fulfill his apparent request of laying off his rushing endeavors, which (according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport) serves as the bane of his San Francisco existence.
The Jets wouldn’t need to rely on Samuel for his dual-threat prowess. They are relatively deep behind Wilson with the emergence of the promising (yet developing) Michael Carter while the re-signed former Samuel teammate Tevin Coleman provides substance and complementary yardage alongside Ty Johnson (or, potentially, a mid-to-late round draft pick).
The Samuel situation draws parallels to a recent chapter of Jets history: the Jamal Adams saga written with a sense of relative tragedy though it’s on pace for a happy ending.
Such similarities are ironic and almost poetic. Samuel is under contract to a squad working through a possible transition and will likely cause as much of a public scene as he can to work his way out. If this narrative’s screenplay were to end with the Jets using the final unknown yield of the eventual Adams trade – the 10th overall pick obtained from the 49ers’ rivals from Seattle – it’d be rejected by the major studios for lacking subtlety.
It might take even less to put San Francisco out of its Samuel-induced misery. The Jets’ reported trade package for Hill didn’t include a first-rounder. While that bargaining chip is a crowd-pleaser in any war room (especially one that’s not scheduled to submit its first draft card to the commissioner until the 61st pick) it is something few, if any, other Samuel suitors will be able to offer.
Douglas’ patience and dedication to his blueprint can be admired. It’s one that’s produced several moral victories among the bearers of Gotham green who are no doubt desperate for any kind of conquest.
But if moral victories counted, the Jets and their 31 NFL brothers would be sharing slivers of the Vince Lombardi Trophy. There’s a plan to make things right, but by NFL standards, unreasonable and unfair as they could appear, things are taking too long.
Samuel could be Douglas and the Jets’ ticket out of both gridiron purgatory and hell. It’s understandable to see why such a ticket, previously labeled with different names, remains unpunched in the name of fulfilling his vision. But hesitation is a luxury Douglas can no longer afford.
Opportunity’s finally knocking. Douglas can’t be late to the door, lest he find himself walking out of it come January 2023.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags