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The honeymoon is over. The training wheels are off. And patience really isn’t much of a virtue anymore.
Jets GM Joe Douglas just completed what sure looks like a spectacular draft on the heels of what has been a wonderful offseason for this star-crossed franchise. It’s been the culmination of three years of rebuilding the Jets into the team he wanted it to be. It is clearly so much better than the one he inherited.
There’s really only one thing that’s missing: It’s time to win.
“Felt it was a really productive weekend,” Douglas said after wrapping up the draft on Saturday afternoon. “Feel good about where we’re at. Feel like we’re a better team now than we were going into this weekend. Feel like we’re a better team now than we were to start the offseason.”
There’s no doubt he’s right. The Jets should be a much better team than the one that went 4-13 and experienced so many growing pains last season, and they are lightyears ahead in talent from the team that went 2-14 in 2020.
But that’s all “on paper,” of course, and that’s just not good enough anymore, not for a general manager with a three-year record of 13-36. No one is putting Douglas on the hot seat yet or questioning the job he’s done. He took over a flawed and dysfunctional team with too many bloated contracts, blew it all up and started over with young players all over the roster. This project was always going to take time.
But yeah, it’s time. Maybe not for a Super Bowl, but certainly for a run at the playoffs this season. Douglas has previously said, “We need to be playing meaningful games in December," which means staying in contention until late in the season. And no, that’s not so crazy. All it takes to make the NFL’s expanded playoff field is very likely a 9-8 record.
Is it really ridiculous to imagine the Jets picking up five more wins than they had last season after all they did over the last two months?
They are better all over the field. They looked at their 32nd-ranked defense, which ranked 30th against the pass, and made it their mission to get defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich a bunch of better players. They rebuild their secondary with cornerback D.J. Reed and safety Jordan Whitehead, and then added to that by taking Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner with the fourth pick of the draft. They reloaded on the line, too, bringing in former first-rounder Solomon Thomas and then jumping back into the first round for edge rusher Jermaine Johnson. And they’re expecting last year’s big free agent, Carl Lawson, to be a force off the edge too.
The defense still is young overall and there are a few holes, particularly at linebacker. But assuming some of those young players are better in Year 2, this defense should easily end up ranked in the top half of the league.
Meanwhile, on offense they did what smart teams do for young, growing quarterbacks – they surrounded him with as much talent as they could find. They fixed the one weak spot on their offensive line by signing guard Laken Tomlinson, added two receiving tight ends (C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin) and drafted a third (Jeremy Ruckert). They tried to get a veteran No. 1 receiver, but then got what they believe is the best receiver in the draft in Garrett Wilson. And they got aggressive and traded up for the top running back (Breece Hall), too.
Yes, it’s true, there are no guarantees that all those young players will work out. The fact that the Jets are being universally praised for having one of the best drafts in the NFL this year is a nice, but pretty much meaningless fact.
“That’s for you guys,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “I’ve also been in places where we’ve been universally mocked. I think we took Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson in the first three rounds (in Seattle in 2012) and got a D grade. So it doesn’t matter. We’ll know in a few years.”
That’s true, but the Jets really don’t have a few years to wait. They’ve all been waiting long enough. Even if they hit on only a few of the young players they’ve added the last two years, they’ve got enough to at least be a .500 team in the parity-driven NFL.
Just look what they’ve put around their young quarterback, Zach Wilson. He now has three outstanding receivers, two strong tight ends and two good running backs and more, and he should get plenty of time to find them all by standing behind a brick wall of an offensive line. Granted, he has to be good. If Douglas wasn’t right about him, none of this will work. But that’s up to Wilson. There’s no question that Douglas has done everything he possibly could to give Wilson a chance.
And really, Wilson has to be good. All of this has to work. It has been a very long decade for Jets fans since their last playoff berth in 2010. They have waited patiently through four coaches, four young franchise quarterbacks, four general managers and more rebuilding projects than any fan base should ever have to endure.
The rebuilding isn’t over, but the waiting for a winner should be. This now has to be a season that is about more than just hope. It has to be about production, about more wins than losses, about competent, competitive play where the Jets always have a chance to win.
That’s what Douglas has been building towards since he arrived in June 2019. He’s done a terrific job fixing the Jets’ problems and building a legitimately talented roster. It’s OK to get excited again, especially after this offseason and this draft. It’s hard to complain about anything he’s done to get his team in this position.
The only complaint is about his record. This is the year it has to change.