It’s getting later in the season, and for many NFL teams, the playoffs are in sight. But some squads are already looking to next year. As each club is eliminated from the postseason, The Ringer will examine what went right, what went wrong, and where the franchise could go from here. Up next is the New York Jets, who beat the Miami Dolphins, but were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans winning on Sunday.
What Went Right
Sam Darnold’s spleen didn’t rupture. The 22-year-old missed four of the first six weeks of the season due to fears about the health of his internal organs—normal sport!—after he contracted mononucleosis, and then returned midseason and at times played like a franchise quarterback. Darnold looked great in wins against Oakland and Washington, and most importantly to Jets fans, he led his team to a win against Daniel Jones and the Giants in Week 10. He has plenty of room for improvement (like most 22-year-olds who get mono), but he still has the potential that convinced the Jets to take him with the no. 3 pick in 2018. Free-agent receiver Jamison Crowder emerged as the team’s best receiving option and leads the squad in targets, receptions, and is second in yards. Tight end Ryan Griffin, originally considered a stopgap until Chris Herndon returned from suspension, instead leads the team with five touchdowns and was one of the Jets’ better recent red zone options. The team signed Griffin to a three-year extension worth up to almost $11 million last month. Safety Jamal Adams set a career high with 6.5 sacks in four games. Despite how it may look, New York does have some talent despite their 5-8 record.
What Went Wrong
Most of Adam Gase’s decisions in his first year as head coach.
Gase’s specialty is offense, but the Jets offense has been one of the worst in football by almost any metric.
Jets Yards per Drive Stats
|Statistic||Jets Ranking (among 32 teams)|
|Statistic||Jets Ranking (among 32 teams)|
|Plays per drive||32|
|Yards per drive||32|
|Points per drive||32|
|Touchdowns per drive||30|
|Field goals per drive||30|
|Punts per drive||31|
|Three-and-outs per drive||30|
|Time of possession per drive||31|
|Drive success rate||31|
|Avg. line of scrimmage||31|
The Jets fired head coach Todd Bowles, a former defensive coordinator, and hired Gase, a former offensive coordinator, to expedite Darnold’s development and improve the offense. The result has been a disaster that casts Gase’s qualifications into doubt. Since Gase left his job as quarterbacks coach for the Broncos, where Peyton Manning was heavily involved in crafting the offensive game plans, Gase has not led a team ranked in the top 20 in yards or the top half of the league in points. Worse, quarterback Ryan Tannehill is having a breakout season in Tennessee after being freed from Gase’s offense. (When Sam Darnold said he was seeing ghosts, perhaps he meant Adam Gase’s coaching résumé.) The Jets won’t fire Gase after this season according to team CEO Christopher Johnson, but most teams retain coaches to create stability. Stability doesn’t seem like one of Gase’s strong suits.
The new front office is not off to a good start, either. New general manager Joe Douglas infuriated Jamal Adams by telling the safety he wouldn’t be moved and then having trade discussions, according to Adams.
At the end of the week last week, I sat down with the GM and Coach Gase and told them I want to be here in New York. I was told yesterday by my agent that the GM then went behind my back and shopped me around to teams, even after I asked him to keep me here! Crazy business.— Jamal Adams (@TheAdamsEra) October 29, 2019
A GM’s job involves having trade discussions, but telling the team’s best and perhaps most respected player one thing and then doing the other is the quickest way to lose support from players. (When the team’s best nonquarterback player seems expendable, so does everyone else.) Douglas has also engaged in strange, petty feuds. When guard Kelechi Osemele’s shoulder injury stopped responding to pain injections, Osmele wanted surgery rather than resorting to Vicodin. The team disputed his injury and said it was preexisting. Osemele filed a grievance through the NFLPA and eventually had surgery in late October. The Jets cut him one day later. When the GM and coach are off to such a tough start, it’s hard to have faith in the rest of their moves.
No team has done worse in free agency in the past two offseasons than the Jets. In 2018, GM Mike Maccagnan signed cornerback Trumaine Johnson to a deal with $45 million guaranteed over the first three years. In the first two seasons of that deal, Johnson has been perhaps the most disappointing defensive back in the sport. In 2019, Maccagnan upped the ante when the Jets shelled out more than $120 million in guaranteed money in free agency, the most in NFL history. Two months later the Jets fired Maccagnan, casting the competence of ownership into serious doubt.
The team eventually hired Douglas to run the shop, and Maccagnan’s splashy offseason signings have had little impact this year. Running back Le’Veon Bell looked back to his normal self with the ball in his hands, but predictably was far less productive in one of the league’s worst offenses with a second-year quarterback and bad offensive line. Linebacker C.J. Mosley signed a deal with $51 million guaranteed but hurt his groin in Week 1, returned and aggravated the injury in Week 7, and was placed on injured reserve last week. He’s expected to return from surgery in April. The Jets still have nearly $70 million of cap space this offseason according to Spotrac, but they’d be wise not to try to make a splash for the third year in a row. Outside of tackle Kelvin Beachum and receiver Robby Anderson, not many of their impending free agents are crucial to retain.
The Jets were also one of the worst drafting teams in the league under Maccagnan. New York has whiffed on the second- and third-round picks that most successful teams rely on to build Super Bowl foundations. Its first-round picks this decade have been almost exclusively focused on defense. Beginning with the 2009 draft, the Jets have used 10 first-round picks on defense and just two first-round picks on offense (Mark Sanchez and Sam Darnold). The lack of weapons around Darnold shows. No fans would be upset if the Jets drafted Ohio State’s Chase Young, the consensus best defender in the draft, but if Young is gone, the Jets could benefit from taking an offensive player.
Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy would be New York’s most talented receiver since either Brandon Marshall or Keyshawn Johnson and would be Darnold’s best receiver since he played with JuJu Smith-Schuster at USC. The Jets could also desperately use depth at tackle, and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas or Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs both fit the bill. With their roster so thin, however, the Jets would be wise to trade down with a team looking to draft a quarterback and collect as many assets as possible to recoup the three second-rounders they gave up to trade up three spots for the pick that became Darnold. In the past five years, the Jets have drafted just one player in the second round who has started more than five NFL games. Drafting a starter at any position after the first round would be an improvement for this team.