The level of weekly offensive futility demonstrated by the New York Jets is historically bad, and one person is behind it
My one and only foray into a New York Jets game came on October 28, 2007. You read that right: I’ve gone to only one Jets game in my life despite always being within driving distance of the stadium.
The reasons for that are manifold, but it comes down to this: the game was so horrendous, the experience so miserable, that I was turned off ever attending another game. The Jets lost to the Bills, 13-3, in a game that I’ve always described as a worse display of offensive football than my 10- and 6-year-old brothers could have put on the field. Chad Pennington threw two interceptions before being benched for Kellen Clemens, who promptly threw another two.
The worst part of it was that in 2007, the Jets were supposed to be something. It was the season following their surprising 10-6 run to a wild card berth on the back of an unexpectedly competent offense, headlined by the connection between Pennington and receivers Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. Instead, not only did the team regress, but it went completely back into the black hole of the 4-12 debacle of 2005 that sent Herman Edwards packing for Kansas City.
I’m sure you can see where this is heading. This Jets team reminds me of the nightmares of that one woeful Giants Stadium outing — except it’s even worse. Sure, that team was coming off a playoff berth, while this 2023 unit missed the dance a season ago. Still, a more astute analyst likely viewed that 2006 unit as an aberration born of an easy schedule and some tight victories. This squad, on the other hand, was supposed to be on the ascent.
How did we get here?
By the numbers
Heading into the game against the Raiders, the Jets’ 22% third-down conversion rate was on pace to be the worst single-season mark since at least 1978 (when the statistic was first tracked). After going 7-for-16 in the game, a whopping 43.8%, they’re now at 25% for the season. That would be the second-worst mark since 1978, topped only by the 2005 San Francisco 49ers — a team that had the No. 1 overall pick before the season.
The Jets’ 22.7% red zone touchdown conversion rate is also slated to be the lowest since 1978. In the last 20 seasons, there has not been another team below 27%, and in several seasons, the last-ranked team exceeded 40% — nearly double where the Jets are now.
Incredibly, the Jets have not scored an offensive touchdown in their last 35 drives. The previous one was Breece Hall’s 50-yard catch-and-run against the Giants at the beginning of the second quarter.
Surprisingly, the Jets rank 30th, not 32nd, in offensive DVOA at -24.4%. Still, that is over 10% worse than their mark in 2022 and even manages to be worse than their 2020 low (-20.4%).
It’s hard to fathom how an offense featuring Breece Hall and Garrett Wilson could be worse than one led by Frank Gore and Jamison Crowder. That speaks to the level of decay in all the other aspects of the offense — and the story is ugly. Again, how did this happen?
The Jets’ offense showed signs of significant flaws before the season started, even with Aaron Rodgers under center. None were more prominent than the offensive line. The futility was the talk of the offseason, vaulted onto a national stage on Hard Knocks.
All these issues are traceable to multiple failures going back to the beginning of Joe Douglas‘ tenure as the Jets’ general manager. The former offensive lineman committed to building the trenches, but he failed miserably on the offensive side of the ball. Throwing resources at a problem haphazardly is a recipe for failure.
Douglas has experienced multiple failures of talent evaluation along the offensive line, specifically with Greg Van Roten and Laken Tomlinson. Tomlinson was not only a failure of evaluation, but also a massive overpay when there were other quality options on the market (James Daniels and Austin Corbett, for example, both of whom received significantly less money).
In general, Douglas has shown a willingness to commit to players without much of a track record of success, such as Van Roten, George Fant, Alex Lewis, Dan Feeney, Wes Schweitzer, and Billy Turner. Once again, there were often better options at a cheaper price.
Additionally, giving contracts to players with significant injury concerns is a long-standing problem. Fant, Lewis, and Duane Brown are just some of the examples.
