The Jets are at the beginning of something that will either be wonderful or yet another bitter disappointment, and it could be a while before they know for sure. They basically started over last offseason when they hired a new head coach and gutted their roster.
And obviously there’s a lot of work to do.
But there is no doubt they have the tools to do it, with an abundance of cap room, plenty of financial flexibility, and a bucket of high picks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
As SNY interviewed more than a dozen current and former NFL executive and scouts over the past month in an effort to figure out what’s gone wrong with New York football, they all felt the Jets were perfectly positioned to fix their problems quickly – if they made the right choices.
It just depends on what they do with all their assets this offseason and what decisions they make. Here’s a look at their suggestions for what the Jets should do when the work begins…
The front office
There is no change coming here and none is needed. Jets GM Joe Douglas and his staff are still in the early stages of their plan to build through the draft and maintain financial flexibility. It’s too early to tell how it’s all working, especially since his free agent class from last offseason was decimated by injuries. But the early returns on his 2021 draft class are great.
There’s a lot of faith that Douglas has them headed in the right direction, and a consensus that he needs more time.
The coaching staff
Robert Saleh isn’t going to earn rave reviews for his rookie season, but he knew it was going to be tough. The Jets are going to be patient and even their long-suffering fans seem willing to wait to see what he can do.
The expectation is that he will and should show the same patience with his coaching staff. Some have questioned whether he made the right hires, and suggested he should have hired someone with a little more experience, especially at coordinator. But these coaches were brought in for a long-term project. It’s unfair to judge any of them on one year.
“I don’t love the staff,” said a former GM. “If I hire a first-time head coach, I want former head coaches on his staff to help him. But you can’t judge any of these guys on one year with such a young team. I don’t know what any of them really are yet.”
One suggestion made by a few people: Streamline (and reduce) the amount of coaches with direct access to the quarterback. Right now, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese, senior offensive assistant Matt Cavanaugh, and assistant John Beck, who used to be Zach Wilson’s personal coach, are all on staff and all in the rookie’s ear.
“That’s way too many voices,” said an NFL scout. “No wonder the kid looks confused. Did you ever try to hit a golf shot with four different people telling you how to stand and how to hold the club? That’s got to be how he feels.”
Wilson is the Jets’ Quarterback of the Future (at least the short-term future) no matter how this season turns out. He is still at least two years away from any meaningful judgement about him being made.
“Saleh and Wilson have to be tied at the hip,” one former NFL executive said. “Wait three years, then see how it turned out.”
The Jets, though, seemingly made a mistake this year when they didn’t bring in a veteran backup sooner. All young quarterbacks can use the perspective of someone who has done it before, which Wilson didn’t really have until the Jets traded for Joe Flacco in late October. And that was the result of a scramble after Wilson got hurt.
Yes, Mike White has earned a spot on the team, even if it costs the Jets the $3.9 million they’d have to spend if they use a second-round, restricted free agent tender on him. But there should be another Flacco-like veteran in the room. It could be Flacco, Tyrod Taylor, Mitchell Trubisky – even Nick Foles. Just someone who has been there, done that.
This is where things could get good for the Jets, quickly. They are projected to have nearly $50 million in room under the $208.2 million salary cap, according to OverTheCap.com. They have some easy potential cuts to create more room too, like defensive end Shaq Lawson ($9 million), tight end Ryan Griffin ($3 million), or maybe defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins ($5.5 million or guard Greg Van Roten ($3.5 million).
Basically, they can do whatever they want, especially since most of their free agents (WR Jamison Crowder, LB Jarrad Davis, WR Keelan Cole, T Morgan Moses, TE Tyler Kroft) seem unlikely to return.
Even the decision on safety Marcus Maye now seems easy, since he won’t get big money coming off a torn Achilles. They should re-sign defensive lineman Foley Fatukasi and they might consider bringing back guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, safety Lamarcus Joyner, and running back Tevin Coleman, too, but they won’t cost much.
So they could be big players in free agency, though this isn’t Douglas’ preferred route. He took a swing at guard Joe Thuney last season, so maybe he takes another at Washington guard Brandon Scherff, though his price could end up at $20 million per season.
And while the Jets do have a stable of promising young corners (Bryce Hall, Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols) a veteran starter isn’t a bad idea, and Tampa’s Carlton Davis, who is only 25, could be available. If they want someone with more experience, Stephon Gilmore might be free, too.
A couple of other intriguing potential free agents at a position of need: Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki and Dallas Cowboys tight end Dalton Shultz.
Douglas’ best work with the Jets has been acquiring draft picks, which paid off with a terrific and deep 2021 class. And now he’s got another nine picks – including two possible Top 10 picks and two more in Round 2 – in 2022.
And depending on how high those first-rounders are, they’ve got a plethora of options, If they can get into the Top 2 or 3, they might land one of the pass-rushing studs – Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux or Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson. They could also take another young tackle like Alabama’s Evan Neal or Mississippi State’s Charles Cross. The top part of the draft for tackles and pass rushers is deep.
But one former GM said the Jets’ priority this offseason should be “The secondary, the secondary, and the secondary.” They have several young corners who have shown some promise, but they should be in position to add to that stable with LSU corner Derek Stingley Jr. if they want him. There’s a top safety in Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton who could be a nice replacement for Maye.
Regardless of the direction they go, they should be in position to land two elite players who could help them immediately at positions of need. And with five picks in the first two days, that’s a lot of good, young players to add to their growing roster, if Douglas gets the picks right.