At the end of it all, the most glaring issue the New York Jets have all comes down to a lack of a core on the team.
Here we go again. Another New York Jets season that began with so much hope and optimism has disappeared faster than a New York minute.
And quite frankly, there is nothing about the Jets’ performance during the first half that would suggest that there are better days ahead.
We often hear that bad teams lack an “identity” or there’s something wrong with the “culture.” And to be sure, the Jets have struggled in these areas. But what the Jets desperately need—and haven’t had in a while—is a “core.” The basic idea is that teams with a solid core have a) at least three or four Pro Bowl caliber players on its roster, and b) played together at least three consecutive years.
For instance, let’s do a quick review of a few NFL teams from years past with notable cores.
• The Dallas Cowboys (1991-1996): Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Jay Novacek, Nate Newton, Russell Maryland, and Daryl Johnston helped the Cowboys literally dominate the NFL for half a decade.
• San Francisco 49ers (1981-1998): Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice, Steve Young, and many others not mentioned here. For almost two decades the 49ers were a bonafide dynasty with consecutive core players brought in either via the draft or free agency fueling 49ers’ dominance.
• New England Patriots (2001-Present): Tom Brady, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker, and Rob Gronkowski. Much like the 49ers two-decade dominance, the Patriots have made restocking core players year after year look easy.
The last time the Jets had a so-called “core” (2009-2011) they went to two AFC Championship games. The core players during these years were Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, David Harris, Dustin Keller, and to a certain extent, Mark Sanchez. There’s at least one sure Pro Football Hall of Fame player included in that group (Revis), plus a few guaranteed Ring of Honor recipients (Mangold, Ferguson, and Harris).
With closer examination, it becomes evident that winning teams require elite players on the roster but they must also play together for continuity and to build cohesion. To develop a core both aspects are mandatory. Guess what? The Jets don’t have either at the moment. Even more problematic is the fact that there isn’t even a glimpse of a core developing any time soon.
Sure, Sam Darnold has potential and he’ll be the Jets starting quarterback for the foreseeable future but a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback? That’s an open question and the talent around him must improve for that to happen so nothing is certain. Defensively, Jamal Adams is already Pro Bowl caliber and will be a Jet for another few years until he’s due to make a king’s ransom as a free agent. So the Jets have two players that could be part of a future core. Unfortunately, though, the core needs more than two players.
What about other Jets currently on the team? The roster is decent but they just aren’t close to making the Pro Bowl. Darron Lee, for example, has improved dramatically from his rookie season but compared to other inside linebackers around the league, Lee lands somewhere in the middle.
This is probably the most important year of Quincy Enunwa’s career but not only has he struggled to stay on the field he’s also a free agent at the end of the season so his return is not certain.
Robby Anderson almost made the Pro Bowl last year but has come nowhere close to matching the same production. Marcus Maye is a very good football player but missed three games to start the season and I would argue is not Pro Bowl caliber right now.
Bottom line is that this Jets roster is a hollow shell made up of a combination of underperforming high-priced free agents, younger players that haven’t hit their peaks, and a slew of injuries. In other words, they don’t have a core and Todd Bowles’ struggles as a head coach can be traced directly to this troubling fact.
It is also important to stress that there have been way too many swings and misses in recent drafts, and that’s obviously an issue for the general manager, but in reality, every draft pick is an organizational decision with many voices involved. So when the season ends and the Jets are once again wondering why the playoffs have eluded them, the simple explanation will be that they have no core of elite players, and it doesn’t appear that reality is about to change any time soon.