The New England Patriots will contend for a championship yet again this season. With a 4-0 record, the Pats are meeting expectations and playing like the best team in the league. Football fans in Rhode Island can enjoy a relatively stress-free regular season, watching New England overwhelm opposing teams.
My hapless Jets, on the other hand? Not quite the same. They haven’t won a game yet and many supporters are already looking ahead to the 2020 Draft, as New York’s playoff hopes have disappeared. The Jets haven’t reached the playoffs since the 2010 season — almost an entire decade ago. After so much time spent as a laughingstock, how can New York turn this situation around?
First off, the Jets need to give quarterback Sam Darnold some help. New York’s current receivers aren’t able to make enough plays for Darnold at this point. Robby Anderson can haul in deep balls with his speed, but his skinny frame gets shoved around, and outside of vertical routes he is a non-factor. He’s not strong enough with the ball in his hands either — defenders can easily rip and punch it away from him, creating far too many turnovers. Quincy Enunwa is talented but just cannot stay healthy. The 27-year-old is out for the rest of the season due to injury and has only played in 12 games over the last three years. Jamison Crowder can provide value in a supporting role, but should never be the primary option in an offense. Improvement at the receiver position must happen in Darnold’s formative years if the Jets expect him to grow into a franchise quarterback.
Head coach Adam Gase must go as well. The next couple of seasons are too important for Darnold, especially since New York opened the checkbooks to sign running back Le’Veon Bell in a push to become competitive. Gase has shown that he can’t get the job done. His hiring confused fans last offseason and all of their worst expectations have come true. He has displayed passive play calling and little effort in the second halves of losses, while blaming his players with little self-reflection. Gase has amassed a 23-28 record in his NFL coaching career, 13-22 since the start of the 2017 season — at some point, he needs to look in the mirror. Miami fired Gase for a reason last year, and the Jets failed to learn from the Dolphins. He creates a turbulent environment and his coaching disappoints.
New York should look to hire Lincoln Riley, the head coach at the University of Oklahoma. Riley has gained a reputation for fostering fantastic quarterback play, helping Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray become #1 overall draft picks in back-to-back seasons. This year, he’s working his magic on Jalen Hurts, who has opened eyes with his performance after transferring from the University of Alabama. Several teams will try to entice Riley to join their respective franchises, but the Jets have a strong case to make to the young candidate. Darnold is only 22 years old and has lots of room for growth, so Riley can immediately put his best coaching talents to use in the NFL with the Jets. Add in Bell, one of the most dynamic players in the league, and Riley has the pieces to jump-start New York’s staggering offense.
Another important improvement sounds obvious, but has proven challenging for New York: Draft better. Simple as that. In recent years, the Jets have made solid selections in the early stages of the first round, picking safety Jamal Adams sixth overall in 2017 and Darnold third in 2018. But picks made in later rounds haven’t panned out. Four players whom New York drafted in 2017 — just a little over two years ago — aren’t in the NFL any more. The Jets already cut Jachai Polite, a linebacker taken in the third round of this year’s draft. That can’t happen if you hope to field a playoff team. While much of the blame has been directed (deservingly) towards Mike Maccagnan, the general manager whom the Jets fired in May, the new regime must do whatever it can to end this pattern. That means investing more in scouting and analytics personnel. Current general manager Joe Douglas needs to understand that better drafting is at the top of most fans’ wishlists.
This season won’t end well for the Jets. Darnold is hoping to return for Week Five, but it’s unclear how quickly he can shake off his illness. New York will have a record among the league’s worst, battling for draft position among the likes of the Dolphins, Bengals, and Cardinals — a major disappointment after an offseason filled with excitement and optimism. But again, with Darnold and Bell leading the offense and Adams playing stout defense, the Jets have a good core moving forward. That being said, the organization has to act now and change fast, or it could be another decade before New York returns to the playoffs.
George Klein ’20 can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.