2021 Offseason Outlook: New York Jets

What went right, what went wrong and how can they get back on track? The MMQB's 10-question exit survey for each team eliminated from playoff contention.
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Our perception of how an NFL team should go through its internal checklist after a bad season is at once probably far too optimistic and not optimistic enough. There are some owners who steep their organizations in complacency. Some who are more comfortable with the familiar. Some who blow it all up because some middling former quarterback on ESPN told them to. Perpetually good teams don’t normally have that problem because they are good at self-analysis. Of course, some teams get good for a little while and lose the ability to do that as well.

So that’s why we’re here. With each team that drops from playoff contention, we will answer a 10-part questionnaire on where they are, where they’re headed and how to fix the holes along the way. Some projects will be bigger than others.

Which brings us to the Jets, who have yet to register a win this season and, depending on how the final three weeks of the season go, may set the NFL record for worst point differential in modern NFL history.

More offseason outlooks: Bengals, Chargers, Falcons, Jaguars, Texans.

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1. What went right this year?

It takes a methodical pick through the wreckage in order to come out of this season with a positive. The Jets are last in points, last in yards, last in passing, nearly last in rushing and second-to-last in drive length. Defensively, their coordinator was axed after rushing eight in a Hail Mary situation, which famously robbed the franchise of its only opportunity to win a game this year. Sam Darnold has not developed. Jamal Adams is gone. Le’Veon Bell never had much of an effect before he was released outright.

However, two of the three players the Jets prayed could remain a part of their future have looked the part. Mekhi Becton is good. The same can be said for Quinnen Williams, who, like Becton, may turn out to be more talented than we realize once we see him surrounded by players who can accentuate his skill set and help him play better. Williams was an especially pleasant surprise. There were strong moments this year, like his game against Las Vegas where he was seen dodging chop blocks, sprinting cross field and knocking a should-be Pro Bowl running back out of bounds.

For whatever head coach takes this job, the number of starters needed is staggering. However, Williams, Becton and Marcus Maye in the secondary provide a good place to start (if the Jets can successfully re-sign Maye). It is better than nothing.

2. What went wrong this year?

The cavernous roster inherited by Adam Gase and Joe Douglas completely wore away, and the quick fixes were not nearly enough to patch all the holes. There was a thought that this could be overcome schematically, though an equally milquetoast on-field product led to some incredibly low moments of ineptitude this year. Darnold, who had flashes as a potential franchise quarterback in the past, is the second-worst quarterback in the NFL in points below expected completion percentage, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins. His expected completion percentage is also incredibly low, given the lack of available receiving talent and scheme imagination.

3. The Big Question this offseason

Who will coach this team in 2020, and how will that be shaped by their (likely) looming decision to draft a once-in-a-generation quarterback prospect?

4. Coach/GM outlook

Joe Douglas isn’t going anywhere. The personnel man is from a solid background both in Baltimore and Philadelphia, places that have had success in the past with identifying head coaching candidates (and firing few of them). Adam Gase, as the New York Post recently noted, will go down as one of the least popular head coaches in franchise history. Despite some early promise—Gase’s Dolphins teams did always seem to play hard and above its talent level—the Jets bottomed out spectacularly during his tenure. There is little doubt he will be removed from his post shortly after season’s end. The only surprise is that the Jets did not do it sooner, given that three other franchises have already fired their head coaches. They can begin a far more public and aggressive search process, possibly leaving the Jets behind the eight ball. Douglas has the backing of CAA and power agent Jimmy Sexton, who represents a broad array of high-profile college and NFL coaches, in his corner (this year in particular, top candidates like Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell and Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith also share the agency). This should help the Jets avoid a familiar fate, allowing the decision to ultimately get made by a search firm at arm’s length. They can take a significant swing here.

5. Key free agents

• Marcus Maye, safety
• Brian Poole, cornerback
• Matthias Farley, safety
• Jordan Jenkins, linebacker
• Bradley McDougald, safety
• Neville Hewitt, linebacker
• Breshad Perriman, wide receiver
• Frank Gore, running back
• Joe Flacco, quarterback
• Tarell Basham, linebacker

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6. Top priority

The Jets need to land a coach capable of reversing a long history of total organizational failure. For years, the Jets have vacillated between irresponsible passivity from ownership to irresponsible micromanagement, leaving them as one of the few organizations left in football that does not have the feel of a totally aligned product from ownership down to the coaching staff. Look at the monumental difference shoring that up can make after just a few seasons (Cleveland and San Francisco come to mind).

7. Positions of need

The Jets realistically need three starters on the offensive line, a capable pass-catching threat at tight end, at least two wide receivers, an every-down running back, a top-flight pass rusher, a new linebacking core and, depending on how free agency goes, an entirely new defensive backfield. So, just a few tweaks.

8. Sensible plan to fix them

Trade the No. 1 pick.

The Jets cannot facilitate a Hall of Fame Trevor Lawrence career in their current state. They need to conjure up a package reminiscent of the Ricky Williams or Herschel Walker trades and use it to recalibrate the franchise with affordable talent. If the Jets select Lawrence, and if Lawrence willingly goes to New York, it will be one of the most disastrous pairings of young promise and destructive organizational tendencies in modern times. The team has never, outside of a brief run with Chad Pennington, shown an ability to draft and develop talent at the position. A countless line of perfectly capable bodies have come through that door and turned sour. Is it because the Jets managed to select incorrectly each time, or is there something deeper beneath the surface?

9. Outside-the-box idea to fix them

Trade the No. 1 pick.

It’s worth mentioning twice, and I’m not done discussing it. Think about the way the NFL is trending right now. Are you better off maximizing your hit rate and taking multiple quarterbacks whose effective mobility (or another off-the-charts trait) can somewhat counterbalance what makes them, in the eyes of talent evaluators, not worthy of the gilded mantle that talent evaluators place top prospects in? The early returns on players like Jalen Hurts are solid, and while he was in his own right a market inefficiency that the Eagles capitalized on, those exist in the draft almost every year. If you’re a Jets fan, would you rather draft a quarterback like Lawrence, get him sacked 46 times in his first year, quirk his mechanics and vanilla up the offense so he can get the ball out quick enough … or … with an additional trove of picks, select two or three players over the next two years who are, at the outset, mobile enough to deal with the clearly deficient offensive line and inexpensive enough to allow you to bolster the roster quickly with some top-flight free agents?

10. The next time we'll realistically see them in the playoffs

If the Patriots continue to flounder—who is betting on that?—the road is slightly less rocky. However, the Dolphins are coming into their own. The Bills should continue to be good to great depending on how much coordinator talent they lose this offseason. The AFC East has rarely been kind to the team, and they will need a Rex Ryan–type injection of energy in order to supplant some well-run organizations. My best guess? 2025.