Back in 2010, the New York Jets looked like the biggest threat to the New England Patriots’ reign of the AFC East. The Jets improved from 9-7 to 11-5 and toppled the Patriots in the 2010 playoffs. QB Mark Sanchez improved as a sophomore and led six game-winning drives in 2010, despite obvious accuracy issues. The Jets posted elite defenses, led by Darrelle Revis, Shaun Ellis, Bart Scott, and David Harris.
And then the wheels fell off.
Despite having defensive-minded coaches in Rex Ryan and Todd Bowles, the Jets defense has ranked 19th or worse in five of the past six seasons. The offense has ranked 28th or worse in four of the past five years. What happened?
ESPN’s Rich Cimini looks at the reasons for the Jets collapse and places blame at the feet of Jets owner Woody Johnson and the team’s leadership, the team’s inability to find a quarterback, a series of inept draft classes, and a never-ending obsession with the New England Patriots.
“It goes back to 1997 and 1998, when the Jets swiped future Hall of Famers Parcells and Curtis Martin, respectively, from the Patriots,” Cimini writes. “The fascination was renewed by Ryan, who famously pledged that he had never kiss Bill Belichick’s Super Bowl rings. (P.S.: He pretty much did.)
“The obsession surfaced again in 2015, when the Jets reacquired [Darrelle] Revis (and got busted for tampering) and based their offseason plan on trying to neutralize the Patriots’ high-powered passing attack.”
The Jets flaws- Johnson’s meddling, the lack of quarterback, the poor draft classes, and the obsession with the Patriots- all converged in the 2015 offseason to ultimately set the franchise back for another half decade.
Johnson forced an ugly marriage with general manager John Idzik and head coach Rex Ryan in 2013 and 2014 where Idzik effectively gutted the roster and Ryan bungled the quarterback competition with Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith as Sanchez suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the preseason. So after clearing the roster of talent during the 2014 season, the Jets rebooted their leadership by firing both Idzik and Ryan.
And the Jets really were devoid of talent. Cimini notes that just the team has just three starters and six total players from the 2012-14 drafts and those players are supposed to be entering their prime. This led new general manager Mike Maccagnan to spend heavily, with the Patriots in mind.
“Some teams acquire players to compete with a particular team, like Golden State signing Kevin Durant to take down Cleveland,” an AFC scout tells Cimini. “I think the Jets, with Mike and Todd coming in, were trying to get guys to help them beat New England.”
The Jets invested heavily in their secondary by adding defensive backs Darrelle Revis, Buster Skrine, Antonio Cromartie, and Marcus Gilchrist in the first week of free agency for a total of $149 million across those four contracts. They also acquired QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and WR Brandon Marshall via trade.
After two seasons, Skrine is the only player that remains with the team.
Maccagnan and company followed the same model in 2016 as they added Matt Forte and Ryan Clady, and let stud in-his-prime defensive tackle Damon Harrison leave in free agency.
The big problem with all of the Jets acquisitions is that they continued to add older players to an already old roster; it wasn’t so much a rebuild as it was a simple slap of a band-aid on a gaping wound. Only the Texans and Colts fielded older rosters than the Jets in 2015 and New York’s team was a full year older than the Patriots.
And now the Jets have lost all of those older acquisitions with no positive results to show for it, leaving behind a roster that looks worse than what Maccagnan inherited in 2015.
No quarterback. No wide receiver. No tight end. Questionable offensive line. Questionable linebackers. Questionable cornerbacks.
The Jets continue to invest in their defense, adding two promising young safeties in first round SS Jamal Adams and second round FS Marcus Maye to play with 2016 first round LB Darron Lee, 2015 first round DL Leonard Williams, 2013 first round DL Sheldon Richardson, and 2011 first round DL Muhammad Wilkerson.
But the offense remains a wasteland without their only promising player in the pipeline- WR Quincy Enunwa- already done for the year with a neck injury.
Maccagnan and the Jets tried to build a team that could immediately compete with the Patriots and they whiffed in a major way. They didn’t even mortgage the future by trading away draft picks; they just added ineffective veterans and subsequently drafted ineffective prospects.
But the money that the Jets gave to their defensive backs could have gone to literally any other position and it would have yielded more productive returns. Instead they wasted the final years of their actual quality veterans like Mangold and Harris and now the cupboard is bare.
The Jets have set up their roster to produce a laughable product in 2017 and should once again have an early pick. Don’t be surprised if the Jets waltz right back into their cycle of incompetence.