With Le’Veon Bell released by the Jets on Tuesday night, one more vital piece of the old regime fell.
Mike Maccagnan was the man that gave Bell his four-year, $52.5 million contract when the All-Pro back wanted to make his return to the NFL. It was a big splash signing that was expected to help Sam Darnold, and give the Jets running game the boost it needed.
Turns out it was everything but.
Bell couldn’t fit into head coach Adam Gase’s offensive scheme, and he produced some of his worst career numbers while wearing the green and white. It was only a matter of time before he was on his way to a different team via trade or free agency (the Jets had an opt-out after this season).
And he isn’t the only Maccagnan pickup that has departure this season. Jamal Adams being traded to the Seattle Seahawks made waves this offseason, as his frustration with the team boiled over and GM Joe Douglas gave him his wish there.
But how did we even get to this point where two Pro Bowlers are now finding new paths in the NFL instead of playing their home games at MetLife Stadium? As Douglas continues to rebuild the Jets’ roster, we must take a look back at Maccagnan’s tenure in New York to try to answer that very question.
In 2015, the Jets brought in Maccagnan along with new head coach Todd Bowles to revamp the team after a 4-12 2014 season under Rex Ryan forced change on the franchise. Maccagnan was tasked with giving Bowles the players he needed to succeed, and he did so in the short-term when he traded picks and draft positions to acquire WR Brandon Marshall and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick among others. A 10-6 record and near miss of the playoffs occurred that year.
But it has been well-documented by now that Maccagnan’s draft strategy just didn’t work out, and many picks have either fizzled out in the league or found a new home elsewhere.
Maccagnan’s first two first rounders – Leonard Williams (2015) and Darron Lee (2016) – are no longer with the Jets. Williams was brought out of USC to be an every-down defensive lineman that could stop the run as well as sack the quarterback. He was efficient in the former but the sack totals never piled up. The Giants would trade for him before the deadline last season, as they took a crack at finding that part of Williams’ game.
Lee was one of the first players to go after Douglas took over. Gase, acting as interim GM before the 2019 season, traded Lee to the Kansas City Chiefs. He was suspended in the 2018 season for four games due to performance-enhancing drugs and was also suspended prior to this season for an undisclosed reason. He is eligible to join a team with Week 5 now complete.
Adams was Maccagnan’s 2017 first-round choice followed by Sam Darnold in 2018. That pick was one that was a consensus No. 3 overall choice, and Maccagnan made a big trade with the Indianapolis Colts to move up to that slot to select him. And finally, before being fired in May 2019, Maccagnan drafted Quinnen Williams at No. 3 overall as well. The pick hasn’t panned out yet, but it’s too early to judge.
Every good GM knows, though, that it’s the picks after the first round that makes teams thrive. The depth choices, or finding a diamond in the rough, gets teams over the hump and usually makes them playoff worthy.
But Maccagnan didn’t have much luck in that area in his drafts. Looking at each draft, you can see for yourself what players are no longer on the Jets:
- Second Round: WR Devin Smith
- Third Round: OLB Lorenzo Mauldin (hasn’t played in NFL since 2016)
- Fourth Round: QB Bryce Petty (hasn’t played in NFL since 2017)
- Fifth Round: OL Jarvis Harrison (never played a snap with Jets)
- Seventh Round: NT Deon Simon (hasn’t played in NFL since 2016)
- Second Round: QB Christian Hackenburg (arguably Maccagnan’s worst draft pick)
- Fourth Round: CB Juston Burris (currently plays for Carolina Panthers)
- Fifth Round: OT Brandon Shell (currently plays for Seahawks)
- Seventh Round: P Lachlan Edwards
- Seventh Round: WR Charone Peake (hasn’t played in NFL since 2018)
- Third Round: WR ArDarius Stewart (spent one season in NFL)
- Fourth Round: WR Chad Hansen (spent one season in NFL)
- Fifth Round: TE Jordan Leggett (spent one season in NFL)
- Fifth Round: OLB Dylan Donahue (spent one season in NFL)
- Sixth Round: RB Elijah McGuire (signed with Dallas Cowboys)
- Sixth Round: CB Jeremy Clark (hasn’t played in NFL since 2018)
- Seventh Round: CB Derrick Jones (hasn’t played in NFL since 2018)
- Fourth Round: CB Parry Nickerson (currently with Green Bay Packers)
- Sixth Round: RB Trenton Cannon (currently with Panthers)
- Third Round: DE Jachai Polite (cut by Jets, playing with Los Angeles Rams)
As you can see it isn’t pretty for Maccagnan’s drafts. There were some highlights, though, with S Marcus Maye and LB Jordan Jenkins still producing for Gang Green today. There was also the undrafted free agent pickup of Robby Anderson that proved to be a solid addition, though Douglas couldn’t bring him back to New York this past offseason.
Overall, the retention rate of draftees and poor performance has led to where the Jets are right now: rebuilding. What Maccagnan did is what Douglas is trying not to do. He is trusting his own system, and it started with his first draft in 2020 that many believed was a good foundation.