Robert Saleh knows Jets are trending upward, but knows pressure is on to continue progress

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Robert Saleh close up looking upward in beanie in Buffalo
Robert Saleh close up looking upward in beanie in Buffalo

When Robert Saleh dreamed of being a head coach, he didn’t imagine a 4-13 rookie season. He never thought he’d have the worst defense in the league or an offense that struggled often to move the ball.

But he knew the reality he was facing when he took over the Jets less than a year ago. He knew this season, with a young roster and a rookie quarterback, was going to be more about progress than wins. He understood that it would be viewed as something of a successful year if they were simply playing better at the end of the season.

He also knows that won’t be good enough next season.

The stakes are going to be higher in Year 2.

“We’ve got to close this gap,” Saleh said after the Jets ended their season with a 27-10 loss to the Bills in Buffalo. “It’s about getting to a place where we close this gap in the division and getting to a place where we’re competitive every single game.”

Clearly the Jets are not there yet, but the arrow was certainly pointing in the right direction over the last month of the season. They were tied in the fourth quarter in Miami before losing to the Dolphins by a touchdown. They came home to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars and were then one failed fourth-down call away from upsetting the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

And then on Sunday, in miserable conditions against a Bills team with a top defense and offense that needed a win to lock up the AFC East, the Jets were only down 13-10 heading into the fourth quarter. It was the type of moral victory they spent the last month saying they refuse to take.

But those moral victories mean something. So does the progress of individual players. Saleh might not have results on his resume yet, but he has seen dramatic improvement from so many young players on defense, growth from quarterback Zach Wilson, and better play from his offensive line.

It wasn’t always consistent. The defense had awful stretches, the offensive line gave up nine sacks on Sunday, and the Wilson-led offense produced just 53 yards – the lowest single-game total in franchise history.

The results, though, weren’t the point -- not this year. Saleh said from the beginning it was going to be a rough ride.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” he said. “Just laying this foundation, it hasn’t gone as smooth as you dream of when you get your first opportunity with regards to wins and making the playoffs and going on a run and doing all that stuff. But I think there’s been a lot of things that we’ve done well and I think there’s been a lot of players who’ve opened up our eyes about the future.

“And there’s a lot of things we recognize in terms of where we’ve got to get to in order to close the gap in our division.”

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh looks on against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at MetLife Stadium.
New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh looks on against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at MetLife Stadium.

The good news is the Jets have the tools to close that gap. They could have $60 million in salary cap space to spend this offseason, which means they can be big players in free agency again. And they have another truck-load of draft picks that GM Joe Douglas has acquired, including the fourth and 10th pick overall.

So reinforcements are coming. They’ll also get pass rusher Carl Lawson back and tackle Mekhi Becton and receiver Corey Davis, and so many others who missed long stretches of the season. The talent this group puts on the field next season could be significantly better than it was this year.

And all the young players – Wilson, running back Michael Carter, receiver Elijah Moore, cornerbacks Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols, and Michael Carter II – could all be a heck of a lot better, too.

Which could mean wins. Maybe not a ton of wins. Maybe not a playoff berth. But a jump from four to eight wins next season isn’t a crazy thought. And that’s where the pressure will really come in for Saleh, because the expectations will rise. Everyone gave him a break this year as he laid that foundation. Now they’ll want to know if he can build on that and coach his team to keep up with the Dolphins, New England Patriots, and Bills.

That may seem like a lot to ask from a star-crossed franchise that is now at 11 years and counting without making the playoffs. But that’s the kind of fast track Saleh and Joe Douglas believe they have the the Jets on. Rebuilding may take time, but patience is not unlimited.

And all he has to do is look across town at Joe Judge and the Giants to understand that in this town, first-year growth tends to be fleeting, and honeymoons for coaches are often short.