Robert Saleh, Aaron Rodgers, New York Jets, Trade Rumors
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The New York Jets still have a philosophical choice to make regarding their team direction

The worst nightmare of many New York Jets fans has come true: Derek Carr is off the quarterback market.

However, those fans who were all-in on Carr were assessing a very important opportunity cost. Carr would have represented stability at a position where the Jets haven’t had any in decades. His ceiling is right about the 10th-best quarterback in the league, which Gang Green hasn’t touched since flashes in the pan by Vinny Testaverde and Chad Pennington.

They were giving up, though, on the ability to grab the brass ring and reach for a championship.

Stability and playoff contention or a 1-2 year window at the Super Bowl? There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to this question, but it’s important to have a philosophy on the matter. As a fan, obviously, it will determine the direction one thinks the team should take.

More critically, though, a team’s front office, including its general manager, head coach, and owner (if he’s meddlesome), must be on the same page regarding their philosophy and subsequent actions.

By letting Carr go off the board, the Jets have made their choice in more ways than one. They conceded that they’d prefer the Plan A of Aaron Rodgers and Plan B of Jimmy Garoppolo over Plan A of Derek Carr and Plan B of Aaron Rodgers.

That in and of itself shows how committed they were to the window of opportunity over a period of stability.

Each year in the NFL, various teams make one choice or the other. They also make other decisions that ultimately come down to a year-in and year-out philosophy of a team’s NFL goals.

What constitutes success and failure in football?

Championship or bust

For some teams and fans, each year is all about getting to the top of the mountain. Anything less than that is a failure. That calls to mind the Patriots under Bill Belichick and some of the other NFL dynasties. However, rarely can a team truly call that a goal.

All things being equal, the chances of any one team winning the Super Bowl in any given year is 3.125%. Is success relegated to that narrow definition, and 31 other teams are failures every season?

That being said, in any one season, there are going to be teams that are all-in. A team with an aging star quarterback or a star signal-caller on a rookie contract is dealing with a ticking clock. As such, there is an urgency to their play and goals that may not exist for other teams. The same can be said for teams that have stretched the limits of the salary cap to make an all-out run for a ring.

The 2020 Buccaneers and 2021 Rams are recent shining success stories for this kind of approach. However, for every one of those, we’ve seen miserable failures. Most recently, the Broncos, Browns, Raiders, and Dolphins went all-in on 2022 and saw it backfire to varying degrees. All of those teams have major question marks heading into 2023.

The post-Andrew Luck Colts tried to get there for five consecutive seasons, only to see their window slam shut.

Then you had teams who tried to do both—go all-in and prepare for the future. The result was the wasting of Aaron Rodgers’s vintage years when they needed just a few more pieces on each side of the ball. Instead, the team stubbornly refused to acquire another receiver and left their defense short.

Now, they’ll see what happens with Jordan Love, but they could end up short on both sides of the equation: without a title or a realistic path forward.

Competitive but lacking

After those all-in teams, you have a cadre of teams who tend to be competitive year after year but can’t get over the hump. Usually, those are the teams with the Carr-tier quarterbacks: the passers who are good enough to make the playoffs and even possibly get close to the Super Bowl but usually can’t win it all.

To truly compete for a title, they’d have to switch to the all-in tier and really acquire those high-level weapons, but they choose stability while usually pretending that they’re going all-in.

A classic example is the Dallas Cowboys of nearly the past two decades. They’ve gone from top 10 quarterback to top 10 quarterback and won a grand total of three playoff games. Their offensive line is still perennially one of the best in football, they usually have a really good running game, and they often feature an elite receiver and tight end, but it doesn’t get them anywhere. Their defense is usually one year on, one year off.

Jerry Jones recently encapsulated this “competitive but not championship material” philosophy when he stated that it’s difficult to build an elite supporting cast when the quarterback is eating up such a large chunk of the salary cap.

While true from a technical standpoint, teams that are truly all-in find a way to pay the QB and also get the weapons. This approach is simply not sustainable past a year or two.

Another team that has run into this issue is the Minnesota Vikings. Kirk Cousins was supposed to be the missing piece for them to win a ring. Instead, they’ve vacillated between competitiveness and mediocrity but have been unable to get over the hump. Cousins has good weapons, but they’re not good enough to propel him to a ring, especially with one of the league’s worst defenses.

Even the New Orleans Saints under Drew Brees fell into this category to a certain extent. As much as Mickey Loomis started his cap gymnastics in Brees’s later years and brought in some nice pieces, they rarely loaded up the offense with that extra weapon. They’d often have an elite skill position player, but the rest of the roster were fillers. They never went truly all-in, which is technically why they can still afford to play the restructure game now.

