Do the New York Jets actually have to win it all within the next couple of years?
One of the most prevalent narratives around the New York Jets is that they are in win-now mode and that they only have a short championship window.
If they don’t land a star quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, or Lamar Jackson, the offseason will be viewed largely as a disappointment. And if the Jets don’t make playoffs in 2023, their entire coaching staff and front office will be at risk of being fired.
While the second point may be true, I don’t believe the Jets have a short championship window—if it’s even started yet.
After years of disappointment, general manager Joe Douglas has put together New York’s most talented roster in over a decade. While there are still holes to plug, this team would’ve made playoffs in 2022 with below-average quarterback play.
While the brutal finish of the season left doubts, the NFL Honors reminded fans that the Jets have legitimately great young players to build around.
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Jets’ Potential Championship Roster
After only having one All-Pro and two Pro Bowlers since 2015 (not including special teams), the Jets flipped the script with three All-Pros and four Pro Bowlers. Here is a list of the notable awards or recognition each player has received.
Defensive Tackle Quinnen Williams
- First Team All-Pro
- Seventh in Defensive Player of the Year voting (1 of 4 players with first-place vote)
- Pro Bowl Starter
Cornerback Sauce Gardner
- First Team All-Pro
- Eighth in Defensive Player of the Year voting
- Pro Bowl Starter
- Defensive Rookie of the Year
Wide Receiver Garrett Wilson
- Offensive Rookie of the Year
- Pro Bowl Alternate
Linebacker C.J. Mosley
- Second Team All-Pro
- Pro Bowl Starter
Cornerback D.J. Reed
- Pro Bowl Alternate
Special Teamer Justin Hardee
- Pro Bowl Starter
The Jets were one of only three teams with at least two first-team All-Pro players. The others were the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs.
On top of that, they were the third team ever to have both the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year. The last team to do so was the New Orleans Saints in 2017.
After missing the playoffs in each of the three seasons prior, the Saints had a historic 2017 draft where they added the following players:
- CB Marshon Lattimore (11th overall)
- RT Ryan Ramczyk (32nd overall)
- S Marcus Williams (42nd overall)
- RB Alvin Kamara (67th overall)
- LB Alex Anzalone (76th overall)
- DE Trey Hendrickson (103rd overall)
- DE Al-Quadin Muhammad (196th overall)
With the influx of talent, New Orleans would go on to win at least 10 games and their division for the next four seasons.
Unfortunately for the Saints, a brutal missed call in the 2018 NFC championship game ended their best season. After that, injuries and the regression of Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees prevented the team from ever making it past the divisional round.
Their situation brings us to my next point. The Jets are just starting their championship window and should opt for sustained success instead of a costly home run swing.
The cautionary tale of the New Orleans Saints
When the Saints won the OROY and DROY awards, they had one All-Pro in Cameron Jordan and Drew Brees was 38 years old.
They would make the playoffs from 2017 to 2020 but only made it past the divisional round once. The Saints restructured several contracts to extend their window but couldn’t make it all the way due to injuries and Drew Brees’ fading arm strength.
Now six years later, they are coming off their first losing season since 2016 and are searching for a quarterback while being $50 million over the cap. They went all in on their window with Brees but have overleveraged their team and now will need to make several tough cuts.
This is a situation the Jets seem to be trending toward.
The Jets players, owners, and front office haven’t been shy about their willingness to go all in for a star quarterback. With the coaching staff on the hot seat and a desperate fan base, the Jets are looking to make a splash to launch them back into contention.
The most popular name is Aaron Rodgers, who is only one year removed from back-to-back MVP seasons. He would make the Jets immediate Super Bowl contenders and should easily end the NFL’s longest active playoff drought.
However, there are rumors that the Green Bay Packers’ reported asking price is two first-round picks. Meanwhile, Rodgers is turning 39 with a sizable contract. At the cost it will take to get him, is the oldest quarterback in the NFL really the best option for the New York Jets?
While he’s likely the best option for 2023, the ramifications can cost the Jets for years after. Given his age, injuries, and the fact Rodgers has mulled retirement the last several years, there’s no guarantee he will be around past 2023.
Given the state of the Jets’ roster, they have too much young talent to go all in on a two to three-year rental.
