The Jets are taking a crack at stability for the second time this decade, only this time with less playoff evidence to support the show of loyalty. Why does it feel like a good thing?
Friday’s announcement that head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan would be signed through 2020 after a surprisingly competitive five-win season represented the conundrum the Jets are in. In order to catch the Patriots, they will need to develop something sustainable, something concrete. But in order to develop something sustainable and concrete, they must take the chance of investing a significant amount of time and money into a, to this point, unproven entity.
After head coach Rex Ryan made the playoffs in each of his first two seasons (2009 and ’10), he managed to survive four more years at .500 or below. His teams were undisciplined and ego-heavy. During the Ryan era, the Jets always had the feel of an engine operating at great speed but also beyond its intended capacity. Eventually, it combusted.
The Bowles era is different. The Jets are paying him for what they imagine they will become in a few years. They are developers staring at a blueprint.
Here’s what they see: A team that will play as hard as the 2017 unit, but with more talent and, theoretically, a long-term solution at quarterback. Bowles had this team in playoff contention with a healthy Josh McCown. Six of the Jets’ 10 losses were by one score or less. They were competitive against the Patriots in an October matchup. They shellacked the potentially playoff-bound Bills in their only primetime game of the season. They continue to handle disciplinary issues swiftly and effectively, avoiding the lingering melodramas typical of the past.
Bowles’ coaching staff has developed some homegrown stars, from Leonard Williams to Robby Anderson. Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye have made the transition from beloved draft prospects to legitimate contributors on a Pro Bowl arc. At least part of the foundation has been laid.
It will be uncomfortable for some Jets fans to sit out this coaching carousel. It is a fascinating time of year and watching other teams develop an exciting new identity is hard when your current situation feels encased in cement. Bowles’ hire in 2015 carried the excitement of a grocery store mailer. He is neither brash nor bold. He is not a rocket scientist turned coordinator, nor is he a swaggering veteran exploding at the seams with new ideas.
That being said, he coached the hell out of a threadbare roster in 2017. He circumnavigated some horrendous mistakes made early by his general manager (see Hackenberg, Christian) and doesn’t seem bothered by the toxic groupthink that can consume his fan base inside their media bubble.
Eventually, Bowles will stop being graded on a curve. The Jets will put a product on the field that Maccagnan and the general public deems playoff-worthy and his make-or-break moment as a head coach in the AFC East will commence. Until that moment, it will be a long, strained look at a vision of something not quite completed yet.
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