Top 5 observations about Mike Maccagnan going into 2017
By Steven Blush
The New York Jets are nine-point underdogs on the road in Orchard Park against a tanking Buffalo Bills. What does that tell you about the experts’ opinions about Gang Green in 2017?
What the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills share going into Week 1 is a race to the bottom. Both front offices have spent considerable effort shedding pricey veterans and accumulating cap space and draft picks. Both defenses are pro caliber but with glaring holes. So if Gang Green can hold the home team to under two touchdowns, put your money on 38-year-old Josh McCown to lead Gang Green to victory. But make no mistakes, this will be one brutal season.
General manager Mike Maccagnan has been given a green-light to rebuild this roster. But he has much to prove after three drafts and free agents cycles that flash some potential but have not exactly struck pay dirt.
The rumblings comparing Maccagnan to his predecessors Mike Tannenbaum and John Idzik may be unfair. But Woody Johnson does keep making the same mistake of selecting office boy-wonders with no GM or NFL playing experience to build gridiron rosters. Remember that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
In terms of Jets history, the past has been a mixed bag, and the present is not a pretty sight. After questionable talent evaluation and personnel decisions, it’s time to access if there’s a rosier future.
Next: 5. Caught in a Draft
5. Caught in a Draft
Maccagnan’s 2015 draft yielded a foundational player in first rounder Leonard Williams. But the USC behemoth was also the top-rated talent going into the draft, who fell to No. 6 for a Florham Park brain trust in search of the “best player available.”
All that remains from that draft is, two players on IR — the damaged Devin Smith and the disappointing Lorenzo Mauldin — along with frustrating non-answer at quarterback, Bryce Petty, and seventh rounder Deon Simon, about to spend his second of three NFL seasons on the practice squad of “the league’s least-talented roster.”
All preseason, last year’s No. 1 choice Darron Lee spoke like a field general but got torched in long coverage. Second-round quarterback Christian Hackenberg may not be a bust, but he is certainly a raw third-stringer on an abysmal offense. This will be a huge season for both third-round outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and fourth-round cornerback Juston Burris, who need to prove themselves as more than possible serviceable pros. Bottom three picks offensive tackle Brandon Shell, punter Lach Edwards and wide receiver Charone Peake need to prove they can even hang in the Not For Long.
There are encouraging signs about this year’s crop. On the offense is slowly emerging receivers ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen, project tight end Jordan Leggett and enticing scatback Elijah McGuire. On the defense, they’ve got something between rugged safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye (the latter could wind up the better of the two), sack machine Dylan Donahue, and tantalizing cornerbacks Derrick Jones and the surgery-rehabbing Jeremy Clark. But none of them have yet to play a down.
It’s gonna take way more than that to challenge the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the AFC East.
Next: 4. A Judge of Talent
4. A Judge of Talent
A general manager can only be judged by their ability to accumulate dominating football talent. Going into his third season, Maccagnan’s scouting acumen merits closer scrutiny.
Long after unceremoniously dumping Mike Tannenbaum, and the franchise’s post-Idzik purge, those regimes’ signings remain key contributors to this underwhelming roster. Tannenbaum’s lasting legacy for Gang Green 2017 is Muhammad Wilkerson, Bilal Powell, and the returning Demario Davis and Jeremy Kerley. Idzik acquired Quincy Enunwa, Brian Winters, Ben Ijalana, Brent Qvale, Dakota Dozier, Marcus Williams and Rontez Miles.
The Patriots and Packers exemplify successful franchises rich with small-college overachievers. And it’s nice that Maccagnan has identified rugged area athletes from Columbia (Josh Martin), Wagner (Julian Stanford), and most recently, Stony Brook (Will Tye), Monmouth (Neal Sterling) and Holy Cross (Kalif Raymond). But it’s not like we’re talking about All-Pro talent here.
There are two players on this roster from Sam Houston State (Josh McCown, Lach Edwards), and three former members of the national champion Clemson Tigers (Jordan Leggett, Charone Peake, and Chandler Catanzaro), though perhaps not the right ones.
Maccagnan’s remaining major free agent contributors are Matt Forte, Steve McLendon, Buster Skrine, Kevin Beachum and Wesley Johnson. He shed Damon Harrison, David Harris, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Sheldon Richardson.
That, my friends, is a Jet negative.
