Jets’ top executive Joe Douglas has decisions to make about underachieving draft picks
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas has shown that he can make tough calls. He understands the business of football and knows when to let go.
Following the 2022 season, though, that business savvy may be put to the test for the first time.
Until now, Douglas has systematically eradicated Mike Maccagnan‘s stamp from the roster. Only four of Maccagnan’s 34 picks remain, and three are not roster locks for this season (Chuma Edoga, Nathan Shepherd, and Trevon Wesco).
In the coming years, though, Douglas will need to ruthlessly evaluate his own picks. It may be difficult for him to give up on his investments. It’s much easier when they’re someone else’s sunk costs.
In the last couple of years, Douglas has shown that he knows when to let go. Rarely does a GM pull the plug with such a flourish, too.
Jamal Adams spent the better part of a year lamenting his contract situation. While Adams was a good player for the Jets, a safety is not a franchise cornerstone. The decision to trade Adams became easier when he chirped while his play showed clear coverage deficits. Getting two first-round picks and a third-rounder for Adams was quite the coup for the Jets’ GM.
In the 2020-21 offseason, there was a debate about whether the Jets should cut bait from Sam Darnold or try to build a roster around him. Douglas found a quarterback-needy team in the Panthers and happily swiped second-, fourth-, and sixth-round picks for the first-round bust.
Douglas also made lemonade out of lemons with the trade of Chris Herndon and a sixth-rounder for a fourth-round pick last August. It’s safe to say that general managers around the NFL could take a lesson or two from the former Eagles executive.
Although Maccagnan owns the 2019 draft, Douglas has a crucial decision to make about Quinnen Williams, the former No. 3 overall pick.
There has been some talk about if and when Williams will garner an extension and at what price. This led Quinnen to take to Twitter and call out reporters for lying (about what was unclear).
It is fair to call Williams something of a disappointment over his first three seasons. Hailed as perhaps the best prospect in the draft, he has been a good player, but not the difference-maker Maccagnan thought he was getting (rather like another Maccagnan pick named Williams whom Douglas traded away).
After appearing poised for a breakout in 2021 following an excellent 2020 season, Williams took a step back last year. He ranked as around the 15-20th best defensive tackle in most categories last year. Not bad, but not worthy of top-tier money.
The question becomes a lot murkier when it comes to Douglas’s own picks.
Considering how well Douglas’s first two picks with the Jets played in their rookie season, it is incredible that both have had trade or release talks swirling around them this offseason.
We do not need to rehash the Mekhi Becton situation here. Enough–too much–has been said and written about him over the last few months. Becton can dominate when in full form, but no one knows if that will happen.
How Douglas views Becton is somewhat of a mystery. Picking Sauce Gardner initially seemed to be a vote of confidence for the big guy, since Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal were right there. But the calls for Becton insurance have grown louder, and both Douglas and Robert Saleh have said nothing to quell those concerns.
Denzel Mims‘s situation needs even less introduction. Mims went from promising rookie to doghouse cut candidate so quickly that it gave fans whiplash. He played only a handful of games in 2021 and performed dismally, easily surpassed by Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, and Braxton Berrios. Even Jeff Smith was more trusted than Mims.
What is Mims’s future with the Jets? Can he lock up the WR5 or WR6 position and try to claw his way back into playing time? Saleh has gone out of his way to say that Mims is in the best shape of his life.
I suspect that the Jets are trying to pave the way to trade Mims for a late-round pick. The reasons that Saleh and Mike LaFleur did not like Mims remain: poor study habits, lack of versatility, and inability to play special teams.
Ashtyn Davis seems like a safer bet to make the roster, although he has perhaps been the least impressive of these three guys at the NFL level. At least Mims showed some potential in Year 1; Davis has been nothing but a disaster since he came into the league.
The Jets knew that he was a project coming out of college, but Davis has not improved his coverage, tackling, routes taken towards ball carriers and receivers, or his understanding of defense. He often looks lost out there. This season is his best shot to earn playing time, as the free safety position is up for grabs on the roster.
This decision may be somewhat easier for Douglas because Davis was a third-round pick. If Davis does not step it up in 2022, he will not be on the roster next season.
The biggest question mark so far, though, comes from the Jets’ 2021 class.
Not Elijah Moore – he looks like a bona fide star in the making. Alijah Vera-Tucker made the All-Rookie team in his first season, and despite pass-blocking struggles, he appears to be set on the Jets’ line for years to come.
Still, the Jets have put their faith in Wilson, surrounding him with potentially elite talent. As Pro Football Focus detailed, there is nowhere for Wilson to go but up. How far up will be the question.
Wilson enters his second year with every chance to succeed. He certainly has this season and next to prove that he can be the guy. The GM can take his time to make a full evaluation.
However, Douglas showed with Sam Darnold that he can make business decisions when he needs to. If Wilson does not fare better than Darnold, how long of a leash will Douglas give him? Will Wilson earn an extra season because he was Douglas’s own pick?
Hopefully for Douglas and the Jets, this will become a much more pleasant (though perhaps equally cold-blooded) conversation about a lucrative contract extension.