The NY Jets are weeks away from free agency and two months away from the 2021 NFL Draft. One could argue that the franchise’s fate in the next decade will rest on the decisions made this offseason.
The Jets’ new coaching staff led by Robert Saleh and the team’s brain trust led by general manager Joe Douglas face some crucial decisions. None more important than what they decide to do at quarterback.
It’s a decision that the Jets can’t afford to get wrong. The franchise’s future depends on it.
The last decade has not been kind to Jets fans. The fanbase has endured 10 straight non-playoff seasons — the longest current playoff drought in the NFL.
The days of Rex Ryan and Bart Scott’s “Can’t Wait” moment when the Jets beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the playoffs on their field seems like a lifetime ago.
Save for a brief hiccup with Todd Bowles and Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015, the Jets haven’t been relevant since those days. The one player who can change that in a heartbeat is current Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
There’s a lot of mystery and uncertainty when it comes to the future of Watson. Especially as it pertains to how his current team, the Houston Texans, wants to handle the situation.
Will they play a game of who blinks first with Watson, or will they eventually decide to move on and maximize the return on their enormous investment?
Undoubtedly, what’s not uncertain is Watson’s value as a top-five franchise quarterback. Any team that acquires Watson is making what they hope is a transformative move for their franchise, and there’s no doubt that the price to make that move will be costly.
There’s no getting around it. The price will be multiple high-end draft picks and perhaps a combination of a player or two.
It’s a price that, in many ways, will reveal the type of general manager that Joe Douglas is or plans to be.
One could argue that Douglas trading for Deshaun Watson would be a big departure from the type of football personnel executive he’s aspired to be or has been to this point.
On multiple occasions, Douglas has stressed the importance and belief in building a team, with the draft process being the most important tool.
It’s not surprising, considering that Douglas, at his core, is a former player and longtime scout. He’s been a part of three different Super Bowl teams, which were largely built through the draft.
And with the Jets, Douglas has positioned the franchise to make a significant impact in that area — largely due to his trade of Jamal Adams.
In recent weeks, Douglas and members of the Jets football operations team, like Rex Hogan, Phil Savage, and many others have openly talked on the team’s website about how enthusiastic they all are about being in a position to turn the franchise around with the draft.
Having multiple first-round picks in back-to-back years is very enticing for any team’s scouting department.
The green and white have had success in the past when they’ve had multiple first-round picks. Like back in 2000 (four, Chad Pennington, Shaun Ellis, John Abraham, and Anthony Becht) and 2006 (two, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold).
Those drafts helped shape the Jets as a consistent playoff contender by adding premium core players and leaders. It may not seem like much to outsiders, especially since the Jets didn’t win any championships from 1997-2011.
Still, the franchise never enjoyed more consistent long-term success than they did during this era, thanks largely in part to their success in the draft.
Make no mistake — it takes more than just the draft.
Nonetheless, the Jets became a contending team in a run that started from 1997 to 2011 in large part due to Bill Parcells changing the culture and the team acquiring and drafting cornerstone players like Curtis Martin, Kevin Mawae, Darrelle Revis, David Harris, and others.
The success during this particular era speaks for itself. For what many perceive to be a “poverty franchise” like the NY Jets. This was an excellent run.
For 15 seasons, from 1997-2011, for the most part, the Jets’ franchise was a consistent playoff contender, year in and year out.
The Jets had only three losing seasons during this entire stretch, twelve non-losing seasons in total, won two AFC East division titles, made the playoffs on seven different occasions, won seven playoff games, and went to three AFC Championship games.
Most championship-winning franchises would scoff at this example of success and understandably so by comparison. But for the Jets, the late ’90s to 2011 was arguably their best stretch of winning as a franchise.
Since the bottom fell out at the tail end of the Rex Ryan regime, the franchise has never recovered again to this level of respectability. A lot of that has to do with the Jets’ inability to draft cornerstone or difference-making players in the last decade.
In 2021 and 2022, the Jets are once again in a position to effectively turn their franchise around, with the draft being a key component in the process.
Provided that Douglas selects the right players. Also, Robert Saleh can help change the team’s losing culture, the same way that Parcells did many moons ago.
A trade for Deshaun Watson, in some ways, would require Douglas and the Jets to abandon their vision of building the team through the draft.
The NY Jets would abandon their draft-building philosophy with a Deshaun Watson trade
Deshaun Watson is a special, once-in-a-lifetime situation. A person or player like him is rarely available for the taking. So it’s understandable if Joe Douglas deviated from his draft philosophy to acquire such a player at the sport’s most important position.
The Jets would effectively be taking a shortcut to success — admittedly, it can only be justified when securing a franchise quarterback.
Even though the story has yet to be written and his body of work is limited, some Jets fans already want to put Joe Douglas in the franchise’s Ring of Honor —primarily based on his trade of Jamal Adams.
The all-in, get him at all costs, no matter what it takes, trade for Deshaun Watson, seems to go completely against Joe Douglas’s nature.
Someone like former Jets’ GM Mike Tannenbaum would very easily attempt to mortgage the future and trade for Watson if he were back on the job.
It speaks more to “Mr. T’s” all-in personality than anything else. Something that longtime Jets fans can attest to and experienced during Tannenbaum’s run with Gang Green.
The wildcard in all of this is Tannenbaum’s former boss, Woody Johnson. The Jets’ owner is back and picking up steam with the team’s fanbase by endearing himself on social media. The fanbase has responded to Woody by begging him to pull out all the stops to obtain Deshaun Watson.
In the past, Johnson has given Jets GMs like Mike Tannenbaum the freedom and the green light to be aggressive in acquiring star players — much like the situation with Brett Favre years ago.
However, Joe Douglas has never worked for or with Woody Johnson to this point. The Jets GM could experience a whole new dynamic on the job if Johnson makes his voice heard.
Douglas has been given the keys to the franchise, and Robert Saleh has implemented his ‘all gas no brake’ philosophy, but ultimately, it’s Woody’s car that they’re driving.
There’s a great amount of pressure from the fanbase and the Jets’ media to turn things around and become a relevant franchise again.
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The team is coming off a PR nightmare with a world-class introvert in Adam Gase, who failed on a grand scale to galvanize the fanbase on or off the field. Hence the reason that a polar opposite like Saleh was hired.
Johnson is fully aware of this, and Douglas is being tasked with picking the franchise up from the very bottom of the league. Building through the draft and developing players will take time and faith.
Will the Jets owner or the fanbase have the patience to see it through? Trading for Watson would provide instant gratification and satisfaction in the short-term.
Adding a marquee player like Deshaun Watson would change the team’s perception, help attract audiences and crowds to the games, and aid in making the Jets a desirable destination for free agents.
The acquisition of Watson doesn’t by itself guarantee that the Jets will be a winning franchise immediately, but their odds of becoming one improve significantly. Quarterback is the only position where you can make that argument.
Rightfully or wrongfully, if the Jets traded for Watson, New York would go from a rebuild or work in progress to a win-now team model with a larger emphasis on acquiring premium players through free agency to make up for the loss in premium draft capital that it would take to obtain Watson.
Is Joe Douglas ready to become that type of general manager?
They say that you learn the most about yourself and others during times of adversity. The Jets franchise has certainly experienced plenty of that in recent times.
This offseason should reveal a lot about Joe Douglas.