It is go-time for general manager Joe Douglas. Now, the rubber meets the road.
It has been nothing short of a tremendous offseason for Douglas and the Jets. Nearly every deficiency from last year – and there were many – were addressed by Douglas in a smart, shrewd way.
There is no guarantee that the moves, whether all or in part, will work out. But at least there is a plan and a purpose to how this roster was built.
The offensive line, the biggest issue to emerge from last season, was undoubtedly a huge question mark throughout all of 2019. Nearly all the struggles of the offense from the limited impact of running back Le’Veon Bell to quarterback Sam Darnold’s struggles in the first half of the year came down to the play of the line. It was a unit that was among the worst in football a year ago if not the worst.
Douglas went out and made four solid additions to the line, three of which involved savvy, under the radar free agents and a fourth was a substantial investment in left tackle Mekhi Becton, selected in the first round of April’s NFL Draft. The line should be improved.
As should the group of wide receivers who, despite lacking depth at the unit, should be improved over a season ago. Breshad Perriman, a free agent signing, closed out 2019 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with three games where he topped 100 receiving yards. He is a replacement for the speedy Robby Anderson, who left in free agency. Perriman has faster straight-line speed than Anderson and similar if not better production. Then there is the addition of Denzel Mims, a second round pick with attributes that project to him being an impact player with the Jets.
And while the unit needs greater depth, the wide receivers reflect a second positional group where Douglas upgraded. It is impressive, especially considering that this is his first full offseason with the organization.
The same can be said on the other side of the ball where cornerback is deeper as is the linebackers room. And while difficult decisions were made, such as trading All-Pro Jamal Adams, Douglas did this with the future of the franchise in mind.
He landed a safety in Bradley McDougald who helped the team in the immediate while also getting two first round picks and a third round pick to help further the rebuilding process.
For years since the departure of Mike Tannenbaum, the Jets have struggled to find a football mind with a clear vision for the future. Tannenbaum built the great teams of 2009 and 2010 with a strong core that he drafted, a group that was augmented with free agents.
In John Idzik, the Jets had a general manager who seemed more interested in clearing cap space and shopping for castoffs then ever having the courage to spend this capital in upgrading the roster. His successor, Mike Maccagnan, whiffed repeatedly in the draft and repeatedly handed out free agent contracts to players who underperformed.
Now in Douglas, there is a different approach. For Douglas in fact is proving to be a ninja of the NFL.
He is stealthily improving the roster while creating flexibility moving the forward. In free agency, he did not go after the big names, instead finding under the radar types with upside and potential. He didn’t tie-up the Jets to long-term deals or cap sucking contracts. Instead like Perriman, he signed players with something to prove to one-year contracts and deals that gave the Jets maximum flexibility to continue their rebuild if the player didn’t pan out.
And in here is the brilliance of Douglas. Consider the NFL Draft, where he went the ‘safe’ route in Becton, a dominant left tackle at Louisville and Mims, a player with great production at Baylor in a tough Big XII. But several of his later picks in the draft represented risks.
Risks with big upside.
Third round pick Ashtyn Davis is fast and a rising safety who still is raw, having been a track star who walked onto the football team at Cal. Jabari Zuniga, another third round pick, was projected as a top 50 pick in the draft but an ankle injury cut his season short. Fifth round pick Bryce Hall, a cornerback out of Virginia, was another second round pick projection this time last season but he too had an ankle injury that cut short his season.
That’s a lot of ifs. If Davis can develop…if Zuniga and Hall can stay healthy…
All represent risks. All represent huge upside and potential.
But like he did in free agency, Douglas rolled the dice on these picks in a calculated and measured way. It wasn’t reckless. He didn’t take a huge leap for any one player early in the draft, instead going with the solid selections of Becton and Mims. Yet in a part of the draft that is often a crap shoot, Douglas projected that had certain players not been hurt, their draft value would be much higher.
And here is the genius that Douglas has shown so far, a blending of different mentalities where he has found an ideal balance. He recognized the pressing issues and deficiencies of this team, in particular on offense, and he provided instant upgrades at five if not six spots on the offensive side of the ball. But he did so while maintaining this team’s flexibility moving forward if things don’t work out.
The Jets have been waiting a decade for this pragmatic, practical approach to team building. From a general manager in Idzik who was seemingly afraid to be bold to Maccagnan who always seemed to be playing with a hot hand, the Jets never had that balance.
Douglas, lurking in the shadows and waiting for the right opportunity, has seemingly found that much-needed balance. Just like any good ninja.
And, perhaps most importantly, it sets the Jets up for 2021 where they can be big spenders in free agency, a process that should complete the rebuild and have the team pointed back to the playoffs once again.