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The full-scale roster rebuild isn’t a unique situation for the Jets. They’ve gone through various tear-downs in an attempt to resurrect the franchise and create a more competent and cohesive organization.
Considering the Jets currently own the longest active postseason drought in the league at 10 years, it’s not a surprise that those previous rebuild attempts failed miserably.
But 2021 marks a new age for the Jets. Joe Douglas runs the show now after a year of accruing draft capital and salary cap. He’s poised to bring the Jets forward with a new head coach, too, after firing Adam Gase, and could draft another quarterback after three unspectacular seasons from Sam Darnold.
This process isn’t an easy one, though, and Douglas would be wise to look at previous rebuilds from some of the more recently successful teams in the league.
We’ve highlighted six teams who successfully changed the trajectory of their franchise. They all did it in different ways, but every rebuild revolved around a new head coach, smart drafts and wise financial decisions. Every team eventually got the head coach right, hit on at least a few first-round picks and never overspent in free agency unless it was at a major position of need (like quarterback, cornerback or edge rusher).
Let’s dive into some recent rebuilds from the past five years and see what Douglas and the Jets can learn…
Los Angeles Rams
(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
The Rams were stuck in a perpetual cycle of mediocrity with Jeff Fisher as their head coach. They won between six and seven games in the first four years of his time with the team before they fired him after starting the 2016 season 4-9. That was Jared Goff’s first season, and it was a terrible one. General manager Les Snead needed to reinvigorate the franchise after an abysmal first season in Los Angeles. He used a strategy that combined a young offensive wunderkind – Sean McVay – with a veteran defensive coordinator – Wade Phillips – and a couple of savvy personnel moves to build a team that has won at least nine games every season since 2017, made the playoffs three of the four years and appeared in the Super Bowl in 2018. Here’s how the Rams rebuilt: Coaching staff: head coach Sean McVay, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur 2017 returning starters: DT Aaron Donald, RB Todd Gurley, QB Jared Goff Key draft picks: WR Cooper Kupp (2017, third), S Josh Johnson (2017, third), WR Josh Reynolds (2017, fourth), LB Samson Ebukam (2017 fourth), Darrell Henderson (2019, third) Key free agents: WR Robert Woods (2017), LT Andrew Whitworth (2017), Ndamukong Suh (2018), FS Eric Weddle (2019) Key trades: WR Sammy Watkins (2017), WR Brandin Cooks (2018), CB Marcus Peters (2018), EDGE Dante Fowler (2018), CB Jalen Ramsey (2019) Key departures: Didn’t re-sign Watkins and Trumaine Johnson (2018), traded Peters (2019), didn’t re-sign Suh (2019), didn't re-sign Fowler (2020) released RB Todd Gurley (2020) The only true gaffes in the Rams’ plan was extending Goff on a four-year, $134 million extension with $110 million guaranteed. Fortunately, Goff’s contract didn’t stop the Rams from keeping the majority of their team intact, including locking up Donald, Ramsey and Kupp. Record since 2017: 43-21, 3-2 in the postseason
(Christian Petersen-Getty Images)
Another team who couldn’t make the leap from mediocre to dominant, the Bills brought Sean McDermott over from the Panthers to take over for Rex Ryan after two seasons with just seven or eight wins. Buffalo also hired former Panthers exec Brandon Beane as GM following the 2017 draft, in which the Bills traded out of the 10th pick to select cornerback Tre’Davious White 23rd overall. The Bills made the postseason for the first time in 17 years in McDermott's first season in 2017 and made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons with at least 10 wins thanks to phenomenal drafts, smart free agent signings and building a perfect offense for quarterback Josh Allen. Here’s how the Bills rebuilt: Coaching staff: head coach Sean McDermott, offensive coordinators Rick Dennison (2017) and Brian Daboll (2018-2020), defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier Returning starters: quarterback Tyrod Taylor, running back LeSean McCoy, receivers Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins Key draft picks: White (2017, first), G Dion Dawkins (2017, second), LB Matt Milano (2017, fifth), Josh Allen (2018, first), LB Tremaine Edmunds (2018, first), DT Ed Oliver (2019, first), RB Devin Singletary (2019, third), Dawson Knox (2019, third), RB Zach Moss (2020, third), WR Gabriel Davis (2020, fourth) Key free agents: FS Jordan Poyer (2017), S Micah Hyde (2017), WR Cole Beasley (2019), WR John Brown (2019), C Mitch Morse (2019) Key trades: WR Stefon Diggs (2020) Key departures: Let CB Stephon Gilmore, WR Robert Woods and CB Nickell Roby-Coleman walk (2017), traded away WR Sammy Watkins, CB Ronald Darby, LB Reggie Ragland for a second, third and fourth, respectively (2017), traded away DT Marcell Dareus’ big contract (2017), traded Tyrod Taylor for a third (2018), traded T Cody Glenn for a first (2018), released McCoy (2020) The Bills regressed in 2018 after spending a little more in free agency and ironing out the kinks in Allen and the offense, but the team came together nicely in 2019 and finally realized its potential in 2020. Record since 2017: 38-26, 1-2 in the postseason
