EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When the New York Jets‘ hierarchy decided after the 2016 season to tear apart the roster and essentially start over, it mapped out a three-year rebuilding plan that seemed realistic at the time.
2017: Start a youth movement and reset the culture.
2018: Find a franchise quarterback.
2019: Make The Big Jump, combining their homegrown talent with some pricey free-agent additions.
Anything is possible in the fickle NFL, where the landscape changes year to year, but let’s be honest: Based on what’s happened in the past few weeks, the Jets (3-8) — losers of five straight — are more than a year away from making the leap from bottom-feeder to legitimate contender.
They might need to correct their vision. How about 2020?
Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the New England Patriots — not a vintage New England team, mind you — was an excellent and sobering example of where the Jets stand in the NFL universe. They played hard for embattled coach Todd Bowles, but there simply wasn’t enough dynamic talent to hang with New England for 60 minutes. Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but it’s also reality.
A word of advice to the fire-the-coach crowd, those dreaming of the Next Sean McVay: It’ll take more than an offensive whiz kid to make the Jets an overnight contender. McVay has done wonders for quarterback Jared Goff, and maybe the NSM (if he exists) could do the same for Sam Darnold, but McVay also inherited two of the top-10 non-quarterbacks in the NFL: running back Todd Gurley and defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
The Jets don’t have a Gurley or a Donald. They have only one blue-chip player: strong safety Jamal Adams, who doesn’t play a premium, game-changing position. They have six or seven other players under contract who should be part of the foundation, but that’s about it. This isn’t to absolve the coaching staff, which foolishly decided the best way to beat the Patriots was to throw the ball 50 times out of 62 plays, but talent still trumps everything.
Other than Adams, is there a player who jumps off your TV screen week after week? Maybe Darnold will be that guy once he returns from his foot injury. Defensive end Leonard Williams has been stuck on three sacks for six games. Darron Lee, who fancies himself as a new-age linebacker, gets exposed in smashmouth games, as he was on Sunday. Rookie tight end Chris Herndon shows flashes, but we need to see more.
The Jets have a ways to go. At the current rate, general manager Mike Maccagnan’s grand plan will take longer than anticipated, especially with the likelihood of a new coaching staff in 2019. That will mean learning new schemes. It also will mean finding players to fit those schemes. Adams, for one, preached patience.
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“Stick with us, man,” he said after the defense allowed 400-plus yards for the fifth time in the past eight games. “Obviously, [the fans] are hurting. We get a lot of negative comments and we understand it. I get it. I get the frustration, but we’re hurting twice as much as you. Stick with us and we’re going to figure it out. Do I know when? Do I know the timetable? No.”
The Jets will have close to $100 million in cap room, but free agency shouldn’t be viewed as a panacea. It’s fool’s gold because the best players rarely get to the open market. Running back Le’Veon Bell will be a rare exception, and you can bet the Jets will be among his most ardent suitors. Bell alone wouldn’t save them. The Jets have gone five straight games with less than 100 rushing yards, their longest streak within a season since 2005, so we’re talking about an offensive line that needs major work.
The scoring output in the last five games reads like the ages of The Jackson 5 when it debuted: 17, 10, 6, 10 and 13.
The Jets already have five double-digit losses, one more than last season, which was supposed to be a tank year.
After a 3-3 start, the arrow was pointed up, but each defeat — three of which came against likely playoff teams — has shined a harsh light on their many blemishes. In other words, this could take a while.