It’s been a strange few days for New York football fans. See, the Jets—you know, the second-most-likely team to be used as a placeholder for “incompetent NFL team” in jokes—landed one of the top free agents in this class. On Wednesday they signed Le’Veon Bell, one of the most distinctive and versatile running backs in recent history. Meanwhile, the Giants—you know, the team with two Super Bowl wins over the Patriots in the past 12 years—made an incomprehensibly bad trade. On Tuesday, they dealt iconic wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns. (The Browns are the most likely team to be used as a placeholder for “incompetent NFL team” in jokes, but that likely won’t remain the case for long.) It’s strange to see the Jets win anything, least of all a news cycle.
I’m a Jets fan, but probably should be a Giants fan. My dad is a Giants fan, but failed to tell me this before I was 4 years old, when we got free tickets to a Jets game. I didn’t understand the sport, but the Jets had a quarterback named “Boomer” and won, so I decided to become a Jets fan for life. This has brought me nothing but pain and a Dewayne Robertson–sized inferiority complex. While my Giants fan friends have celebrated multiple championships, my team has failed to win its division every year since 2002. They have the Helmet Catch; I have the Butt Fumble. That’s pretty symbolic: They find unusual ways to succeed; we find unusual ways to fail.
Both teams have been comfortably parked in the NFL basement of late, with the Giants and Jets each finishing last in their respective divisions over the past two seasons. But it’s starting to look like the Jets might be closer to climbing out than the Giants are. The Jets have a young quarterback and a shiny new offensive star; the Giants have a roster full of question marks after shooting themselves in the foot. (Perhaps in homage to Giants Super Bowl champion and Jets non-Super Bowl champion Plaxico Burress.)
While both New York City–adjacent NFL teams are clearly embarrassing, is it possible that the Jets are currently less embarrassing? Let’s investigate with a tale of the tape.
I was disappointed with the first season of the Sam Darnold era. As a rookie, Darnold ranked 31st among 33 qualifying NFL quarterbacks in passer rating, 30th in adjusted yards per attempt, 23rd in touchdown rate, and 29th in interception rate. Sure, there’s a learning curve to be expected with young QBs, but yikes. I’d hoped that the no. 3 pick in last year’s draft would look more competent.
Eli Manning was the better quarterback in 2018, but his midtier performance is outweighed by his massive contract (a $23 million cap hit for 2019) and outsize importance in the Giants organization, as it’s been clear for several years that the franchise is willing to let the 38-year-old do whatever he feels like on his way out of the league. When he was benched for just one game in 2017, breaking a yearslong ironman streak, the ensuing scandal basically ensured that the team’s head coach, Ben McAdoo, would be fired. As the rest of the Giants roster goes into rebuilding mode, the team can’t move forward at the sport’s most important position.
I’d rather have a young, inconsistent quarterback than an old, mediocre one. The easiest way to succeed in the modern NFL is to draft a quarterback in the first round, build a team around him, and hope that he develops into an effective passer by the end of his rookie contract. The Jets, at least, are trying this approach. The Giants, meanwhile, will waste another year of the rookie contracts of every other player they’ve recently drafted so they can enjoy Year 4 of Manning’s indefinite retirement tour.
It says something about the state of New York football that the one roster position at which both teams have stars is the one that the rest of the league has deemed largely irrelevant. The Giants have Saquon Barkley, the Penn State product who immediately proved to be a superstar upon entering the league last season. The Jets just added Bell.
Both backs have dynamic enough skill sets to be game-changers even in today’s pass-dominant league. Yet it’s unclear whether either team realizes this. The Giants seemed hell-bent on deploying Barkley in uninventive ways last season. While I have no reporting to suggest that the Jets will screw up their usage of Bell, it’s generally safe to presume that the Jets will screw up the nice things they get. Of the two, I’d rather have Barkley, whose remarkable highlights and thighs have emerged as genuine football phenomenons.
Advantage: Uh, the Jets, I guess?
Somehow, the Jets receiving corps of Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and the newly-signed Jamison Crowder beats the Giants trio of Sterling Shepard, Corey Coleman, and [BLANK]. Neither team has any wideouts ranked among the top 50 by Pro Football Focus. Both teams’ pass-catching groups should rate near the bottom of the league, but the Giants should contend for the absolute worst, even if they upgrade during the draft. That’s all the more embarrassing considering they just traded away this guy.
