Oct 15, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan on the sidelines before a game against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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Lichtenstein: One Offseason Of Cap Space Won’t Help Maccagnan Turn Jets Into Sustainable Winners

Steve Lichtenstein
November 05, 2018 - 9:29 am
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The Jets’ sloppy 13-6 loss on Sunday on the sloppy field in Miami essentially guaranteed that they won’t be going to a Super Bowl for the first time since Joe Namath guaranteed they’d win it 50 years ago in this same city.

Sure, mathematics still allows for a remote possibility, but who’s it kidding? This was expected to be a rebuilding season anyway, so Jets fans in the aggregate are not all that disappointed.

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The Jets did have an opportunity to extend a tease via this winnable game over a Dolphins squad starting backup Brock Osweiler at quarterback. However, instead of coming home to MetLife Stadium at 4-5 for a tilt against the bumbling Bills next week, this loss means we can bypass the false hope that would only torture us by season’s end. We can focus instead on the Jets once again heading back to the drawing board for next season.

Season four of the Mike Maccagnan plan has left this franchise only marginally closer to the ultimate goal than they were at the conclusion of predecessor general manager John Idzik’s tenure. And that’s only because of the promise shown by rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, who needs a legion of competent upgrades to his supporting cast to take this team to another level. 

Blame Darnold for the ill-advised throws that resulted in four interceptions Sunday and a league-high 14 on the season—it’s part of the learning process. But don’t forget to also lay the wood on: a) the Jets line, which has been dreadful the last three weeks; b) the receivers’ inability to get open with reasonable consistency, and c) the coaching staff, which didn’t even adjust for center Spencer Long’s difficulties snapping out of the shotgun with his injured finger/hand until the fourth quarter, let alone construct a game plan that had a chance to succeed in Miami.

In his midseason press conference last week, Maccagnan promised to expend his resources—mainly the anticipated $100 million in salary cap space — to turn the Jets into winners.

Hmm, haven’t we heard this before?

Several times in Gang Green’s inglorious history, I’m afraid.

4 Interceptions Help Dolphins Beat Darnold And Jets, 13-6

Unfortunately, history hasn’t been too kind to NFL teams who have relied this much on free agency. Typically, teams do not let the most transformational players just walk out the door. Those not signed to extensions get tagged, making it nearly impossible for them to change addresses. Count on the Jets to then bid exorbitantly high for the leftovers, those who are often on the downside of their careers.

Maccagnan already went through this process. In his first offseason in 2015, his shopping spree brought in a host of veterans for big money. It got him one 10-6 non-playoff season. A year later it was time to tear it all down.  Since the start of the 2016 season, the Jets are 13-28.

An article in TurnontheJets.com asked a reasonable question—at what point is this regime expected to win more games than they lose? It turns to the Rams and Eagles as examples of teams that made rather quick turnarounds, thanks to their GM/coach/QB hierarchy.

Despite Darnold’s seeming regression, I do think the Jets have the right guy to play quarterback, but I recognize the possibility that he might also join the ranks of this franchise’s long list of underachievers at the position with this dysfunctional organizational setup.

Both Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles report directly to owner Christopher Johnson (while brother Woody is away as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom). In theory, each could go to ownership and claim this mess is the other guy’s fault.

In reality, they’re both to blame.

Since you can gauge my view on Bowles from previous posts, let’s get into Maccagnan here.

It would have been laughable if the pain from losing wasn’t so searing when Maccagnan attempted to whitewash his drafting ineptitude last week. His previous three first-rounders—defensive lineman Leonard Williams, inside linebacker Darron Lee, and safety Jamal Adams—have all had pretty good seasons, but none have been Pro Bowl-worthy.

More importantly, none of them play what is considered premium positions, such as quarterback, edge pass rusher, shutdown cornerback, or left tackle. Maccagnan’s sub first-round draft picks at these positions have been abominations.  The same goes for the skill positions, where the Jets have been battered by injuries this season and the drafts didn’t provide viable reinforcements.      

To suggest at his press conference that he feels “pretty good” about his draft record is an insult to Jets fans. The article above mentions as an example how Maccagnan could have easily drafted his franchise quarterback in 2017, but he took Adams over both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.  Adams was the chalk pick at the time, but it’s clear Maccagnan missed on the evaluations.  Or he wanted to give 2016 second-round bust Christian Hackenberg another year to develop.  Either way, Maccagnan wouldn’t have had to surrender three second-round picks to move up in April to draft Darnold had he valued a potentially good quarterback over a potentially very good safety.

This team has a ton of holes, not all of which can be plugged by Maccagnan making it rain in free agency. Off the top of my head, it will need a feature running back, two-to-three receivers, two-to-three offensive linemen, an edge pass rusher, and another quality corner. 

Then there’s the matter of depth, since injuries are kind of an issue in the NFL. Young players that have been drafted should be the first in line to be the next men up. Unfortunately, the Jets haven’t fared well recently turning to guys like Hackenberg, Bryce Petty, Devin Smith, ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen Juston Burris, and Lorenzo Mauldin—all of whom were taken by Maccagnan within the first four rounds and are now out of the league. 

The “Same Old Jets” cliché refers to this franchise’s incompetence both on and off the field. For all the losing, they’ve continually failed to take advantage of their drafting position to build sustainable winners. All the money in the world in one offseason won’t help Maccagnan fix that.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.