In the draft, Douglas has made several puzzling moves surrounding the offensive line. Taking Mekhi Becton in 2020 was a gamble considering his size and reported weight struggles in college. Trading up for Alijah Vera-Tucker looks significantly worse now that Vera-Tucker has gone down with injuries in back-to-back seasons. Despite how well Vera-Tucker has played when on the field, trading up for an interior offensive lineman is one of the big no-nos of modern-day drafting.
In the 2022-23 drafts, Douglas has continued his strange wheeling and dealing. Despite having a pair of tackles coming off surgery in Fant and Becton, his lone investment in the position during the 2022 draft was fourth-round pick Max Mitchell, a developmental prospect. This was after he stood pat at tackle during free agency.
In 2023, despite desperately needing a tackle, he swapped first-round picks with the Packers in the Rodgers deal. That allowed tackle Broderick Jones to slip through his fingers. In the end, his only pick at the position was fourth-rounder Carter Warren, who is nowhere near NFL-ready. Additionally, taking center Joe Tippmann over consensus top prospect John Michael Schmitz and then relegating Tippmann to the bench was a strange move for a win-now team.
In Douglas’ first offseason as Jets general manager, he overpaid for Connor McGovern, Van Roten, and Fant and took a risk in re-signing Lewis. The only move that worked out for that season was McGovern, and his contract was certainly an overpay in hindsight as well as foresight. Fant had one strong season but received way too much money for what he provided, and his prior injury history bore out in New York. Drafting Becton was an added gamble that has not given the Jets their desired return on investment.
The move up for Vera-Tucker will continue to be the subject of debate. He has All-Pro potential but has yet to truly meet it over a full season. His injuries call into question whether to pick up his fifth-year option. As unpredictable as that was, the injuries make the trade look worse than if the pick had been a top wide receiver who then got injured.
The 2022 offseason is really where Douglas shaped the offensive line disasters of the past two seasons. Despite Becton’s six-week recovery timetable that had turned into an entire offseason, Douglas was content with Becton and Fant as his starting tackles. He did not even have a swing tackle on the roster beyond the developmental Mitchell when training camp began.
Predictably (to everyone but Douglas), Becton went down early in training camp. This forced the Jets to overpay Brown and commit to a two-year deal. That cemented many of the issues we’ve seen this season.
The other issue that has burned the Jets’ offensive line is Tomlinson. He was supposed to be a Pro Bowl-level player but has performed like a bottom-tier guard for most of his time with the Jets. He has pockets of competence but far more unfathomable lapses.
Joe Blewett indicated that Tomlinson’s struggles were apparent on his San Francisco tape. The Jets clearly did not note them, which is a talent evaluation failure. It will likely set back the offensive line for three years (since his contract restructure makes him very difficult to release).
The Jets also dealt with many other offensive line issues, especially injuries to Fant, Vera-Tucker, Mitchell, and Cedric Ogbuehi. But the real issue was the lack of a contingency plan for injury from before training camp.
Heading into the 2023 offseason, we at Jet X were adamant that Douglas needed to revamp the offensive line. From the moment Becton went down in 2022 training camp, we said that Douglas could not rely on Becton’s presence at all in 2023.
We also opined that Brown could not be relied upon to start and should be relegated to the swing tackle role, while Mitchell had not shown he was of a starting caliber, either. I wrote that the Jets needed two new starting tackles during the offseason, as well as a starting center.
Douglas did not fix any of these issues. He relied upon Brown to be the starting left tackle despite offseason rotator cuff surgery. He left the right tackle position as is and admitted later that the competition was meant to be between Mitchell and Turner, a Rodgers crony whose play Blewett called the worst he’s ever seen.
The fact that the Jets came into a Super Bowl-or-bust season with a tackle quintet of Brown, Becton, Turner, Mitchell, and Warren is perhaps one of the biggest operational failures of any general manager. Tackle is generally acknowledged to be one of the most important offensive positions in the NFL. It was essential to protect a 40-year-old passer with a rock-solid front five. Instead, Douglas rested on his laurels.
As New York Mets owner Steve Cohen said, “Hope is not a strategy.”
How much blame does Douglas deserve?
There are those who will argue that Douglas has invested heavy resources in the offensive line. However, poor investments are exactly what general managers lose their jobs over. It’s one thing to paint these issues with the brush of hindsight, but so many of them were easily foreseeable.
- Fant’s 2022 injuries
- Van Roten’s 2020-21 regression
- Becton’s injuries, especially in 2022
- McGovern’s mediocre play
- Brown’s 2022-23 injuries and poor performance
- Tomlinson’s disastrous performance (with proper talent scouting)
- Mitchell’s inadequacy
- Turner’s disastrous performance
This is just the base level of predictability, not including a host of other possibly predictable problems. There is little rational way to excuse these failures by Douglas, regardless of belief about his overall improvement of the roster. Few NFL teams can succeed without an adequate offensive line.
What about the quarterback’s complicity?
There is a strong argument that quarterback play has consistently made the Jets’ offensive line look worse than it really is. The 2021 and earlier 2023 seasons are evidence of that: the Jets’ 2021 offensive line was at least competent, while their 2023 unit had a string of several consecutive games where they gave the passer enough time to throw and opened up holes in the running game.
Regardless of whether that was the case from 2020-22, there is no denying Douglas’ failure in 2023. Rodgers was one of the least-pressured passers in the NFL in 2022, but the film indicates that this was not a function of his offensive line. There seemed to be a significant correlation between his shaky offensive line and his mediocre 2022 season. Even if the expectation was that Rodgers would compensate for failures with his quick release, taking that approach with a 40-year-old passer was a recipe for the disaster that eventually came to pass.
Note that I am not blaming Douglas for Rodgers’ injury. What happened on that play was Rodgers’ fault, as he did not release the ball in rhythm. Still, with the state of the Jets’ line, Rodgers would likely be injured by now if wasn’t already.
The 2020 Super Bowl demonstrates exactly what can happen to an elite passer who has no time to throw — and Patrick Mahomes had far better weapons in 2020 than the Jets ever had this season.
The injuries that happened this year only serve to underscore Douglas’ failures. That the Jets were forced to turn to Mitchell as a starting tackle almost immediately was highly predictable. The fact that Vera-Tucker went down rather than Becton doesn’t change the Jets’ poor depth at the position.
Were there other options?
Here are some of the free-agent tackles who were available this offseason, excluding the top of the market.
- Andrew Wylie (3 years, $24 million, $12 million guaranteed)
- Trey Pipkins (3 years, $21.75 million, $13.25 million guaranteed)
- Calvin Anderson (2 years, $7 million, $4 million guaranteed)
- Kelvin Beachum (2 years, $5.15 million, $3.26 million guaranteed)
- Fant (1 year, $3 million, $500,000 guaranteed)
- Jermaine Eluemunor (1 year, $3 million, $2.29 million guaranteed)
- Cam Fleming (1 year, $2.35 million, $850,000 guaranteed)
- Isaiah Wynn (1 year, $2.3 million, $1.96 million guaranteed)
While Turner received less than these other players, he is also the worst technique-wise.
Joe Douglas is known for his line in the sand that he won't cross, but doing that when you're on a time limit with Rodgers doesn't make so much sense. #NYJets
— Rivka Boord (@rivka_boord) March 20, 2023
Can any team withstand these injuries?
While there likely isn’t a team in the NFL that can withstand the level of offensive line injuries the Jets have sustained, Douglas doesn’t get a free pass in this area. As mentioned before, Brown and Becton were significant injury risks heading into the season, and the depth behind them was woefully inadequate. There was a very legitimate risk that they would be down both tackles quite quickly. That it happened with Vera-Tucker instead of Becton doesn’t change the lack of preparedness.
I blame the offensive line failures on Joe Douglas despite all the injuries. The fact that it's not Becton but someone else just underscores how barren he left this line. He's bungled the OL in each year as GM and then made it worse. In my book, that's a firable offense.
— Rivka Boord (@rivka_boord) November 7, 2023
In the interior, Douglas has less culpability. Tomlinson and McGovern have been iron men at their positions. Having Schweitzer and Tippmann with the versatility to play guard and center should have been adequate. That both McGovern and Schweitzer went down with significant injuries in the same game, with Tippmann already inactive, was simply horrible Jets luck.
The trade deadline
Shortly before the trade deadline, Robert Saleh said that no one would be trading offensive linemen. However, Minnesota traded guard Ezra Cleveland to Jacksonville for a sixth-round pick. Douglas seemed disappointed that he could not get it done, but the point is that he could not.
This team desperately needed more offensive line help, if only to push Turner out of the lineup. Douglas whiffed again.
Here we get to the Zach Wilson saga. Douglas fell in love with Wilson at the NFL Combine and took him No. 2 overall, as 23 other general managers polled said they would have done. In the process, he traded Sam Darnold for second and fourth-round picks, an excellent return for a failed draft pick.
Opinions vary about how much blame to place on Douglas for the Wilson pick. At the time, I personally preferred to keep Darnold but understood why Douglas went the Wilson route. The bigger issues with the Wilson pick are what came afterward.
2021: No starting competition
With Mike White as the lone backup quarterback on the roster, The Jets anointed Wilson their starter. At least the team had Teddy Bridgewater when they drafted Darnold, even if their quarterback competition was a farce. It became evident very quickly that Wilson was not NFL-ready.
Furthermore, having a first-time play-caller did not help the cause. You can blame the first-time quarterbacks coach on Greg Knapp’s untimely passing, but Mike LaFleur was a poor hire. A team with a young quarterback needs either an offensive-minded head coach or an experienced play-caller. Wilson had neither.
2022: Lack of a contingency plan
Coming into the 2022 season with Joe Flacco and White as the backup quarterbacks was not wise. Wilson had already sustained a significant injury in 2021 and also struggled mightily to adjust to the NFL. Acquiring a better backup should have been more of a priority.
In hindsight, White was likely that competent backup, or at least okay enough to tide the Jets over. Still, the Jets listed White as their No. 3 quarterback, indicating they did not see him as that backup. Therefore, in their eyes, they did not have a competent backup, as Flacco was 37 years old and a statue in the pocket who never read the field well even in his prime.
The Jets gave Flacco $3.5 million and paid White $2.54 million in 2022. Tyrod Taylor, Bridgewater, and Andy Dalton were other options if the Jets were going to pay in the $6 million range. All three of those options would have been superior to Flacco.
2022: Throwing away the season
By refusing to bench Wilson until Week 12, the Jets likely left at least two wins on the table. Both Patriots games were within their grasp, and Wilson was the single biggest (perhaps even the sole) reason for the defeats.
While White’s injury prevented him from performing even adequately against Seattle, the Jets still could have made the playoffs had they won those two games. Wilson did help them beat the Bills in Week 9, but based on the way White performed in the second Bills game, it’s hard to believe that White could not have replicated Wilson’s keep-away play in the first game.
2023: Doubling down on stupidity
By the 2023 offseason, the Jets had to know what they were dealing with in Wilson. They benched him for Chris Streveler, the man who can’t throw a five-yard pass. The smartest way to deal with him was to follow the 49ers’ example — try to salvage whatever late-round pick they could get for him, eat his salary, and move on.
That the Jets decided not to do that is already part of the sunk-cost fallacy, although it was tolerable. But keeping Wilson as the backup quarterback behind a 40-year-old in an all-in season was asinine.
The argument that the Jets were done anyway without Rodgers did not hold, for two reasons. First, it ignores the fact that Rodgers could have missed a game or two or even a few quarters. In that case, the Jets would have needed a decent quarterback to tide them over. Besides that, though, look at the team from 2022 and this year: it has often seemed as if this team can compete seriously in the playoffs with a mediocre quarterback.
I begged the Jets to sign Bridgewater for almost the entirety of the offseason. He signed with Detroit for $3 million. Other options included White ($4 million per year), Marcus Mariota ($5 million), Cooper Rush ($2.5 million), Darnold ($4.5 million), P.J. Walker ($2.1 million), Baker Mayfield ($4 million), and Gardner Minshew ($3.5 million).
But Douglas refused and signed Dalvin Cook instead.
Sticking with Wilson
The minute that Rodgers went down, the Jets should have added a quarterback to the practice squad. It took them two more weeks to bring in Trevor Siemian, and they haven’t even promoted him to the No. 2 quarterback. If Wilson is too fragile to handle potential competition behind him, that should tell the Jets everything they need to know about him.
At this point, the entire country knows that Wilson should not be starting — except, seemingly, Douglas and Saleh. It’s hard to believe that Woody Johnson is the one promoting this obstinacy since he was the one who was obsessed with acquiring Rodgers. It seems more likely than not that Douglas is the driver of this decision.
At the very least, acquiring Josh Dobbs should have been on Douglas’ to-do list. He was clearly available in the days leading up to the deadline. He went to Minnesota for just a sixth-round pick and also brought a seventh-rounder, making it essentially a one-round increase for Arizona. If Douglas wasn’t going to get Cleveland, he should have made a play at Dobbs, who played reasonably well for Arizona this season.
There’s an awful lot that went wrong here, and Douglas and Saleh are to blame for most of it.
Here are the Jets’ wide receiver corps each year since Douglas took over.
- 2020: Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims, Breshad Perriman, Chris Hogan, Jeff Smith
- 2021: Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Braxton Berrios, Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims, Jeff Smith
- 2022: Garrett Wilson, Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Braxton Berrios, Jeff Smith, Denzel Mims
- 2023: Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, Randall Cobb, Xavier Gipson, Jason Brownlee, Irvin Charles
The only season in which it’s possible to argue that the Jets’ wide receivers were in their ideal spot in the rotation was 2022. That was because Garrett Wilson developed more quickly than the Jets expected. Had Moore played like the No. 2/3 receiver he showed the ability to be in 2021, the Jets’ receiving corps would have been fairly strong. Berrios was a solid No. 4 receiver. The Jets definitely could have used someone other than Smith and Mims to replace Davis during an injury, but Moore was the main reason that the receiving corps struggled in 2022.
The Jets signed Lazard because he’s Rodgers’ buddy. Period. Those Jets fans who think that Lazard’s constant drops and poor play are anomalous did not watch his prior film; Blewett called Lazard’s hands and catching technique the worst he has ever seen based on Lazard’s 2021-22 film.
As a No. 3 receiver, though, the signing was okay. Jakobi Meyers received the same contract and was a far better option. Still, to lure Rodgers to New York, it was tolerable.
Odell Beckham Jr. and D’Andre Hopkins
The Jets flirted with Beckham, indicating that they were not satisfied with their receiving corps. When Beckham ultimately signed an inflated contract with the Ravens, though, the team took their foot off the receiver gas. If they sought to upgrade from Davis or possibly had an inkling that he might retire, they should have gone all-out for a replacement.
Hopkins became available, too, and the Jets should have pursued him. He ultimately received two years and $13 million per year from the Titans. Even though Hopkins said he didn’t want to play for the Jets, that same amount of money would have almost certainly lured him away from the Ryan Tannehill-led Titans. All indications were that the Jets passed, though.
Once Broderick Jones was off the board, the next-best player at a position of need for the Jets was undoubtedly Jaxon Smith-Njigba. He would have been an excellent complement to Wilson and given the Jets’ receiving corps another true weapon. In fact, I thought that Smith-Njigba was a better fit for the Jets than Jones.
Instead, Douglas chose to draft Will McDonald, a future-oriented pick in a win-now season. As exciting as McDonald’s potential appeared (though he has yet to show any of it in his rookie season), Smith-Njigba was clearly the win-now move.
