Jets GM Joe Douglas deadpanned that it was “a boring, ho-hum night,” but of course the first night of the NFL Draft was anything but that for the Jets. It was going to be exciting no matter what with two Top 10 picks. But then he made it thrilling by trading back into the first round for one more player he never expected to get.
In the end, Douglas said, he landed three of the top eight players on the Jets’ draft board – an astounding haul, regardless of where they were picking. He got three highly rated players at three positions of need and made an aggressive trade to complete the trifecta.
When Douglas was done talking about how the Jets “got better tonight” there really wasn’t much left to say, which is why all Jets head coach Robert Saleh could do was point at his boss and say “He’s awesome.”
Yes, he is. And granted, that’s a lofty compliment for a general manager with a three-year record of 13-36. At some point, Douglas’ Jets are going to need to back up his lofty reputation with some actual wins.
But what’s awesome about Douglas is the strategy he’s employed in his attempt to rebuild the Jets and his remarkable ability to be aggressive and pragmatic at the same time. He is not afraid to make a big deal and remains “ready to strike” when one is available, but he patiently waits for the price to be right. And he spent two years acquiring capital, trading players like Jamal Adams for future draft picks, so he could use them when the right opportunity was there.
That’s how he ended up with two picks in the Top 10, where he got arguably the best cornerback in the draft in Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and possibly the best receiver in Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson. And then he used his extra second-round pick as bait to trade back into the first round when he saw another player he loved – edge rusher Jermaine Johnson – start to fall.
That was the cherry on top of his delicious draft night – getting a player he considered taking at No. 4 and No. 10 all the way down at No. 26. He wanted Johnson so badly, in fact, that he said he started trying to get back into the first round when Johnson slipped to No. 15. It took him another hour or so to find a trading partner, which made the value even better. In the end, Douglas got three top-tier players, among the best at their position in the draft. And he still has the sixth pick of the second round in his arsenal for Friday night.
“It’s a really good day today,” Saleh said. “Joe was phenomenal working the phones. He said he was nervous. I was the one with the towel wiping my head off. He was calm and collected. But it was a good day.”
Actually, there have been a lot of good days this offseason. Think of all the things the Jets have accomplished. They took the NFL’s worst defense and rebuilt the secondary with safeties Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner and cornerbacks Gardner and D.J. Reed. They added to a defensive line that is already expecting to get Carl Lawson back healthy by sign defensive tackle Solomon Thomas. And now they’ve added Johnson for the other edge.
And young quarterback Zach Wilson, who remains the key to all of this, is now standing behind an offensive line that looks like a brick wall with the new addition of guard Laken Tomlinson joining Alijah Vera-Tucker, a stud guard whom Douglas traded up to get in the first round last year. And when he drops back, he’ll have two new tight ends to throw to in C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, plus a receiving corps that has Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Braxton Berrios and now Garrett Wilson, too.
These aren’t the same old Jets. They haven’t had a team that looked like this on paper in years.
And Douglas did it all without overspending in free agency and without giving up most of his draft capital. And he even tried to do more, coming so close to a blockbuster trade for Tyreek Hill and taking his shot at 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel, too.
Maybe there’s more to come. And just the thought of that is exciting, because there haven’t been many years when Jets fans have come out of a draft or even an offseason thrilled about their team’s moves. Douglas has changed that narrative with shrewd moves and smart picks and a solid strategy. He’s made the offseason fun for the Jets again.
Yes, he does still have to win so he can make the actual season fun. Another 4-13 season and everything he’s done won’t seem so “awesome” for much longer. But for now it still feels that way. On Day 1 of the draft, just like most of the other days this offseason, it’s hard not to feel really good about what Douglas and the Jets have done.