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There are six head coaching vacancies in the NFL right now, and obviously there are more than enough candidates to fill them. But several of those coaches are already talking to multiple teams, so it’s possible the Jets’ top choice will have other options.
And that will make GM Joe Douglas’ job even more important, because he’s the one who has to sell his next coach on the Jets.
That may not be easy either, because while the Jets job is far from the least attractive of the six openings, it’s not the most attractive one either. For all of Douglas’ talk on Tuesday in his season-ending press conference of the “good pieces” in place on his roster, the reality is that while his cupboard isn’t exactly bare, there weren’t really all that many salvageable pieces on this 2-14 team.
What he’s really selling is this: A blank slate. A chance to help Douglas almost completely overhaul a roster and build it almost from scratch. And he’s selling the draft picks and salary cap space with which to do it. That’s the real big piece. The Jets could end up with nearly $100 million in cap space in what might otherwise be a depressed, post-pandemic, free agent market. Plus, he has amassed a ton of draft picks, including two first-rounders in each of the next two years.
That’s huge. And that will be the key slide in his presentation. He can make it clear that the Jets have more than enough ammunition to do whatever they want to do.
“I think there’s a lot of resources here to help a coach succeed,” Douglas said. “I think obviously we’re in a good position in terms of draft capital. I think obviously we’re in a good position in terms of cap space. So, I think there’s a lot of positive things for us moving forward.”
The problem is that’s really all the Jets can sell, and there other franchises that can offer more. The Jacksonville Jaguars, for example, have two first-round picks and two seconds and tons of cap room, too. But they also have more promising young players than the Jets currently have (like running back James Robinson, edge rusher Josh Allen and receiver D.J. Chark) and they’re staring at Trevor Lawrence, a generational quarterback prospect, in the draft.
The Chargers have brilliant, young quarterback Justin Herbert throwing to receivers like Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and Joey Bosa leading a strong pass rush. The Texans have DeShaun Watson and J.J. Watt, though they notably don’t have a first or second-round draft pick in April. The Falcons do, plus they still have quarterback Matt Ryan throwing to Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.
The Jets? Well, they have all those picks and cap room, plus defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and left tackle Mekhi Becton. They also have high hopes for receiver Denzel Mims and Douglas said it will be a priority to re-sign safety Marcus Maye too.
“I think there’s a lot of good pieces here,” Douglas said. “I think there’s some good, young, core players.”
That depends on the definition of “some” and how far he’s willing to stretch the definition of “good”. The only strong building blocks are basically those four – Williams, Becton, Mims and Maye – and the reality is they’re still just the best of a bad, 2-14 team.
Yes, there’s also quarterback Sam Darnold, but his future is far from clear. He’s hardly inspired confidence through his first three seasons, which is why the new coach will have to help decide whether to move on from him and go with an untested rookie they draft at No. 2. In either case, there’s no guarantee that they’ll have a franchise quarterback in place.
Overall, that’s hardly a base of certainty, nor is it a situation where a new coach is likely to step right in and win. The Jets are in the beginning stages of a rebuilding project, and the pieces they’re going to build around are mostly still unknown. That could be an issue, because prospective coaches – at least ones with options – usually look for three things in a job: A stable environment, a franchise quarterback, and a chance to win as fast as they can.
The Jets can’t offer any of that right now.
Which is not to say their job isn’t appealing, because it is. If the New York stage isn’t enough, there’s the lure of rescuing a franchise that hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since before most of its fan base was born. There’s also the knowledge of a potentially long honeymoon, since the prevailing thoughts of Jets fans right now are “Well, it can’t get any worse, right?”
Mostly, though, the lure is all about those picks and that cap room. There will be several top receivers available on the market and maybe a few top pass rushers, too. It’s not crazy to think the Jets could get one of each, add an offensive lineman, re-sign Maye and still have money to make sure their other holes are filled.
If they do it right, the ingredients are there for some relatively quick success.
“I think it’s our responsibility to try to build around the pieces we have in place,” Douglas said. “It’s our responsibility to make the best decisions in terms of the leader that we bring in, the players that we choose from in free agency, the players that we draft. Obviously, we’re excited about the resources we have.”
He should be. A new coach will be, too. But what will really excite him is Douglas’ vision. That’s what the Jets GM has to sell – his vision of the team, what he sees in the Jets’ immediate future, the free agents his eyeing, his plans at quarterback, and what he’s thinking about for the draft.
Because the future may be a blank slate, but Douglas can make it seem bright. And that’s certainly a bigger selling point for the next Jets head coach than the stormy present or the forgettable past.