A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. New sheriff in town: The front-office shakeup will have a significant impact on the roster, now and in the future, because that’s how it goes in the NFL. Whenever a new regime takes over, the player turnover spikes. The high-profile players who could be most affected by Adam Gase’s rise in power are Le’Veon Bell, Robby Anderson and Leonard Williams — former general manager Mike Maccagnan’s first draft pick.
There’s already talk in league circles that Gase could be looking to move on from Williams, who will be a free agent after the season. He’s due to make a guaranteed $14.2 million in the final year of his contract. Gase hasn’t said anything about Williams that would spark speculation, but it’s not hard to connect the dots when examining the defensive line situation. The Jets already have $32.5 million invested in rookie Quinnen Williams (once he signs) and $17 million invested in Henry Anderson — all guaranteed money.
Does Gase want to pour more resources into the D-line by giving a massive extension to Leonard Williams? The most likely outcomes: They use the franchise tag in 2020 (estimated at $18 million) or let him walk as a free agent (receiving a compensatory pick in 2021) or do a tag-and-trade. The latter choice has become a thing in the NFL (see: Frank Clark and Dee Ford). They could try to sign Williams to a team-friendly deal before next offseason, but why would he agree to that? A side note: Former coach Todd Bowles, trying to be proactive, had been pushing for two years to extend Williams.
Bell’s situation is fascinating now that reports have surfaced about how Gase was turned off by the running back’s price tag (four years, $52.5 million). Bell isn’t going anywhere in 2019 because he already has been paid $11 million in bonuses, with another $3 million in guarantees on the way. But what about 2020? He has $13 million in guarantees, including a $2 million roster bonus on March 15, but a one-and-done isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Hey, the New York Giants traded Odell Beckham Jr. only one year into a megadeal.
Truth be told, a Bell trade wouldn’t be crippling from a cap standpoint; it would just be a matter of a finding a team willing to pick up the contract. If not, Bell is an easy cut in 2021, when his guaranteed money runs out.
Anderson is fairly cut-and-dry. After signing his restricted tender for $3.1 million, he has one year to prove he’s worthy of a long-term deal. Gase has praised Anderson on multiple occasions, but we also know from his time in Miami that he’s not opposed to parting ways with a talented wide receiver (see: Jarvis Landry).
Anderson, Bell and Williams are Maccagnan guys — especially Williams — but Maccagnan is gone. It’s Gase’s show now.
2. Quick on the trigger: Gase needed about eight hours as the interim GM to make a fairly significant trade, dealing linebacker Darron Lee to the Kansas City Chiefs for a 2020 sixth-round pick. It seemed to be a case of Gase flaunting his newfound power, but the reality is that offer was sitting on the table for some time, a source said. Maccagnan’s critics say he was indecisive at times when making personnel decisions. Maybe this was an example of that; or maybe he was just waiting for the Chiefs to sweeten the offer.
The advantage of having Gase in the coach/interim GM role is that it streamlines the process. He knows what he wants and he acts quickly. The downside? There is no checks-and-balances system. There’s nothing wrong with a one-man show if the one man is Bill Belichick or, back in the day, Bill Parcells — both experienced team-builders. Gase is not that right now, and he needs a savvy GM who has final say on personnel.
3. Next man up: I don’t think the Jets are going to rush into a GM decision, nor should they, but the word around the league is that Joe Douglas is the odds-on favorite. Checking in with different factions in the industry — scouts and agents — I’ve heard nothing but good things about Douglas, the Philadelphia Eagles’ vice president of player personnel. He spent 16 years in the Baltimore Ravens’ personnel department, working alongside the well-respected Ozzie Newsome, who just retired as GM. Douglas’ résumé is impressive, but he has never run an organization. Until a person is in the big chair, you never really know for sure how they will handle the pressure. Don’t buy the Peyton Manning rumors; it’s intriguing, but not on the current radar.
Another question: Do you trust ownership to find the right match? The Jets haven’t had a successful coach-GM tandem since Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum.
CEO Christopher Johnson signed off on the Gase hire despite reports of tension between Gase and upper management in Miami. Four months after pairing Gase and Maccagnan, Johnson concluded the relationship was so bad he had to split them up. You can’t make this up. Maybe that was Gase’s plan; it certainly looks and smells like a power play. No matter how you perceive it, it’s a bad look for all parties.
In Fairness to Johnson, give him credit for rolling up his sleeves and immersing himself in the football operation. He was involved in everything, from scouting-combine player interviews to free-agent strategy meetings. The man is trying. Now he has to deliver.
4. Heard in the halls: In the aftermath of the Maccagnan firing, one prominent veteran was overheard at One Jets Drive saying how this proves it was unfair to blame the recent losing entirely on Bowles, who was fired after the season. Clearly, Bowles had his supporters in the locker room. Some players felt Maccagnan’s talent procurement was lacking, especially when it came to building an offensive line.
5. Maccagnan’s legacy: The best and worst of the Maccagnan era can be captured with two quarterback draft picks — Sam Darnold and Christian Hackenberg. How a qualified talent evaluator could see Hackenberg as a future starter is beyond comprehension. On the flip side, Maccagnan made a terrific move to trade up for Darnold, who has the qualities of a future franchise quarterback.
He was Magic Mike in 2015, when he was named NFL Executive of the Year. Things went sideways after that, with a rebuilding plan that moved at a glacial pace. He wasted big money on Darrelle Revis and Muhammad Wilkerson, and he whiffed on too many draft picks, but he can take some solace in knowing he left behind a talented young quarterback. You only hope Darnold isn’t ruined by the dysfunction that surrounds him.
6. Professor Mike: Sometimes we get so caught up in wins/losses and hits/misses in the draft that we forget about the human aspect to this job. I’d like to share a story about Maccagnan that few people have heard.
A year ago, Maccagnan spoke to my sports journalism class at Syracuse University. I didn’t recruit him for the gig. He volunteered, noting that, as the son of an educator, he always has been drawn to higher learning. He made the four-hour drive from New Jersey, arriving about two hours into a three-hour class. The students were surprised because I never dropped any hints.
The session was supposed to end at 8 p.m., but Maccagnan graciously stayed until 10 p.m., discussing his background, his job and his take on the sports media landscape. This was 11 days after the 2018 draft, so he still was on a Darnold high. He continued answering questions from a couple of students even as he walked across the campus to his car. He wasn’t paid for this appearance; it was strictly pro bono.
Maybe fans don’t care about this sort of stuff because it doesn’t affect the product on the field. Me? I thought it was cool. More importantly, the students did, too.
Maccagnan declined a room at the university hotel, saying he doesn’t mind long-distance drives at night. He passes the time by listening to audiobooks. He got into his car a little after 10 … after a stop at the campus Starbucks.
7. Run, Brick, run: While his former team is immersed in controversy, D’Brickashaw Ferguson is doing good things. On Saturday, the former left tackle ran in the Popular Brooklyn Half, the largest half-marathon (13.1 miles) in the country. More than 27,000 runners were expected to participate in the run, which concludes at the Coney Island boardwalk.
Ferguson, a guest on my Jets podcast called “Flight Deck,” said he got into long-distance running a few months ago, when his uncle suggested he run “a half.”
“Half what?” Ferguson replied.
Asked if running fills a competitive void, Ferguson cracked, “You use the word ‘competitive.’ My size, my frame? I was competitive in football. My size, my frame? Not competitive [in running]. My speed? Not competitive.”
He ran to raise money for charity, and that’s a good thing, regardless of his race time.