FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets haven’t played a significant late-season game since 2015, an utterly mind-boggling trend in this era of NFL parity. That’s about to change, according to the new man in charge.
“We’re going to play meaningful games at the end of November and December,” Adam Gase said Wednesday, the eve of his first training camp practice as the Jets’ coach. “That’s what we’re going to do.”
That’s a fair, if not bold, take by Gase. The season will be an unmitigated failure if the Jets are cooked by the time your Thanksgiving turkeys are served. The 2019 offseason spending champions should contend for a playoff spot. Will they get one?
Sorry, folks, this isn’t a playoff team. Not yet.
Despite a splashy offseason that included the additions of running back Le’Veon Bell and linebacker C.J. Mosley — combined Pro Bowls: seven — the roster still contains too many flaws for the Jets to make the jump from 4-12 to January football.
The previous regime did a poor job of addressing concerns at cornerback, edge rusher and offensive line, an area former general manager Mike Maccagnan never tried to rebuild through the draft. The line depth is poor, and the same could be said for wide receiver and other key areas. The NFL season is a war of attrition, and the Jets are vulnerable because they could be crippled by one or two key injuries.
The Jets want to feature the running game (see: Bell), yet they have an offensive line that struggled last season with run blocking. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will play an aggressive, blitz-happy defense, but he will be handcuffed by a cornerback group that includes only one proven starter, Trumaine Johnson. They will have problems against offenses that spread the field with receivers and force them to defend in space.
So, yes, the Jets remain under repair, but there’s a palpable energy at One Jets Drive.
There’s a new coach, a new general manager, a new star on offense, a new mindset on defense, a new uniform and a new helmet.
New is good when you’re a team like the Jets, who haven’t done anything memorable since 2010. They had become stale and dormant and needed a serious jolt of energy. You can feel the positive vibe at training camp and hear the excitement in the players’ voices.
“The whole building, you can kind of sense almost a rebirth,” quarterback Sam Darnold said. “I feel like the whole building is energized. … For us, it’s feeding off that. It happens naturally. We can already feel it in the building. I feel like there’s good vibes. As long as you have that energy, we can win with that.”
Darnold wasn’t taking a shot at the old administration, but let’s be honest: The Todd Bowles-Mike Maccagnan tandem didn’t generate a lot of buzz. More important, they failed to generate a lot of wins — a 24-40 record, including 14-34 over the past three seasons. Only the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns won fewer games over that span.
Maccagnan’s parting gift, which he didn’t know at the time, was the empowerment to spend $125 million in guarantees on free agents, the largest tab in the league. In each of the past three seasons, the team that spent the most guaranteed money on free agents made the playoffs — the Chicago Bears (2018), Jacksonville Jaguars (2017) and New York Giants (2016).
So maybe there’s postseason hope for the Jets, but the only way that can happen is if Darnold takes two giant steps forward in his second season. We’ve seen it happen in recent years with quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. Darnold certainly has the talent to follow that path, but he will need a 2017 version of Bell to carry the offense.
“I think there’s enough talent on this roster to be a playoff contender,” Darnold said.
Asked about his expectations, the young quarterback said, “A lot of wins.”
A lot of wins for this team would be 8-8. That would be a successful season, assuming Darnold continues his growth. Their mantra should be: Stay warm until it gets cold.
That would be a welcome change.