Next: 3. The Gambler
3. The Gambler
A general manager has to be a bit of a riverboat gambler — know when to hold em, know when to fold em, and know when to bluff. Look at how 49ers rookie general manager John Lynch fleeced the Chicago Bears in this year’s draft, over a player he didn’t even want.
Trader Mike certainly doesn’t display such instincts. There is certainly nothing wrong with sticking to your draft board and trading down for value. But in his three drafts, he hasn’t really traded up, unless you count underwhelming mid-round acquisition offensive tackle Brandon Shell, who hasn’t shown enough grit to separate himself from Idzik-era UDFA linemen Ben Ijalana and Brent Qvale.
A particularly troubling sign is last season’s draft over-reaches on quarterback Christian Hackenberg and punter Lach Edwards. Hackenberg was seen as an early Day Three pick, and Edwards was at best a priority UDFA. Word is, in both instances, Maccagnan overreacted to other team’s moves.
Edwards had an especially erratic rookie year. Even this preseason he’s booted his share of shanks. The sixth-rounder — who’s literally been handed the job two years in a row — may not be a lick better than the punters he replaced (Ryan Quigley) or beat out in last year’s camp (Green Bay’s recently released Jacob Schum).
Then there was the behind-the-scenes banter regarding Alvin Kamara — at this point the early favorite for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Florham Park insiders pushed hard for Maccagnan to step up and snag the Tennessee running back in the third round, but he just stuck to his board.
Not exactly a heartening development for this team moving forward.
Next: 2. Rage For Order
2. Rage For Order
Head coach Todd Bowles was not hired by Maccagnan. But the GM’s job is to give the coaching staff the necessary talent needed to win.
Going into Week 1, Bowles won’t announce his starting tackles or outside linebackers due to “strategic reasons.” Offensive line coach Steve Marshall recently said that there were five jobs available on the five-man line. In other words, not one lineman has shown what it takes to be a legitimate NFL starter. That goes back to the front office.
But when the 2015 NFL Executive of the Year gave Bowles the players he needed, the coach did not deliver. In fact, the Elizabeth, NJ-bred head coach has yet to recover from that 2015 season ending road loss to Rex Ryan’s barren Bills roster — punctuated by Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s grotesque interception-laden performance to his former Orchard Park teammates.
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Bowles may one day rise to the occasion. But at this point, he’s not a qualitatively better coach than Rex Ryan, Eric Mangini, Herm Edwards or Al Groh. He’s not nearly as good as Bill Parcells or nearly as bad as Rich Kotite.
Career-wise, Bowles is definitely not in a good place — and it really shows in his body language. We will soon learn if/when his Dead Man Walking routine wears thin.
Many of Bowles’ current problems are rooted in his limited roster talent. That’s beyond a coaching deficiency; it’s an organizational issue.
Next: 1. Slippin' into the Future
1. Slippin’ into the Future
This writer has shown great support for Maccagnan. But after three seasons, the Charley Casserly-anointed film-room prodigy has much to answer for.
In 2015, Maccagnan splurged on a free-agent slush fund set aside by his predecessor John Idzik. He spent tens of millions on veteran stars who, when it mattered most, came up woefully short. Last season, those rich stars tuned out Bowles, as he lost the locker room.
A total rebuild of an organization makes perfect sense in Year One of a new administration. But doing so in Year Three is dangerous, uncharted territory because you’re trusting the very people who did not succeed the first time around.
And you can’t feel confident about the experts when a blogger for a quarterback-less franchise mock-drafts a NFL-ready second-stringer (the Cowboys’ Cooper Rush) — who could’ve easily been selected by Gang Green as a priority UDFA.
On defense, there is hungry young talent to build around. Leonard Williams is on track to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career (with or without Wilkerson). If Darron Lee ever fulfills his promise as that stalking Deone Bucannon demon, the linebackers could dominate with the emergence of Jordan Jenkins and Dylan Donahue on the outsides. Juston Burris is a beast with shutdown potential — and look out for seventh-round converted defensive back Derrick Jones. All of that that paired with rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye might really turn into something. But of course, we’ll have to see…
Must Read: Top 25 bold predictions for the Jets in 2017
The Vegas guys were not incorrect to make these woeful Jets an astronomical 1000-to-1 shot to win the Super Bowl. It’s not nice to poke fun at other people’s misery, but even Craig Carton would tell you that some bets are not worth taking.