The Browns rebuild is a strange one. It technically took place over a three-year span starting in 2018 but didn’t see true results until 2020, when the Browns hired Kevin Stefanski as head coach and Andrew Berry as general manager. It also took three different head coaches to manifest while other teams just needed one. So, the Browns built a similar strategy as the other teams but didn’t hit on the head coach until a few years down the line when they also signed the right free agents. Cleveland’s rebuild culminated in a playoff berth this season, its first since 2002. Behind a more efficient Baker Mayfield and a sensational running game, the Browns paired one of the most dynamic offenses in the league with a dominating defense led by 2017 first overall pick Myles Garrett. Coaching staff: head coach Kevin Stefanski (2020), offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt (2020), defensive coordinator Joe Woods (2020) Freddie Kitchens (2019), Hue Jackson/Gregg Williams (2018) Returning starters: DE Myles Garrett, WR Rashard Higgins Key draft picks: Mayfield (2018, first), CB Denzel Ward (2018, first), RB Nick Chubb (2018, third), OT Jedrick Wills (2020) Key free agents: OT Jack Conklin (2020), TE Austin Hooper (2020), RB Kareem Hunt (2020), DE Sheldon Richardson (2020) Key trades: WR Jarvis Landry (2018), WR Odell Beckham Jr. (2019), OLB Oliver Vernon (2019) Key departures: traded away Duke Johnson for a third (2019), traded away Kevin Zeitler and Jabrill Peppers for Beckham Jr. (2019) The Browns didn't exactly make a plan and stick to it, but they are now bearing the fruits of a bumpy rebuilding effort. Record since 2018: 24-23, 1-0 in the postseason
San Francisco 49ers
(Robert Reiners-Getty Images)
San Francisco made the Super Bowl in 2019 after a six-year playoff drought. But injuries derailed the 49ers' potential dynasty in the years preceding and succeeding 2019 and they may find themselves asking more questions after finishing 6-10 in 2020. Owner Jed York paired newly-hired head coach Kyle Shanahan with first-time GM and former NFL safety John Lynch in 2017, and the two dismantled the mistakes of the Chip Kelly and Jim Tomsula years and cleaned up the remnants of the Jim Harbaugh era with various trades, free agent acquisitions and draft picks. The team started out the Shanahan era with a terrible 0-8 record but rebounded by finishing the year 5-0 after the Jimmy Garrappolo trade. Here’s how the 49ers rebuilt: Coaching staff: head coach Kyle Shanahan, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh Returning starters: OT Joe Staley, DE DeForest Buckner, DE Arik Armstead Key draft picks: Solomon Thomas (2017, first), TE George Kittle (2017, fifth), OT Mike McGlinchey (2018, first), LB Fred Warner (2018, third), DE Nick Bosa (2019, first), WR Deebo Samuel (2019, second), DT Javon Kinlaw (2020, first), WR Brandon Aiyuk (2020, first) Key free agents: WR Marquise Goodwin (2017), WR Pierre Garçon (2017), K Robbie Gould (2017), FB Kyle Juszczyk (2017), RB Raheem Mostert (2017 off practice squad), CB Richard Jefferson (2018), RB Jerick McKinnon (2018), RB Tevin Coleman (2019), LB Kwon Alexander (2019) Key trades: QB Jimmy Garoppolo (2017), DE Dee Ford (2019), WR Emmanuel Sanders (2019) Key departures: Traded OT Trent Brown for a third (2018), traded away DeForest Buckner for a first (2020), OT Staley retired (2019) With the exception of Garrappolo and a few running backs, the 49ers are mostly a homegrown team. They only overspent at quarterback and edge rusher, but otherwise kept their spending low while hitting on a majority of their picks. Injuries, however, have gotten in the way. Record since 2017: 29-35, 2-1 in the postseason