Signing Carr was a perfect continuation of the Saints’ philosophy under Brees. They’ll keep being competitive, keep being the favorites in their division, and maybe even win a playoff game—but they won’t go further than that. Rinse and repeat for the next two to three years, likely.

This is where the Jets would likely have fallen had they signed Carr. Many Jets fans would’ve been thrilled with that. This franchise that is about to claim the longest current playoff drought in sports is desperate for postseason football.

However, remembering the Mark Sanchez days with fondness is an “SOJ” mentality of sorts. The 2009-10 Jets’ losses in the AFC Championship Game were so devastating precisely because they were the absolute miracle ceiling of a team that really wasn’t good enough to get there. You’d have to go back to 1998 to find a Jets team that was truly where they belonged.

In fact, in the entire history of the franchise, it might have been only the 1982 Jets who lost a playoff game that they by rights could have and should have won based on team composition—and, unsurprisingly, that team was taken down by quarterback play (albeit due to shenanigans from the opposing head coach).

Truly mediocre

There are also a whole host of NFL teams who go back and forth between seven and nine wins almost on a regular basis. Jeff Fisher is the perennial joke for this. Andy Dalton represents the mediocrity line (although his regular-season records with the Bengals were actually often better than nine wins). Bill Belichick’s post-Brady world is likely relegated to this fate.

Some fans are okay with dead mediocrity, but it’s really the purgatory of the NFL. Being good enough never to be able to draft a possible franchise quarterback is what consigns teams to more mediocrity. The Giants are currently grappling with this, as failing to tank properly now faces them with the prospect of committing big money to a quarterback whose ceiling likely is a whole lot of mediocrity.

The 2011, 2013, and 2019 Jets know what this looks like. It’s what kept Adam Gase from being a one-and-done coach. It’s why they fired Mike Tannenbaum but retained Rex Ryan, thinking that somehow an accountant who knew no football would elevate them above mediocrity.

And this is what the 2023 Jets will likely look like if they obtain a quarterback other than Aaron Rodgers.

It’s easy to think that the 2022 Jets were a mediocre quarterback away from 10-11 wins, but someone looking without green-colored glasses will recognize that those kinds of victories will not repeat themselves next season. The Jets are unlikely to face six backup quarterbacks, and their defense will probably slip at least a bit.

Mediocre QB play will bring the Jets to about nine wins in the same way it brings most teams there. So advocating for Jimmy Garoppolo is advocating for mediocrity, while clamoring for Jacoby Brissett, Baker Mayfield, and Mike White is looking for about the same or possibly worse.

Tank cities

The rest of the league is made up of teams who stink. If you stink in the NFL, you hope that at least you can draft your franchise quarterback. If it hits, you’re golden – the next perennial contender, a la the Cincinnati Bengals. If it whiffs, you’re stuck in Jets land. Still, the upside of a franchise quarterback is high enough that it’s worth tanking (without calling it that) for the opportunity to turn the team around rapidly rather than cycling through mediocrity.

This year’s Colts and Panthers would be wise to note that. Having bottomed out in 2022 is likely the best thing that could have happened to Indianapolis after years of trying to get back to Luck territory with has-beens at the helm. They’d be incredibly foolish to pass up the chance. Carolina is the same way; you’d think Frank Reich would’ve learned his lesson in Indy and not even dabbled with Carr.

State of the Jets

Honestly, if the Jets can’t get Rodgers, it may be wiser for their franchise to trade up and try for another swing at the fences, especially if C.J. Stroud somehow drops a few spots. Otherwise, they are likely bridging to nowhere.

However, a fan’s willingness to say that depends on their threshold for mediocrity. It’s difficult not to crave respectability after the last decade-plus that the Gang Green faithful have endured. Still, is years of dead average really respectable in the league? It’s a question that Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh must ask themselves, although their job security likely makes the answer more biased.

The financial realities in the NFL create more parity than ever. Tom Brady called it “a whole lot of bad football” during the season. If the Jets agree with that assessment of mediocrity, they should be all-in on getting over the hump and out of the cycle.

Right now, the Jets’ philosophy seems to dovetail with that swing for the fences. But if Rodgers is not available, what Douglas does next will indicate just where his threshold for mediocrity is—and that could still determine the next number of years of Jets football.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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6 months ago

This is a great article.

I have come around to seeing how Rodgers could be successful for us w/o killing the young core’s future. Of course, much depends on the financials and draft assets given.
For everyone out there screaming “SOJ” and citing Farve as an abject failure, that’s not how I remember it. There was definitely a dance w/ glory, albeit short-lived.