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The Jets are just starting their championship window
With a core that is made up mostly of players who are in their prime or have yet to hit it, the Jets are built to have sustained success for a long time. Most of the Jets’ core pieces are 26-and-under and signed for at least two more seasons:
- CB D.J. Reed: 26 years old, signed through 2024
- DL John Franklin-Myers: 26 years old, signed through 2025
- DT Quinnen Williams: 25 years old, signed through 2023
- DE Bryce Huff: 24 years old, restricted free agent
- CB Michael Carter II: 23 years old, signed through 2024
- WR Elijah Moore: 22 years old, signed through 2024
- RB Breece Hall: 21 years old, signed through 2025
- OL Alijah Vera-Tucker: 23 years old, signed through 2024 (team option for 2025)
- CB Sauce Gardner: 22 years old, signed through 2025 (team option for 2026)
- WR Garrett Wilson: 22 years old, signed through 2025 (team option for 2026)
- DE Jermaine Johnson: 24 years old, signed through 2025 (team option for 2026)
The vast majority of the Jets’ key players will be on rookie contracts and still be under 25 years old in 2024. And while the Jets are undoubtedly a playoff team with a good quarterback, they still have several holes which make a Super Bowl run difficult.
While they obviously won’t be able to keep everyone in the future, Joe Douglas’ former team, the NFC champion Eagles, make it clear that the Jets can easily retain most of their stars for the long run.
In 2022, the Eagles had eight players who ranked among the top 13 highest-paid players at their position (by average annual value).
- A.J. Brown: 5th Highest Paid WR
- Dallas Goedert: 4th Highest Paid TE
- Lane Johnson: 3rd Highest Paid RT
- Jordan Mailata: 11th Highest Paid LT
- Jason Kelce: Highest Paid C
- Fletcher Cox: 10th Highest Paid DT
- Javon Hargrave: 13th Highest Paid DT
- Darius Slay: 8th Highest Paid CB
Through smart roster management, the Eagles were able to pay six of their drafted players and then traded and paid two more. On top of that, they have the 10th and 31st overall picks in the 2023 draft.
Part of the reason they could accomplish this is they had the patience to draft and develop Jalen Hurts. As a second-round pick, he only had a $1.6 million cap hit in 2022 despite playing at an MVP Level. Ideally, the Jets can follow suit by finding a young, cost-effective franchise quarterback before needing to pay players in 2025.
However, with Zach Wilson on the bench, the Jets will likely need to pay up for a veteran quarterback.
Still, it is possible for the Jets to acquire an expensive veteran and keep their core pieces around if they manage things correctly. The Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs showed this is possible.
Kansas City has been able to retain key players while allocating a large chunk of cap space to the quarterback position. Here is where the Chiefs’ stars ranked via cap hit for 2022:
- Patrick Mahomes: 2nd among QB
- Travis Kelce: 7th among TE
- Orlando Brown: 5th among LT
- Joe Thuney: 4th among LG
- Chris Jones: 1st among DT
- Frank Clark: 9th among EDGE
With this example, it’s clear the Jets could afford to pay a quarterback and still retain their young stars. However, the Chiefs also showed that you can’t keep everyone, losing Tyreek Hill in the 2022 offseason as the wide receiver demanded a record-setting contract. But the Chiefs were able to turn Hill into a valuable collection of draft picks.
For both teams, it’s clear you need to succeed in the draft to have sustained success. The Eagles have Hurts and several other key players on rookie contracts, which allows them to pay stars. Meanwhile, the Chiefs were able to offset Mahomes’ payday by finding quality players like Creed Humphrey, Nick Bolton, Trey Smith, and Juan Thornhill in the draft.
The Jets can win now and for years to come
General manager Joe Douglas has done a good job of rebuilding the Jets’ roster. His misses at quarterback and along the offensive line are hampering the team. But he’s also crafted the most talented Jets roster in over a decade.
Even the biggest Jets critic can tell the Jets are a quarterback away from the playoffs and could be a legitimate contender with a star. Fans and ownership are out of patience with the NFL’s longest active post-season drought and want to see immediate results in 2023.
The Jets should look into every option at quarterback to elevate the rest of the team. However, they shouldn’t sacrifice their future success to acquire one.
New York figures to have a good team for years to come. Unfortunately, it takes a good roster and quarterback to win the Super Bowl. While the Jets need to look for an upgrade via free agency or trade, they will eventually need to draft and develop a quarterback if they want sustained success.
Whatever the Jets do, it is quickly becoming playoffs or bust for the current Jets regime. But as they attempt to accomplish their short-term goal of making the playoffs, they cannot lose sight of the long-term picture.
I agree with the analysis that the Jets may have a long Super Bowl window. My primary concern is that, at some point, the Jets must draft a QB, a task they clearly suck at. They haven’t drafted a long term successful QB since Pennington in 2000. Since then the Jets have whiffed on Clemens, Sanchez, Smith, Petty, Hackenberg, Darnold, Morgan and Wilson. And those are the only ones I remember.
I don’t know whether it is the Scouting Dept., the GMs or someone else who is responsible for all these whiffs, but I question whether they are capable of identifying and drafting a quality QB. It certainly doesn’t help that all other QBs drafted in 2021 have outperformed Wilson. One NFL Network analyst described Joe Douglas as having a “mancrush” on Zach Wilson. He was blinded by potential upside and misjudged how “NFL ready” Wilson was.