“Sure, luck means a lot in football. Not having a good quarterback is bad luck.”
The New York Jets just can’t do anything right, can they?
At 3-9 and mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, they were a train wreck heading into their “battle” with the San Francisco 49ers Sunday. In addition to a four-game losing streak, the team was coming off an embarrassing thrashing at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts at home on national television six days earlier.
The 49ers, it just so happens, were coming into that game with the second worst record in the NFL and an 11-game losing streak, which would seem to make the Jets’ four-game skid seem tame by comparison.
This was a game where a loss and a move towards improved draft position would have been advantageous for the long term futures of both teams.
So, of course, the Jets managed to win.
Oh, they gave us some hope early on. Bryce Petty, making only his second career start at QB in place of the unbearably atrocious Ryan Fitzpatrick–you know, the guy who thought he was worth franchise QB money until the clock struck midnight and his carriage turned back into a pumpkin–threw his first pass of the game for an interception that the 49ers quickly cashed in on for a touchdown. San Francisco rapidly followed that up with another touchdown to make the game 14-0, putting optimism into the hearts of aggravated Jets fans that a move up the draft board was virtually assured.
But it was not to be.
As it turns out, the 49ers had lost 11 games in a row for a reason. A combination of a few plays here and there by the Jets, and pathetic incompetence by San Francisco, led to a late game rally, culminating in a game tying field goal to send it into overtime. This was followed by a game winning touchdown run by the criminally underrated Bilal Powell in overtime, resulting in an improbable and–at least where it concerns most of the fan base–unwanted Jets win.
Surely, this was a tough break for anybody who wants to see the Jets actually succeed sometime this century.
And by succeed, I do not mean make the playoffs or have a winning record.
The Jets have done plenty of that in the post-Rich Kotite era. Believe it or not, over the past 20 years, the Jets have finished .500 or better 14 times and have seven playoff appearances under their belts.
Contrary to popular opinion, the last two decades of Jets football have not been a joke.
They have been the very definition of mediocrity.
No, by succeed, I mean repeatedly contend for the Super Bowl, and, hopefully, actually win one at some point.
In the NFL, there is only one surefire way to make that happen, but we’ll get back to that.
First, though, let’s talk about how poorly this current Jets team is constructed and what needs to be done to fix it.
For starters, it is time to acknowledge that this team was never really very good to begin with.
Sure, they won 10 games last season, but they overachieved in a major way, due in equal parts to good fortune and an easy schedule. This is the exact same thing that happened when Eric Mangini took over the team in 2006 and when Rex Ryan succeeded him in 2009.
New general manager Mike Maccagnan went on a spending spree last season–partly because he had to, due to all the cap space his predecessor, John Idzik, left him–but that strategy turned out to mostly be a bust. Antonio Cromartie barely made it through one season, Marcus Gilchrist is surely a goner within the next few months and the biggest catch of them all–returning hero Darrelle Revis–has played like a guy ready to slink off into retirement.
Then, there is Todd Bowles, the second year head coach with whom everybody was so pleased after his rookie season. Not only has he looked downright lost at times with some of his poor decision making and lack of preparedness, it appears as though the entire team quit on him weeks ago.
Witness Revis, who seems to have a Roger Dorn-like desire to avoid any kind of physical contact.
See Sheldon Richardson, who can’t be bothered to do anything but be late to meetings and get called for penalties.
And view Mo Wilkerson, who after getting a major payday this offseason, apparently thinks the phrase “take the money and run” really means “take the money and loaf.”
This is not to say the entire team is terrible or needs to be replaced.
Last year’s first round pick, defensive lineman Leonard Williams, is playing at an All-Pro level. This year’s first round pick, linebacker Darron Lee, has been largely inconsistent, but shown flashes of brilliance. The team’s two starting guards, Brian Winters and Seattle Seahawks escapee James Carpenter, have both played very well and the Jets would be wise to give the former a contract extension sooner rather than later.
Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson have shown the makings of a potentially lethal wide receiver duo that could be a centerpiece of the Jets’ offense for years to come. Despite being ridiculously underused all season, Bilal Powell continues to prove he can be a very productive running back when given the chance. And though he hasn’t been anywhere near as productive as he was last season, Brandon Marshall has busted his butt every week, providing valuable leadership and effectively putting the longtime label of volatile malcontent behind him.
So there are some bright spots, but overall, this is a team that needs to be cleaned up “big league” (as our President-elect might say).
The first step in doing that is to admit the obvious: the Jets aren’t ready to contend, and they shouldn’t make any “win now” moves. No chasing overpriced and overaged players like Tony Romo. This team needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up and that can’t be done while simultaneously trying to put together an instant playoff contender. Or, in the words of the immortal Mike Ehrmantraut, no more half measures. That strategy is exactly what has kept the Jets mired in mediocrity for so long.
This will be a long, painful, process for sure, but there is no other way. This means jettisoning unproductive players, getting as much value as possible for useful veterans like Brandon Marshall, and collecting picks so the team can be completely reconstructed in the draft.
Most of all, though, it means doing the one thing this franchise has not been able to do in pretty much its entire history: hit on a quarterback.
In Jets lore, the only time the team had a franchise quarterback was when they drafted Joe Willie Namath from the University of Alabama in 1965. Namath, as the legend goes, singlehandedly led the Jets to Super Bowl glory in 1969, and was one of the all-time greats at the position.
Unfortunately, any objective look at his career reveals that recollection of Namath to be far more fantasy than fact.
