In an offseason with huge implications for the New York Jets current regime, several crucial decisions await Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles. What exactly is the proper way to allocate financial resources and draft picks to build for sustained success? Watching the craziness of the Divisional Round unfold this past weekend, it seems there are only more questions than answers.
QB or Bust?
While many seem to think that if the Jets do not find their franchise QB this offseason, then nothing else will matter. As much as we would all love to see the Jets finally put an end to years of inept play at the QB position, the last thing anybody would want is a desperation move for the wrong guy. It is certainly expected that Maccagnan will be aggressive in going after “his” guy, but if the cost becomes outrageous (cash or picks to trade up), is it the worst thing to continue adding impact players to the roster elsewhere? With Nick Foles, Blake Bortles, and Case Keenum advancing over Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees, it can be argued that a complete team with the right coaching, a top-flight defense, and a strong running game can do the job.
While the current state of the Jets roster is not yet built to do what the Jaguars and Vikings have done for Bortles and Keenum, it isn’t crazy to suggest that the Jets could be a few pieces away from at least competing for a playoff spot with the right moves. They did manage to defeat three of the four AFC playoff teams that played during the Wild Card round, and held their own into the fourth quarter against the Pats, Falcons, Saints, and Panthers. Maccagnan has added a respectable foundation of youth, but the team is still lacking the type of high-end talent at key positions (offensive line, edge, cornerback) to make a similar leap as Jacksonville, who went from 3-13 last season to an AFC Championship Game appearance and possibly more this season.
Filling the gaps on defense
Both the Jaguars and Vikings seem to closely resemble what Bowles and Maccagnan are at least trying to build here in New York. A team predicated on defense, built through the draft, with a versatile group of athletic and intelligent players. The Jets have found an anchor for their defensive line in 2015 with Leonard Williams, added some youth at linebacker in 2016 (Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins) and found a pretty damn good safety tandem to move forward with in 2017 (Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye). However, the lack of a consistent pass rush and shaky cornerback play will continue to hold this unit back and will certainly be prioritized for 2018. Mo Claiborne was solid for half a season when healthy, but his play declined towards the end of the year. The remaining group of corners were prone to penalties and wildly inconsistent. It seemed as though Bowles was often stuck between rushing four and giving the quarterback an eternity to throw, or sending the blitz and risk exposing his corners. It is well-known that Bowles loves to blitz, but it is tough to do so with confidence without the right corners. Could a tandem similar to AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey, or Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes turn the Jets defense into a top unit? Perhaps. With four picks in the first three rounds of the draft and likely close to $100M in cap space, it would be unfathomable if significant upgrades are not made at cornerback and edge.
Todd Bowles is not alone
Todd Bowles and John Morton have some company when it comes to some poor in-game decisions. Mike Tomlin and Sean Payton, respected veteran head coaches with Super Bowl rings, both made several egregious blunders in similar fashion to what we have watched from the Jets over the past few seasons. Questionable play-calling in short yardage situations, poor game management, poor clock management, it was all on display this weekend.
For Bowles, had his team come out for much of this season unprepared or with young players demonstrating little growth, the combination would have made firing him after the season completely justifiable. But as we often see around the league, talent can be the difference maker, and even then good coaches will still make some dumb decisions. The jury is still out on whether or not continuity and more talent will equate to more wins for Bowles and the Jets next season. Bowles was given the benefit of the doubt in a rebuilding season, but simply keeping the team competitive will not cut it in 2018 with what should be an improved roster.
Rebuilding takes time
From 2010-2014, the Jets had 37 draft picks. Only 7 remain on the roster. Of those 7, Demario Davis and Jeremy Kerley were reacquired and Mo Wilkerson is soon likely to be cut. Simply put, when getting such little return on five consecutive draft classes, players that should be in their prime and the leaders of your current team, it will take time before the entire roster can be fully replenished. The Jaguars built their team over six consecutive five-win or less seasons, while the Vikings and Eagles both have a long list of impact players still on their roster from those draft years. Maccagnan has begun the turn around with a few cornerstone players, but must get creative and hit a homerun with his available resources this offseason.