For now, the New York Jets are in on the joke
Every comedian has their rite of passage moment, a tick where one truly earns the mic. Some, like a first heckler, are devastating yet indispensable. Others, such as the first drink from a veteran humorist, are downright euphoric.
The football comedian’s stand-up career … a profession most often paid purely in laughter and Twitter likes … doesn’t officially begin until they make a joke about the New York Jets. Gang Green is to football follies what noted metropolitan sports fan Adam Sandler is to movie studios: they’ll wrangle as many laughs as they can out of them, and even when the laughs aren’t there, they’ll try to make it happen anyway.
Unlike Happy Madison’s writers’ room penning another “Grown Ups” sequel, the authors of Jets-based comedy have no shortage of material when looking at the upcoming 2022-23 season. Only the most diabolical New England Patriots fan could have conjured a more sinister offseason for their tri-state area rivals.
Two of the Jets’ franchise faces are embroiled in shenanigans beyond the field. Zach Wilson‘s recent headlines appear more likely to land him on “TMZ” rather than “SportsCenter”, creating the horrifying situation of a tension-filled time-bomb around his vital second season under center.
At least the issue of franchise blocking foundation Mekhi Becton has a little to do with football … namely the fact he’s not playing it.
Becton’s shoulder pads and game jersey have gathered nearly a calendar year’s worth of dust and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight, as his Week 1 knee injury … sustained on the Jets’ first touchdown, proving that even the football gods have a macabre metropolitan sense of humor … has extended far beyond its initial four-to-six week sidelining.
Every metropolitan franchise quarterback has to pay the insane yet traditional “Jets Tax” at one point or another, but most at least make it past their sophomore season before they pay up. Wilson’s business is his business, of course, and his personal life isn’t exactly part of the criteria that creates a franchise quarterback. But tell that to his predecessor Sam Darnold, who became a literal meme thanks to the egregious crime of … getting sick.
Becton, on the other hand, is the unwilling headline of the Jets’ 2020 rookie class, one that hasn’t reached the truly depraved draft depths of the group from four years prior, but it’s certainly not pretty. Head coach Robert Saleh appears to be under the impression that Becton is ready to go but that didn’t stop the team from placing the blocker on the PUP list as players start to descend on Florham Park. The fact that Becton was chosen ahead of elite receiving talents (i.e. Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb) isn’t helping his case.
And yet, in perhaps the biggest green upset since Rex Ryan’s smashmouth bunch waltzed into Foxboro for a Divisional round and lived to tell the tale, the focus is on football.
The focus is on hope, and not the sugarcoated, artificial, light in the tunnel that is actually a speeding train of optimism that’s accompanied events like the team’s new uniform reveal or the signing of Le’Veon Bell. Rather, this hope comes from a smart offseason seasoned by the strokes of healthy reckless abandon, a tempered yet substantial declaration that enough was enough when it came to the franchise’s dire status, one working on 11 consecutive playoff-free seasons.
Move over, George. It’s The Summer of Joe.
One can say and has said a lot about Joe Douglas‘ time as the New York Jets general manager as he wraps his third offseason in charge. The lack of wins is damning … only lowly Jacksonville has fewer wins over the last two seasons … but one can never say that Douglas is lazy. His first actions in office, for example, were to address an offensive line long neglected by Mike Maccagnan. The additions of Alex Lewis and Ryan Kalil proved futile in the grand franchise picture but at least hinted at Douglas’ initiative and proactivity.
Douglas’ balanced aggressiveness and ability to push the limits of what a four-win team can accomplish in a single offseason is exactly why Jets fans aren’t dreading September like a kid about to trade days in the pool for days at school. His plan is one that places Wilson and Becton’s respective, relative calamities where they should be: at the bottom of the depth chart of metropolitan headlines.
The Becton dilemma is one offset by careful, calculated planning from Douglas on the offensive line. Things have been far from perfect … Greg Van Roten’s happy New York ending was not to be … but Douglas has amassed enough blocking firepower where Becton can take his time to recover. If the situation truly boils down to a “he said/he said” situation, the protection will be able to hold its own.
Gambits from the Pacific Northwest, namely the signing of George Fant and the trade of Jamal Adams, put the Jets in the right direction. Fant (who, admittedly, could be the subject of financial quandaries later) rose up to post the best season of his career in Becton’s absence while a pick garnered from the Adams deal eventually yielded interior threat Alijah Vera-Tucker. The revolution continued this offseason, with Saleh and Mike LaFleur‘s former San Francisco compatriot Laken Tomlinson joining the fold.
Wilson has likewise been granted an arsenal that he’ll either likely oversee or surrender by the end of the year. Frankly, as long as he stays healthy and/or out of jail, the Jets don’t care about Wilson’s personal life. Who knows how much Joe Namath’s reputation might’ve suffered had he played in the Twitter era, but his pregame visits to the Miami Touchdown Club were forgotten by the second quarter of his Super Bowl shining moment.
Wilson can duplicate the feat if he carries on with the positive momentum built at the end of last season. He will begin this campaign on an active streak of 162 consecutive passes without an interception and that was before he was working with the unrelated Garrett Wilson, the product of the Jets’ highest draft expense since Keyshawn Johnson arrived in 1996’s top slot.
Gone are Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole … serviceable options elsewhere that were masqueraded as No. 1 targets in New York. Expected full seasons from both Elijah Moore and Corey Davis sit in their place.
Douglas and Co. also eliminated the large issues from the Darnold era. Continuity and comfort reign with the retention of Braxton Berrios while the tight end spot has been packed with potential touchdown vultures like C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin, and Jeremy Ruckert. In perhaps his loudest and boldest declaration, Douglas used a valuable second-round choice and even moved up two spots with the Jets’ roommates to select Breece Hall, the consensus top running back in the 2022 draft.
The message to Wilson is simple: have fun. Stay out of trouble. But you’d better perform. If Wilson flourishes, he becomes Rob Gronkowski – his supposed antics face responses of “Oh, Zach!” as long as he shows up to work on Sunday. Falter, and he becomes Johnny Manziel, whose party-hard antics were surpassed only by his shortcomings on game day.
Time will tell if Douglas’ maneuvers are enough to preserve his metropolitan future. Trigger fingers of NFL decision-makers are quicker than ever and Douglas knows that concept better than anyone else (bailing on both Darnold and head coach Adam Gase after two seasons).
Spring/summer championships are fun, but unless it’s the NHL/NBA/local Wiffle Ball league title, there’s no trophy at the end, no way to remember.
Should the Jets fail to capitalize on the offseason momentum (the playoffs might still be a pipe dream, but lingering in the “In the Hunt” column come December is non-negotiable), they’ll be starting the process all over again. Both Becton and Wilson will become the unwilling star attractions of another football farce produced by Douglas.
Time will tell how NFL history views Douglas’ time as a general manager. The way things are going, the tide is slowly moving toward a gridiron architect … rather than a pigskin punchline.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags