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What messages can the NY Jets take from their failed season?

Robert Saleh, NY Jets, HC, Fail, Lessons
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images

For the New York Jets, failure can be valuable if they take lessons from it

The mood around the New York Jets is dismal right now. You feel it, those who cover the team feel it, the players feel it, and the organization feels it. Removing the bitter taste of 2023 from the Jets’ mouths will take a while.

Still, failure can become a springboard for success if a team learns from its previous mistakes. That’s something the Jets have done poorly in the past, repeating the same errors year after year. As Albert Einstein explained, that is the very definition of insanity.

What are the lessons the Jets can take out of their 2023 dud?

A strong offensive line is not optional

Joe Douglas’ tenure with the Jets should be under scrutiny for this. He has been with the team for four offseasons and failed to build a strong offensive line.

The argument that injuries prevented the Jets’ offensive line from performing well has strong limitations and is a self-deceptive talking point.

I said this at the end of last season (January 20th, to be precise). We at Jet X repeated it ad nauseam. This offensive line needed to be completely rebuilt, but instead, a Band-Aid was put over it — if even that.

Look at the tackle situation. The Jets needed two starting tackles this season. They brought in zero.

The Jets needed two new starting tackles this season. They brought in zero.

The injuries are not what caused the tackle situation to be terrible; in fact, Mekhi Becton has been the healthiest he’s been in his career. It was Douglas’ failure to bring in any competent tackles that doomed the line to failure before it started.

Douglas admitted that he was relying on a competition between Max Mitchell and Billy Turner for the starting right tackle position before Becton pleasantly surprised in the preseason. There was no reason to rely on either one based on track record. Joe Blewett described Turner as the worst tackle he’s ever seen. Mitchell was a disaster in the run game last season and hardly better in pass protection. Duane Brown‘s age, injuries, and poor performance in 2022 made him a bad bet.

As a last-ditch pivot after a brutal camp for the offensive line, Becton was unreliable to stay healthy and also suspect in his abilities after back-to-back catastrophic injuries.

On the interior, Laken Tomlinson and Connor McGovern were both possible liabilities. Tomlinson had a disastrous 2022 season. McGovern has persistently been a sieve in pass protection as a member of the Jets. Joe Tippmann finished camp as a clear second-string center, while Wes Schweitzer was a decent backup but nothing more.

The tackle situation, though, is what gives Douglas no free pass for how the offensive line has worked out. It is entirely his fault that their tackle situation is a disaster. Injuries simply masked that reality. If this was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive line, a strong line decimated by three long-term tackle injuries, the discussion would be different — but Douglas, your tackles are no Cleveland Browns tackles.

Incidentally, those who take even a cursory glance at the film from before Becton’s injury should notice that he has been one of the worst tackles in the NFL this season (he currently leads all linemen with 11 sacks allowed). His ankle injury had little impact on his play. He simply has no power left, completely exposing his poor footwork, lumbering feet, and improper hand placement. Not only should the Jets not re-sign Becton, but no NFL team should sign him to anything more than a backup-level contract.

Hope is not a strategy

In conjunction with the previous section, I have reiterated this quote from Mets owner Steve Cohen multiple times: hope is not a strategy. Douglas hoped that Tomlinson would bounce back in 2023, he hoped that somehow Mitchell or Turner would rise to the occasion, he hoped that Becton could both stay healthy and return to his rookie form.

Furthermore, he hoped that Aaron Rodgers would stay healthy and never necessitate the use of a backup quarterback. Rodgers stated that he felt terrible about his injury since it forced Zach Wilson into the lineup in what should have been a redshirt learning year.

However, that exposes exactly what Douglas and Robert Saleh got completely wrong: you cannot place a player in a redshirt season if they are the second player on the depth chart. This held even more true when the first quarterback was 40 years old, coming off a down year, and protected by a suspect offensive line.

If this is an old talking point, I reiterate it because it’s a point I made in the offseason. I was brushed off at the time. Now, so many Jets talking heads say that “the Jets could never have known they would be forced to play Wilson for so long.” Well, I said it in July.

Dominant teams are not top-heavy

The Jets relied on razor-thin depth at multiple positions. As mentioned before, tackle was one of them. Receiver was the other.

Even before Corey Davis retired, the Jets’ depth at receiver was okay. They were one injury away from having Randall Cobb as a WR4, Mecole Hardman as a WR3, or Allen Lazard as a WR2 or even WR1. Then Davis retired and this shift happened before the season even started. The Jets were relying on Garrett Wilson to become a top-three receiver in the NFL with absolutely no backup. (I pointed out that he had some flaws to fix before making that leap.)

Instead, Wilson has regressed somewhat from his rookie heights, which is caused partially by the complete lack of depth behind him. This is something the Jets still had time to correct, but they didn’t even bother to try behind a shot in the dark at Davante Adams.

A conservative mindset is destined to fail

As Robby Sabo has stated multiple times, Saleh’s vision for the team is predicated upon winning low-scoring, tight games. He plays with a run-run-pass, conservative mindset, opting to win the field position game and rely on his defense.

As much as the Jets’ offense has fallen apart this season, it was made worse by conservative play-calling and an entirely timid mindset from the head coach. There was no creativity, no willingness to push the envelope, no threat to the defense.

The Jets’ offense is designed as a 1969 offense. That may have worked well when Joe Namath was under center, but the NFL is five eras past that.

An organization can never be beholden to one player over itself

The Jets drove hard after Rodgers. They were willing to forgo their chance at a first-round offensive tackle to secure him prior to the draft. They fawned and gushed over him. They gave the clear impression on Hard Knocks that the alpha in the locker room was not the head coach. They brought in all of Rodgers’ cronies, including many who were overpaid or overpositioned for their talent (or lack thereof).

That cannot happen in an organization. As much as the Jets wanted to make Rodgers happy, they should have drawn the line. If it meant working around Rodgers and bringing in another backup offensive tackle, a co-offensive coordinator, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the draft, they should have done it.

Not only did they suffer this season because of such complete capitulation to Rodgers, but they’re in an equally poor spot for next season — while also being stuck with Douglas and Saleh. But perhaps that was the point all along: job security by hook or by crook.

Will the Jets learn?

It remains to be seen whether the Jets will learn from their mistakes. Considering how stuck they are with Rodgers, it would be unwise to bet that they will make the necessary changes. If they don’t, though, the Rodgers trade could turn into one of the worst debacles in Jets history, even though it didn’t have to be.

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Jim G
6 months ago

You make many good points here. I take issue with only two. I don’t blame Garrett Wilson for “regressing.” Any productivity drop off is the result of way too few targets. And given the lack of skill at the wide receiver position, the lack of targets is egregious.

I don’t think the Aaron Rodgers trade will ever go down as one of the worst debacles in Jets history. There are far too many qualifiers for that award already. But it is clear in hindsight the transition to Rodgers should have been handled better.

I posted this on another site, but I will say it here as well. The Jets have been rebuilding since the 2012 season ended. That season shut whatever window the Jets thought they had. Idzik wanted to rebuild while Ryan, under a short term contract, needed to win now. Still, the Jets pared the roster substantially and drafted a new “franchise” QB. That rebuild failed. MacCagnan tried to rebuild. That failed. It is now clear that the Douglas rebuild has failed even though there is solid talent on defense. During the 2013-2023 stretch, we have witnessed Kansas City, Cincinnati, Detroit, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Buffalo and Miami all rebuild while the Jets are stuck in rebuilding mode.

I have no faith in Joe Douglas to successfully rebuild the roster after this abysmal rebuild failed.

6 months ago

JD and RS has talked about building through the trenches. They have done a great job with the DL but the OL is another story. JD has tried to sign big name OTs but he has missed.Becton is a failure. Maybe Carter Warren could be a long term answer?

But, he needs to invest in the OL. At least one more tackle and a swing tackle. Another guard in case of injury. Good offenses have strong OLs. The second thing they need to do is figure out why we have so many injuries on the OL. Two years in a row. The amount of injuries is insane. I expect Jd to go all in on an OT. My fear is it will be the injuted GB LT.

6 months ago

The common denominator in all the years of dysfunction has been Woody.

6 months ago

At this point going forward I think JD’s task is somewhat simplified. He has to build a functional OL and QB room, including competent 2nd and 3rd string backups to Rodgers. And that’s it!!! He has to concentrate on building those two parts regardless of how he may neglect the other concerns (and there are plenty), no matter how many resources he pours into those two components, and no matter how badly the team performs next year. JD tried to build the team all at once in his first few years and has failed badly at that approach. He has to restart this whole process with his focus on job one, and hope he can hold his job long enough to proceed incrementally to the next stages.

6 months ago

The toughest job in the NFL is being a Jets fan. Our leadership is consistently bad, terrible hires, poor decisionmaking, suspect drafting, lack of tactical planning. Some of us fans were saying the same things as you Rivka, but we were shouting into the wind.