The Jets are now the NFL’s only remaining winless team, placing themselves in the pole position for generational quarterback prospect Trevor Lawrence. But is there a chance their flailing, incompetent shutout loss to the Dolphins on Sunday could actually complicate one of the more obvious draft decisions a team has made over the last two decades?
Watching Joe Flacco wobble into a geriatric Russell Wilson spin move, forcing him 28 yards behind the original line of scrimmage and a mile away from field goal range, to cap off a drive where only the team’s 37-year-old running back was playing with any modicum of effort, tightly summed up the season. Watching this scene, set to the backdrop of organizational dysfunction—the head coach told the broadcast team that his own defensive coordinator, who had subtly badmouthed the offense earlier in the week, needed to shut his mouth—it was as if the Jets’ essence had been distilled to a potent essential oil. A team in its purest form.
It is obvious that so few of the power players on the losing sideline at Hard Rock Stadium Sunday will be there in April to pull the trigger on any draft decisions. The Jets’ firing of Adam Gase feels inevitable, and perhaps his team’s punchless efforts week after week are actually one advantage of keeping him around in the short term. He is like a pair of concrete shoes, theoretically bringing the franchise closer to the best quarterback prospect the game has seen since Andrew Luck. But if Lawrence caught any glimpse of this performance on Sunday, would the organization be the kind of place he’d want to risk his career prospects?
Are the Jets bad enough, cursed enough, unsophisticated, rudderless and directionless enough to motivate Lawrence to pull an Eli Manning and circumnavigate them altogether?
Again, it’s not the head coach. Lawrence can safely factor a play-caller of his liking into the equation. His position of power atop the draft will be unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times. It would be hard to imagine, if there was something he didn’t like about the organization that was about to inherit him, that he wouldn’t be able to mold it to his liking.
What he can’t change is the organization itself, which has now led the team through a loud, destructive slog since its last playoff appearance in 2010; a series of calamitous regimes pocked by infighting, indifference and incompetence. The good coaches they had couldn’t get along with the bad general managers. The good general managers couldn’t squeeze an ounce of imagination out of the bad coaches. And so on and so on.
This is not to say that Lawrence has given any indication that he intends to be an operator on the level of Manning and his family. Perhaps, like Joe Burrow or Baker Mayfield before him, he will accept the historical shortcomings of his new workplace and use it as a personal rallying cry. There is a glimmer of hope in both Cincinnati and Cleveland now.
This is merely a suggestion to Lawrence that it’s possible. If you go back and listen to former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi tell the story of that 2004 draft day trade, which I have been lucky enough to do several times, there was a creeping inevitability to it all. The deal, which sent Eli Manning to New York and Philip Rivers to San Diego, basically took two minutes on the phone and the Giants didn’t even have to surrender the one player they refused to give up, Osi Umenyiora. And, after a few years, Manning escaped all of the (understandable) criticisms deserved of someone who decided to upend the draft for his own personal benefit. One might even argue that the current environment, given the way players advocate for themselves and more members of the media are willing to champion their power plays on the business side, is far more amenable to a player brushing back the old guard than in years past.
The reality is that Sunday’s game depicted a team that needs far more than a new head coach before it can succeed. Generously, the Jets would need 17 new starters by next year, or a coaching job so miraculous that it transcends the modern game. Does Lawrence want to risk a potentially gilded career on the off chance that this next regime, this next coach, this next general manager, don’t all wind up in the same pit four years later, hoping for a mercy field goal against the 2–3 Miami Dolphins?
In the end, Lawrence orchestrating his own exit from New York before he even arrives could benefit the Jets, too. They are one of the few teams for which Lawrence probably would not make a noticeable difference immediately. And the massive haul from trading the pick might go a long way toward filling some of those 17 starting spots they’ll need to build around Sam Darnold.
Lawrence, meanwhile, could enjoy the view from elsewhere, somewhere on higher ground.