The smart solution for Woody Johnson is also the most painful.
It will sting. It will embarrass him. He’ll be lampooned. His billion-dollar baby might become a punchline for a while. But there is no other way for this organization to climb out of football purgatory.
The Jets need to tear it down and set a proper foundation now.
They must start over.
Johnson has to be patient no matter how tempting it might be to continue along the same path that has paralyzed the franchise under his watch.
“I know Woody’s very committed towards building an organization that has the ability to be a long-term success,” said general manager Mike Maccagnan, whose 3-7 team hosts the NFL’s gold standard team (Patriots) on Sunday. “That’s what we’ve always talked about.”
The Jets are 130-136 in 16½ seasons since Johnson took over in 2000. They’ve won their division a grand total of one time. Nine winning seasons. A sixth losing one on the horizon. Two 8-8 campaigns. A 6-6 record in the playoffs.
They’re the epitome of forgettable.
Woody’s Jets have never really given themselves a chance for sustainable success for myriad reasons, including the notion that a true rebuild is impossible in this market.
They’re in the midst of a six-year playoff drought (assuming there’s no miracle run in the final six weeks of the season), a nadir since Johnson took over. It’s the worst stretch since the franchise missed the postseason from 1992-97 and second worst ever behind an 11-year malaise from 1970-80.
Johnson hired Maccagnan because he’s a “personnel guy” who can identify talent. So, let him scout and build a roster with a firm base without the burden of producing mirages along the way to fool the fans with dead-end seasons.
Real change takes time. The immediate future won’t be pleasant. There will be some lean years ahead.
MetLife Stadium could morph into a ghost town, but fans will come back in droves if the Jets become a sustainable winner with a rock-solid core. Johnson owes it to the fans to at least make an earnest attempt to build it the right way. (Freeze ticket prices too, please).
It’s the best way to attack the problem. There’s no elixir to cure what ails this franchise.
The Jets’ 10-win campaign in 2016 was fool’s gold. It’s apparent now that this roster was a house of cards, propped up by aging players. Maccagnan put lipstick on a pig. Sooner or later, the ugliness of this roster would be revealed. It came this season.
Maccagnan inherited a thin roster thanks to three poor drafts by the previous two regimes. Only four of the 27 players selected in the 2012, 2013 and 2014 drafts are contributors now: Sheldon Richardson, Quincy Enunwa, Calvin Pryor and Brian Winters. Two of the four first-round picks from those drafts (Dee Milliner and Quinton Coples) aren’t even playing in the NFL.
The result for this Jets team: a glaring lack of depth.
Maccagnan attempted to mask some deficiencies by throwing money at veteran free agents last year. That patchwork attempt didn’t yield a playoff berth.
“You try to make decisions that you feel are best for the organization as a whole,” Maccagnan said. “You can’t approach it (with) a very short-term kind of view. You do try to make decisions that help the organization long-term…. The tricky thing about the job is that you make a lot of decisions constantly, and you’re making decisions you think will hopefully set the team up for success long term. You understand the nature of our business, but you can’t really approach it just to try to solve it short-term every year.”
Maccagnan’s “competitive re-build” mantra never really had a chance of working.
A true transformation won’t happen overnight. There’s no guarantee that Maccagnan will build a sustainable winner, but he deserves the opportunity to put a thorough plan in place. If it doesn’t work, he’ll be gone.
Johnson should resist the impulse for the quick fix and trust the man that he hired until he gives him a reason not to. The owner also needs to re-organize his power structure. The head coach, especially an inexperienced one, should report to the general manager, whose big-picture vision shapes football operations.
Otherwise, the Jets will never be anything more than what they’ve been since Johnson entered the picture 17 years ago.
How long it will take is anyone’s guess. Maccagnan doesn’t get a lifetime appointment, but there’s no denying that he’s starting near the ground floor. The team’s 2016 success delayed the inevitable rebuild.
The most important piece is finding the elusive franchise quarterback, but there are other steps that must be taken to build the right foundation. It isn’t a glamorous business.
Maccagnan has made important strides by strengthening the bottom half of his roster in ways that won’t grab headlines. The brain trust has seen promise from lesser-known players like Julian Stanford, Deon Simon, Robby Anderson, Charone Peake and Darryl Roberts. Holdovers Wesley Johnson, Brian Winters, Bilal Powell and Ben Ijalana have also contributed.
They might not be game-changers, but they’re essential depth pieces.
“The long-term thing is going to take time to build through the draft,” Maccagnan said. “So that was our goal…. We’re trying to focus on going forward. We know where we want to get to. There’s a lot of young players and some positives that we feel good about. Again, it might not necessarily show in the record, but we do think we’re making progress.”
If Woody Johnson sees the big picture, his franchise actually might find sustained success one day. They don’t have to be the Same Ol’ Jets.