This rebuild was an exercise in culture change. The Dolphins tore everything down after Adam Gase left in 2019 in an attempt to reshape the franchise from the ground up. GM Chris Grier hired Brian Flores from the Patriots and while they didn’t make too many personnel changes, the Dolphins went from bottomfeeder to a game from the playoffs in just two seasons. Grier dumped most of Miami’s high-profile or big money players for lots of draft capital and cap space, which was used to build the Dolphins' playoff-contending team in 2020. The Dolphins never spent too frivolously in free agency or on the trade block, either, except to fortify positions of need. A rock-solid defense paired with a powerful offense vaulted the Dolphins into contention earlier than many expected. Here’s how the Dolphins rebuilt: Coaching staff: head coach Brian Flores, offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea (2019), Chan Gailey (2020) Returning starters: CB Xavien Howard, RB Kenyan Drake, WR DeVante Parker, WR Danny Amendola, TE Mike Gesicki, WR Jakeem Grant Key draft picks: DT Christian Wilkins (2019, first), LB Alex Van Ginkel (2019, fifth), RB Myles Gaskin (2019, seventh), WR Preston Williams (2019, UDFA) QB Tua Tagovailoa (2020, first), OT Austin Jackson (2020, first) Key free agents: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (2019), CB Byron Jones (2020), LB Kyle Van Noy (2020), OT Ereck Flowers (2020), LB Shaq Lawson (2020 Key trades: QB Josh Rosen (2019) Key departures: traded away QB Ryan Tannehill for a fourth (2019), traded away RB Kenyan Drake for a sixth (2019), traded away S Minkah Fitzpatrick for a first (2019), traded away Laremy Tunsil for a first (2019) Miami has yet to reach the playoffs, but the Dolphins have become a competitive team sooner than expected under Flores. Still early in their rebuild, their future is bright. Record since 2018: 15-17
(Christian Petersen-Getty Images)
Much like the Dolphins, the Cardinals ascended much faster than the organization likely anticipated, but it hasn’t yet manifested in a breakout season that led to the playoffs. The aggressiveness of the franchise after landing the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 led to the hiring of offensive guru Kliff Kingsbury. Arizona went hard in the talent acquisition process, too, which helped the quick progression of Kyler Murray and turned the Cardinals from a five-win team in Kingsbury’s first season to an eight-win team a whisper away from the playoffs in 2020. The roster was actually pretty solid heading into Kingsbury’s first year and, with the addition of Murray, the Cardinals went 5-10-1 in 2019. The Cardinals were on the brink of a breakout in 2020 but faltered toward the end and finished just 8-8. GM Steve Keim didn’t break the bank in free agency, either, and actually unloaded some bad contracts in the process to give the Cardinals more flexibility to strengthen the roster. Here’s how the Cardinals rebuilt: Coaching staff: head coach Kliff Kingsbury, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph Returning starters: WR Larry Fitzgerald, RB David Johnson, RB Chase Edmonds, WR Christian Kirk, SS Budda Baker, CB Patrick Peterson, DE Chandler Jones, OT D. J. Humphries Key draft picks: Murray (2019, first), WR Andy Isabella (2019, second), LB Isaiah Simmons (2020, first) Key free agents: LB Jordan Hicks (2019), OG JR Sweezy (2019), DT Jordan Phillips (2020), LB Devon Kennard (2020) Key trades: RB Kenyan Drake (2019 mid-year), WR DeAndre Hopkins (2020) Key departures: Traded away 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen for a second (2019), traded away RB David Johnson and his massive contract in the Hopkins trade (2020) The Cardinals went big and bold with the Johnson-Hopkins swap and it turned them into one of the best offenses in the league. Keim also re-signed veteran players like Fitzgerald, Humphries and Baker to provide continuity for the team. Record since 2019: 13-18-1
There is a lot the Jets and Joe Douglas can learn from these six teams. For one, they need to get the head coach right and make sure he's in lock-step with Douglas on the direction of the team from a personnel standpoint. Otherwise, the whole thing crumbles. Douglas is taking his time to find the next coach to ensure this collaboration. The rest of the rebuild is relatively simple in nature. Douglas will need to follow the path he's already started on by hitting on a lot of his early-round picks, not overspending on contract extensions or in free agency and finding inexpensive players on the market. A crucial part that the Jets have overlooked in the past is making sure to build an offense around your franchise quarterback, whoever it is. The Bills and Browns successfully turned themselves into playoff contenders by giving Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield weapons. The same goes for how the Rams and 49ers created gameplans around the solid, but flawed, Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo. The biggest takeaway, though, is that this rebuild will not be an overnight fix. Gang Green won't suddenly win the AFC East in one offseason, especially with a rookie quarterback and potentially first-time head coach. It will take some time before the fruits of Douglas' labor transform into consistent production, and the organization must be patient while it all unfolds.