The New York Jets undoubtedly rank among 2022’s winners. Now comes the hard part.
It says a lot about the modern New York Jets that their greatest win comes without a single snap played, even one of the training camp or preseason variety.
That, rightfully, won’t rain on the parade of the team’s beleaguered supporters.
The NFL draft’s metamorphosis from a quiet spring weekend into a 24/7, 365-day behemoth has made the ludicrous notion of instantly attaching grades to college kids nabbed by NFL teams a mainstream phenomenon. If it’s going to be part of the culture the football-loving public has established, Jets fans might as well bask in the spotlight.
After all, even the most ardent Jets denier, part of the endless legions of football comedians that use their simplest flaw for endless laughs, couldn’t quarrel with what the Jets were able to accomplish in Sin City. Their first three selections (Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Jermaine Johnson) were all, at the very least, in the discussion for being the top name in their respective position groups.
According to Jets general manager Joe Douglas, all three rookies appeared in the top eight of their draft board in Florham Park.
Even the timing of each pick was pulled off well. Some felt that Johnson, his stock primarily sustained by a single dominant season at Florida State, would’ve been a reach in the top 15, but a trade with the Tennessee Titans allowed the Jets to be patient, welcoming in the “Last Chance U” star at 26th overall to cap off night one.
True to Vegas form, a few wins at the opening round’s table had the Jets making a bold play in the early stages of Friday’s session, moving up two slots to select Iowa State rushing standout Breece Hall.
It’s fair to question whether that was the right move – especially with Michael Carter flashing potential and the current defense still leaving a bit to be desired – but the Jets added the widely accepted top running back in the draft without using their beloved and valued first-round capital.
In their revelry, Jets fans might, in fact, want to take a brief moment to pause and ask themselves: are things going a little too well? Things rarely, if ever, go this swimmingly for the New York Jets. This is a team where even touchdowns end in disaster, as their first score of the 2021 campaign was accompanied by a season-ending injury to blocking anchor Mekhi Becton.
But, even with the caveats of a cautionary tale lingering, there’s something different about the 2022 draft job that general manager Joe Douglas just wrapped up in Vegas: sustainability and cleverness.
Those qualities have created a potential new issue in Jets Nation: “happy problems”, coined by Douglas when asked if keeping all the incoming weaponry would be an issue down the road. Saleh countered by hinting at “champagne problems”.
“If all these recent first round picks, first, second, third round picks hit and we’re having to make some contract decisions or pay these guys, it’s not going to be a hard thing,” Douglas said, per notes from the team. “We’ll be happy to do it and have homegrown guys.”
If offseason wins counted toward the standings, Douglas would be inches away from the Super Bowl. His metropolitan path has been paved with the right intentions, which include taking a full-on responsibility for the team’s immediate destiny via the hires of Zach Wilson and Robert Saleh to the respective franchise quarterback and head coaching roles.
Douglas’ willingness to foster a blocking force (one that continued in the draft’s final day through Max Mitchell‘s arrival in the Jets’ penultimate pick) has been pure refreshment compared to the negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. The fact that Douglas was able to turn franchise false prophets like Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold into the picks that respectively landed Wilson and Hall has also worked in his favor.
This draft might as well be the equivalent of an offseason Lombardi Trophy hoist. Unanimous acclaim has followed Douglas’ deals.
There’s also something to be said about Douglas taking on the role of a farmer of sorts, eager to build the Jets’ success through local, homegrown talent. New York, for example, hasn’t had a drafted receiver reach 1,000 yards since Jerricho Cotchery in 2007. There’s no better time to end that dubious streak with Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore in tow.
But now comes the hard part: winning. It’s great to win in the spring, but the Jets aren’t the New Jersey Generals. Autumn wins are the only way this franchise can move forward.
Douglas’ latest draft instilled hope into a franchise that needed it more than any of their 31 brothers. But while optimism arrived, excuses were eliminated.
Gridiron hope is saddled with the burden of expectations, ones that are firmly attached to the Jets’ face of the franchise triumvirate of Douglas, Saleh, and Zach Wilson. Four wins and taking Tom Brady’s Buccaneers to the brink isn’t cute anymore. Improvement must now present itself in the standings column.
Sure, it still might be a tad too much to ask the Jets to break into the AFC’s playoff bracket (a long stay in the “In the Hunt” column comes Christmas time shouldn’t be an issue). That’s too much pressure to immediately place on a bunch of NFL freshmen, talented as they may be.
But Douglas is confident that building through the draft is the way to assure that the Jets will not only be able to post competitive efforts this fall but in the future as well. He and the Jets, after all, would likely give their respective left arms for their team’s biggest issue to be finding a way to keep three talented players after a four or five-year run of prosperity.
“I feel fortunate that we were able to get three players that we feel can really help this team now moving forward,” Douglas said of the first round, per team notes.
“I feel like all three of these guys can help Zach in different ways whether it’s helping him on the field on offense or getting the ball back to him as quick as possible…There were a lot of discussions that happened over the last couple of weeks. We felt at the end of the day this was the right path for our franchise and the right direction for our club moving forward. Feel good about the three players we added.”
At the very least, the Jets should play with the idea that if they like the path that Douglas has laid out for them (and, so far, there’s little reason to be against it), they’re playing for his job. If anything, the potential sustainability brought about by appearing on the draft board four times is set to establish an element long-lost in Jets history: continuity.
Never mind the constant turnover (both in name and in interceptions) at the franchise quarterback spot. The Jets’ longest-tenured member is their long snapper Thomas Hennessy, whose longevity should be appreciated though acknowledged by the fact the other, non-fourth down slots should likewise enjoy such reliability. Its absence has denied the Jets the ability to build a culture, thus only creating one defined by losing.
This draft has officially helped Douglas seal his destiny. Time will tell if, like Michael Scott before him, it was done in a good way.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags