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The Jets Lost the NFL Offseason

What was New York’s plan as it passed on top free agents and instead signed quarterback Josh McCown? We’re glad you asked.

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

The 2017 Jets are going to be bad. Not just the type of bad that a handful of NFL teams are every season. And not fun bad, like the 2003 film The Room, which was so hilariously bad that it led to a book and a subsequent James Franco movie about its production, both called The Disaster Artist. The Jets have no good options at quarterback, shed talent on both sides of the ball, and sat out for most of free agency. The Jets are going to be the worst type of bad: sad bad. Jets bad.

The problem is not New York’s lack of roster talent — though certainly there’s that — as much as it’s a lack of a clear path to a brighter future. On the heels of a 5–11 campaign in which the Jets finished last in the AFC East, this offseason has seen the front office undergo a shift in philosophy. As recently characterized it: “Gone are the flashy, back-page stealing signings. In their place, under-the-radar, smart acquisitions.” This is a rather generous interpretation. As things now stand, the Jets are suffering from an increasingly rare fate in the NFL: It appears they have no plan.

Todd Bowles (Getty Images)
Todd Bowles (Getty Images)

Say what you will about the Browns’ long-term philosophy to hoard draft picks and practice patience, or the Jaguars’ “Hey, let’s sign every prized free agent in football” ethos, but at least those are strategies. The Jets refuse to do anything but cobble together a disjointed and utterly confusing roster. They refuse to rebuild. They have three quarterback options, all of whom sound like the punch line for a joke about NFL quarterback options. “You don’t rebuild, you just build. Every year, whether you win or lose, you just build and keep building,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said Tuesday at the league’s annual meetings in Phoenix. “We lost a lot of names. We lost a lot of name players. [Nick] Mangold, [Darrelle] Revis, Brandon [Marshall], we lost of a lot of guys who had a lot of production — but that doesn’t mean the other guys can’t play, it just means they haven’t made household names yet. I’m excited about the young guys.”

To recap the Jets offseason: They let Marshall and Mangold go, both defensible moves, since they’re aging, expensive, and of primary use to a contender. The Jets also cut Revis, a no-brainer decision after the veteran cornerback struggled through a tough 2016 season. Then they augmented those departures by … uh, not actually doing much. They passed on top free agents — a head-scratching choice given that the team had so many holes to fill and at least some dollars to spend. The high point of Jets excitement in March was the time they hosted Dont’a Hightower, wanted to give him $62 million, and then grew concerned about his physical. The Patriots signed the linebacker to a four-year deal worth up to $35.5 million. Despite record spending leaguewide and dozens of good players switching teams, the Jets were content to sign injury-prone cornerback Morris Claiborne and former Steelers offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum.

The result of all of this, going into next month’s draft, is one of the weirdest rosters in the NFL. If the Browns are football’s version of “The Process,” akin to the Sam Hinkie–era Philadelphia 76ers, then the Jets are some half-baked tribute to Vlade Divac’s Sacramento Kings. New York’s roster is not particularly good, and it’s not cheap. The lack of a decent quarterback could waste whatever talent the team does possess. There are veterans all over the field, but Bowles likes to talk about a youth movement. It is not clear how the Jets view themselves, except to say that there is no rebuild.

The Jets, according to Spotrac, have a little more than $15 million in available salary cap space. Seventeen NFL teams, many significantly better than the Jets, have more. The Patriots have upward of $26 million in cap space. The Packers have $23.3 million. And even the teams with less cap space than the Jets are better positioned to succeed, since each of those 14 has an unquestioned starting quarterback and most are capped out because that quarterback is on a big deal and the front office threw money at other guys in an attempt to win now. The Jets, by contrast, have become capped out by paying millions for contracts that look like a drag on the cap.

Buster Skrine, projected as the team’s starting nickelback, is tied for the 19th highest-paid corner in the NFL. Brian Winters is tied for ninth highest-paid guard. Marcus Gilchrist is the sixth highest-paid strong safety. In a vacuum, some of these deals make sense, but overpaying veterans is generally a good way to become capped out and bad. The Jets are on their way to both.

Still, nothing will hurt this team quite like its quarterback situation. You may remember the Jets’ quarterback situation from last season, when many people deemed that the offense would be saved by the triumphant return of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Heck, I even thought New York would be decent once he signed his deal. It was, looking back, a bad sign that anything hinged on the notion that “Things will be so much better once Ryan Fitzpatrick gets here.” No one wants to remember Fitzpatrick’s disastrous 2016 season — unless you are a Chiefs defensive back who caught one of his six interceptions during a matchup in September. Fitzpatrick ranked dead last among qualified starters in passer rating. Behind even Case Keenum.

Josh McCown (Getty Images)
Josh McCown (Getty Images)

Bowles said this week that the Jets will hold an open competition among the newly signed Josh McCown, 2016 second-round draft pick Christian Hackenberg, and third-year passer Bryce Petty for the starting gig. If they use a high-round 2017 pick (potentially the sixth overall) on a QB, he would enter the mix, too. The one thing Bowles made clear is that no one has an edge. No one will be considered a starter in the spring, Bowles said, because the team has two separate practice fields, so multiple quarterbacks can take snaps at once. In a league where organizations do whatever it takes to find quarterback clarity, this approach feels particularly muddled.

Bowles at least showed a sense of humor about everything. When asked by a reporter Tuesday who he liked the most out of the group of 2017 QB prospects, he responded, “Roger Staubach.”

If the Jets do not draft a quarterback this spring, they will enter the season with the most dire situation under center of any team in the league that does not currently employ someone named Bortles or Osweiler. In 2017, that’s a recipe for misery. Jets fans are so desperate right now that they’d probably welcome Jared Goff as their starter. Jared Goff!

This all but guarantees the Jets a lost season. They’re still far behind the Patriots in their division, and now they’re also behind the Dolphins, a playoff team last season that could’ve made a deep run if someone other than Matt Moore had been healthy enough to start in the postseason. There’s a good chance that the Bills will win more games than the Jets in 2017, too. New York needs to do what the NFL’s good teams have done: figure out who they are and start living by some sort of plan. Christian Hackenberg is not that.