Advantage: Jets, but this is getting hard
The Jets finished 21st in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA last season, despite being in their fourth year under defensive-minded head coach Todd Bowles. The Giants were 24th in the same metric. The Giants will probably get worse after letting Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins walk in free agency (because … why?) and trading pass rusher Olivier Vernon to the Browns. (They’ll replace Collins with Jabrill Peppers, who came over as part of the Beckham trade and whose first two years in Cleveland were shaky.) The Jets will probably get better after adding linebacker C.J. Mosley.
But even the Jets’ defensive offseason has been embarrassing—they were set to sign prized free agent Anthony Barr, but the pass rusher reportedly felt “physically sick” after agreeing to a deal with the Jets and reneged in order to re-sign with the Vikings. And while Mosley is an excellent player, his contract will pay him an average of $17 million per year, by far the most of any inside linebacker in the league.
The Jets made a defensive addition this offseason. It was a weird addition coupled with a larger embarrassment, but at least the team is trying. That’s more than we can say about the Giants.
It’s been three months since the news was announced, and I still can’t get over the Jets’ decision to bring in Adam Gase as their new head coach. There were so many exciting candidates available, and the Jets opted to go with someone who’s fresh off three generally unimpressive seasons coaching a team in the Jets’ division. Gase’s calling card is that he’s excellent at working with quarterbacks, as evidenced by the fact he coached Peyton Manning to one of the best seasons in league history in 2012. But you know who else coached Peyton Manning well? Literally all of his coaches at every level. What was this QB whisperer whispering to Ryan Tannehill over the past few years? The Jets also made the troubling decision to hire Gregg Williams as their defensive coordinator, even though Williams hasn’t led a top-10 defense since 2005.
Giants frontman Pat Shurmur doesn’t seem like a great head coach, but remember, this tale of the tape is about embarrassment. The Giants’ last coach, McAdoo, was far more embarrassing than the Jets’ last coach, Bowles, even though Bowles had a worse record. McAdoo had a weird haircut and a comically large play sheet; it looked like his mom dressed him. Now the Jets have the coach with crazy eyes. Let’s not overthink this.
If I had to rank the 32 NFL general managers, I’d probably put the Jets’ and Giants’ at no. 31 and 32. In which order? Well, let’s think this through.
The Jets GM is Mike Maccagnan, who was somehow allowed to hire another head coach after hiring Bowles, who went 24-40 over his four-year tenure, and was somehow allowed to draft another quarterback after using a 2016 second-round pick on Christian Hackenberg, who never played a regular-season NFL snap. (Hackenberg is now by far the worst quarterback in the Alliance of American Football, as he averaged under 5 yards per attempt while throwing three interceptions and no touchdowns before he was benched in favor of Zach Mettenberger.)
The Giants, though, have Dave Gettleman, who is becoming the league’s new laughingstock. Gettleman’s incompetence should have been clear last year, when he mocked those who use analytics by making a silly face and pretending to type on a keyboard. Why look at numbers, like successful teams in football, when you could break down game tape using a Nintendo Wii, which, it should be noted, is a real thing that Gettleman appears to do? He should have aroused further suspicion for using the no. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft on a running back—especially in a quarterback-rich class, and especially when the Giants desperately needed a quarterback.
And the past week has driven home Gettleman’s failures. It’s not just that he traded away a fan favorite in Beckham—it’s that he traded Beckham less than a year after signing the wide receiver to a historically large contract extension, meaning the franchise’s 2019 salary cap total will be docked by the signing bonus payments it’s already made to a player who is no longer on its roster. Gettleman repeatedly said he didn’t sign Beckham to trade him, which was reasonable. But why did he say that if he was indeed signing Beckham to trade him?
Now the word is that the Giants plan to establish the run as their primary offensive strategy, even after the past few seasons have shown that the best way to succeed in this league is with an effective passing game. Last year I wrote that the Giants’ selection of Barkley would be acceptable if the team used him in the right ways; Gettleman seems committed to exclusively running him up the middle and hoping that it works out.
The Jets general manager has a bad plan. The Giants general manager has no plan at all, which is scarier.
I have waited my entire life to celebrate a Jets championship, and I will probably wait another lifetime for that to happen. The Jets have an uninspiring coach, a GM who’s repeatedly failed, and a quarterback whose first NFL pass was a pick-six. They’ve been bad and embarrassing, and will likely stay bad and embarrassing for the foreseeable future. But I can look at the Giants today and think: “Wow, at least my team isn’t that bad and embarrassing.” As a Jets fan, that’s a win.