Once Davis retired
Douglas should have been frantically searching for an alternative once Davis stepped away from football. It’s possible that he did, but there was no public indication that he did. This is particularly vexing when considering that Hardman never took significant offensive snaps with the Jets and was clearly cast by the wayside. Were Douglas et al. really content to come into the season with Cobb as their WR3?
The Jets’ receiving corps has been anemic this season, which is unsurprising with Lazard and Cobb as WR2 and WR3. Reports are that Douglas swung for the fences in attempting to trade for Davante Adams. However, he had no pivot plan and failed to acquire anyone who could at least push Cobb out of the starting lineup. Meanwhile, Donovan Peoples-Jones, who had 839 receiving yards in 2022, was traded for a 2025 sixth-rounder.
The NFL is one big nepotistic club. Coaches and general managers hire their cronies at all levels of their staff and tend to want their players to come along with them from place to place. They play favorites even when it is totally contradicted by on-field performance. They give an absurdly long leash to their own draft picks while being quick to move on from those they did not select.
Still, some of the nepotism that occurred under the Douglas-Saleh era has damaged the team significantly. LaFleur’s hiring because he was Saleh’s best friend’s younger brother was foolish, particularly when considering how Mike McDaniel, a fellow San Francisco offensive assistant, has performed. Tomlinson was brought in from San Francisco.
The Big Guy
The worst nepotism of all, though, is everything that surrounded the Rodgers acquisition. Rodgers admitted that Nathaniel Hackett was a big reason he came to New York, indicating that the Jets did the right thing by hiring Hackett if Rodgers was their sole target. Still, Hackett has amply proven that his poor 2022 performance in Denver was not an aberration. If his father, Paul, was loathed by Jets fans, Nathaniel is much, much worse.
Furthermore, the Lazard signing was an overpay. Meyers was a better option, as I explained before the Jets signed Lazard. It was done purely because of Rodgers. The Jets are now reaping the consequences.
The Cook and Turner signings were also Rodgers kowtows. It’s hard to imagine that Rodgers would have been pleased with either player if he was on the field right now, but then again, Rodgers loves Lazard and Turner despite playing with them for several seasons. The Jets are also dealing with the disastrous consequences of these signings. Jets X-Factor warned about every single one in the offseason, some of them before the signing was even made.
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) August 1, 2023
Assuming everything goes according to the Jets’ plan, Adams will reunite with Rodgers in green and white next season. It almost seems inevitable. That, obviously, would be a major upgrade for the Jets, although it may not even be the ideal one (Tee Higgins and Mike Evans would cost only money and not assets, assuming they are not franchise-tagged). It’s the kind of move that could have been justified by Rodgers’ pay cut. Not Cook, though; not Cook.
As I wrote last week after the Jets laid an egg against the Chargers, this season is off the rails. Heading into Buffalo, there is little chance that they can turn it around at this point. The only question is if Saleh and Douglas will survive this season. The answer may lie in just how bad things get.
The Jets still play the Falcons (4-6), Commanders (4-6), and Patriots (2-8) this season. Perhaps they can muster victories in those games, although the Patriots game is still unlikely as long as Wilson is under center. Their defense will likely keep them from being completely blown out in some of the games, although they will be hard-pressed to survive multiple turnovers.
At 4-5, it’s possible that the best thing for this Jets team is to lose out: not because of the draft pick, but to place the spotlight of the New York media squarely on Douglas’ and Saleh’s shoulders. The actual futility of the offense exists on multiple levels, including the quarterback, offensive line, receivers, and offensive coordinator (the order varies depending on the week). Still, at the core, it’s because Douglas did not do enough.
The Jets’ owners should take a long, hard look at that. Reports came out a few weeks ago that Johnson did not guarantee Douglas’ or Saleh’s job beyond this year. Though it seems unlikely the team would move on from the team’s architects with Rodgers still present, there seems to be ever more evidence that they should consider doing just that.
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