Though he had a few pro bowl level seasons, Namath was largely inconsistent during his 12-year tenure with the Jets, plagued by both injuries and turnovers. He finished his career with significantly more INTs (220) than TDs (173) and even his magical Super Bowl performance is more or less a myth.
Namath played reasonably well (17-28 for 206 yards), but wasn’t responsible for the game’s only touchdown, and didn’t even throw a single pass in the fourth quarter. To this day, he remains the only quarterback to win Super Bowl MVP despite not throwing any touchdown passes. The truth is, Namath largely won the award more for his pre-game “victory guarantee” than his actual game performance, and the award probably should have gone to running back Matt Snell–the man who scored the game’s only touchdown, and whose 121 yards rushing really helped the Jets control the clock.
Beyond Namath, the team’s history at QB is not much to brag about. Ken O’Brien gave the Jets nine solid seasons and Chad Pennington was a steady hand for a half dozen, and while both had their moments, neither one was much better than average for most of their respective careers. The rest have either been erratic (Richard Todd, Mark Sanchez), outright bad (Browning Nagle, Kellen Clemens), or grizzled veterans passing through at the twilight of their careers (Boomer Esiason, Vinny Testaverde, Brett Favre).
Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith are the latest also-rans to spend significant time under center for the Jets. As we have seen, neither one of them is the answer. And, despite a few decent throws against a terrible San Francisco team last week, Bryce Petty likely isn’t the answer, either.
I’d comment on 2016 second round pick Christian Hackenberg, but to be honest, he’s been hidden so deeply that I’m starting to wonder if he even really exists or is just some bizarre figment of my imagination ala Bruce Willis in “The Sixth Sense.”
Overall, you could say–as Don Shula surely would–that the Jets have had some bad luck at quarterback.
And that most certainly needs to change if they are ever going to be a real long-term Super Bowl contender.
With the Jets currently slated to pick sixth overall–if they can avoid the temptation to win any more games this season–they will likely be within reasonable range to pick, or trade up for, the 2017 draft’s top quarterback, should they choose to do so.
To that end, rumors have been swirling that the team is hot on the trail of the draft’s likely top ranked signal caller, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky. Keeping in mind that the main source of this chatter is a reporter who works almost exclusively off of incredibly dubious anonymous sourcing, if there IS any truth to it, things could get quite interesting in the months leading up to the draft.
Trubisky, a junior who is likely to declare, has drawn a ton of praise from scouts and draft experts, but he only has one full season as a starter under his belt, evoking memories of another quarterback who was once picked very high despite a lack of starting experience, Mark Sanchez.
Now, to be fair, Trubisky has certain tools in his arsenal that Sanchez never did–a big arm and a demonstrated ability to shake off a fair amount of would be tacklers–but the inexperience is certainly worrisome. Picking Trubisky, or surrendering multiple draft choices to move up for him, would carry a major risk of setting the franchise back several years because selecting a quarterback so high not only costs major draft capital, it also forces a team to set aside a minimum of three seasons to see if that quarterback pans out. And if he flops, you have to cut bait and start all over again.
DeShone Kizer and Deshaun Watson, the draft’s other two most heralded quarterbacks, have so many question marks that they may both fall all the way to the end of round one or the beginning of round two, similar to the way Geno Smith, Teddy Bridgewater, and Paxton Lynch all tumbled on draft day over the past few years. Mid-round prospects like Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes (son of former Twins, Red Sox, Mets, Rangers, Cubs and Pirates pitcher Pat Mahomes) and Cal’s Davis Webb could be options too, but other than very rare outliers (Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson come to mind), once you get past the second round, it becomes incredibly difficult to find a true franchise quarterback.
With a few occasional exceptions – Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, for instance–it is not often a quarterback prospect is truly considered “can’t miss.” Almost all of these guys are flawed and therefore have a reasonably high probability of failure.
But that’s the chance you have to take if you want to win consistently in today’s NFL.
The Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts aside, most teams struggle for years to find a franchise quarterback. The Pittsburgh Steelers were in the NFL wilderness for a long time before they hit on Ben Roethlisberger. Ditto for the Carolina Panthers with Cam Newton and the Oakland Raiders with Derek Carr. On the flipside, the Miami Dolphins have spent almost two decades unsuccessfully trying to replace Dan Marino and the Buffalo Bills have done the same in trying to replace Jim Kelly.
But fail as they may, they keep trying over and over again because they have no choice.
The Jets have tried and failed many times as well, with their two most recent high profile flops being Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith.
However, they, too, will keep trying because no matter how many times they are unsuccessful, the alternative–permanent mediocrity or, even worse, laughingstock status–simply isn’t acceptable.
A longtime business associate of my father used to have a saying. He’d say, “Scott, in my business, sometimes you gotta just keep throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and hope that at some point, something sticks.”
That’s pretty much what the Jets, and any NFL team that doesn’t have a difference maker at the quarterback position, pretty much has to do year-in, year-out.
I don’t know if Mitch Trubisky or any of the other quarterbacks in the 2017 NFL draft will be the answer to the Jets’ prayers, but I do know that if Mike Maccagnan does believe one of the passers in the upcoming class is the real deal, he has to do whatever he can to land him. He may be wrong, but if he wants to build a successful, enduring winner, he has to trust his instincts and just keep throwing stuff at that wall.
Because sooner or later, something will stick.
I mean, eventually, it HAS to, right?
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