This is my only bone of contention w/ the article: “By letting Carr go off the board, the Jets have made their choice in more ways than one.”

How can you state that the Jets chose to let Carr go? It seems to me he did a classic whipsaw negotiation w/ the Saints, using us as the cudgel. Also being an Islander fan I constantly hear fans say that mngmt “failed” when a FA goes somewhere else. This, to me, is unfair. Many ppl thought Carr preferred NO all along, and w/o knowing the dirty details we will never know how it shook out exactly.

Jim G
Jim G
6 months ago

You have broken down the teams and categorized them very well. I only want to make 2 points.

In the Aaron Rodgers vs. Lamar Jackson debate, I am leaning toward Jackson. When teamed with Breece, the Jets could have the best ball control team in the league. I also have concerns about Rodgers getting killed behind the O line, which they will likely not have the resources to fix if they sign Rodgers or Jackson.

The Cowboys are a unique case, simply because the GM keeps making the same mistakes and won’t fire himself. Think about it, what team gives their GM 27 years to win a Super Bowl? Jones keeps resigning his drafted talent and overpaying them thinking that if he keeps them and they win a Super Bowl it will prove his wisdom in drafting the player in the first place. Each season he makes a trade or a late signing thinking his team was one player away and he just found the missing piece. The next offseason he starts looking for the next final piece.

Charlie Winner
Charlie Winner
6 months ago

I disagree in some respects. Carr would have been the best choice for the Jets. Of course, now he’s gone, so the subject is now moot. Carr would have given above average QB play until the Jets could move to get a franchise QB in the draft with a 4 or 5 year window.

Rogers gives us possibly 2 years to find his replacement, and this year’s draft doesn’t show that QB to give immediate results who could learn for 2 years and produce. Future drafts are a crapshoot and could result in a Sanchez, Darnold, or Wilson being forced much too early into a starting role.

At any rate, given the QB’s who are free agents, we are probably mired again in mediocrity for the long haul. The best Aaron can give us is one expensive, do or die, year with the future in great doubt.

Jim G
Jim G
6 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Good point.

Matt Galemmo
Matt Galemmo
6 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

2023-24 are the last years where it’s realistic to take a swing.”

Ahhh, if this is true then I’m wrong below, and you’re the math teacher so I’m probably going to be proven wrong. But with rookie contracts and 5th year options and such, can’t this team be together longer than that?

I’m looking for another strong draft, patience at quarterback, and all-in coming a little later than that.

Dean Britton
Dean Britton
6 months ago

This is a tremendous article – I think a number of teams recently have identified the strategy of “porpoising” up and down, because the Steelers/Niners/Ravens/Cowboys approach of believing you can win a championship every year isn’t available to anyone other than the Chiefs, who have the best QB on what is (in hindsight) a reasonable contract. It’s a strategy that worked for the Pats as well, but every other team needs to porpoise up to grab a ring, even if that means a Tampa/Rams fall back to the depths.

I want a championship before I die. Go get Rodgers!

Matt Galemmo
Matt Galemmo
6 months ago

Good franchises understand the success cycle and their place in it, and if the Jets give away this core for one year of Aaron Rodgers then I am confident they’re the SOJ. This team is not so close that they compete for a Superbowl this year, but their core is very good and has a long runway. Rodgers is available at the wrong time, and the Jets shouldn’t even be thinking about if his terms threaten the rest of the roster.

The timing is just off, nevermind anything else. Going all-in for 2023 is not the right move for this team. I’d rather they go all-in for a rookie QB that can lead them in 24 or 25, as that timing lines up better.

Matt Galemmo
Matt Galemmo
6 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

I didn’t say “nowhere close,” I wrote “not so close.” I agree they’re kind of close, but they do have 8+ starting spots on offensive and defense to fill with no cap space, so I don’t think the idea of them being a quarterback away is realistic.

I did think Rodgers’ 24 cap hit was a LOT higher than 32.5mm, so that certainly changes things…

So here’s the main thing re: the success cycle: 2023 is just not a good bet; there are still a lot of holes to fill and not a lot of resources to fill them, I have to admit 2024 shapes up better than I realized provided more strong draft performances and Rodgers still plays at a high level, but you can pick up options on this core and have 2025 and 2026 too. If you bring in Rodgers, you’re literally punting on those seasons, right?

To me, the timing here screams find a developmental guy and have him ready for ’24-’26. That might mean going all-in…in the draft…this year.