Jets CEO Christopher Johnson made his choice on Dec. 30 when he fired Todd Bowles, but not Mike Maccagnan. It was a signal that he believed in his general manager, bought into his vision, and wasn’t concerned about his spotty record.
And though Johnson insisted he would never give anyone a playoff mandate (“Absolutely not,” he said), the message from his actions are perfectly clear: This is Maccagnan’s roster, Adam Gase is Maccagnan’s coach, and this is the offseason Maccagnan has to turn the Jets from laughingstocks into a winner.
In other words, as one of the most important offseasons in Jets’ history begins, the pressure on Maccagnan is high.
What happens next will determine whether the Jets GM is still the GM after his contract expires after the 2020 season, or whether he’s still the GM in 2020 at all. He made a masterful trade one year ago to get the Jets in position to draft Sam Darnold, the franchise quarterback they had been seeking for 50 years. But there aren’t many other things on his list of accomplishments, and since the Jets are a miserable 24-40 during his tenure, there’s obviously a lot of work to do.
Granted he has close to $100 million in salary cap space to work with this offseason, not to mention the third overall pick in the NFL draft. Add in the energy of a new coach and coaching staff, the ingredients are certainly there for a quick turnaround.
But there are plenty of warning signs, too.
He has a spotty free agency record — It’s exciting the Jets have all this cap room, but they had plenty last offseason too, and what do they really have to show for it? Remember, they offered $90 million guaranteed to QB Kirk Cousins and that doesn’t look so brilliant now. They also gave a five-year, $72.5 million contract with $34 million guaranteed to CB Trumaine Johnson, whom the Rams couldn’t wait to get rid of, and who ended up benched for the season finale after repeatedly being late to work. MLB Avery Williams was a nice find for three years, $22.5 million. But where was the much-needed offensive help? RB Isaiah Crowell (three years, $12 million) and WR Terrelle Pryor (one year, $4.5 million) were pretty much it, and that didn’t work out well. So Maccagnan has to come through with big-time play-makers and game-changers this time (think: Le’Veon Bell). And this time most of them need to work out.
He has a poor draft record – Maccagnan has done reasonably well with his first-round picks, so there’s no reason to worry about that. It’s the rest of the drafts that have been a problem. From second-round busts like QB Christian Hackenberg (2015) – who was so bad he bombed in his AAF debut on Sunday — to too many mid-round misses like receivers ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen (third and fourth rounds, 2017). There were some positive signs in the last draft, although the jury is way out on his second pick (third-round DT Nathan Shepherd). With no second-rounder (gone to the Colts in the Darnold trade) those mid-round picks will be huge this year – especially if he trades down in the first round and accumulates more.
His teams have lacked discipline on and off the field – From the 2016 locker room war that divided around Sheldon Richardson and Brandon Marshall, to Mo Wilkerson’s inability to show up on time regularly, to far too many players who ended up suspended for drugs, PEDs or DUIs, the Jets haven’t been a high-character team for a while. Yes, a lot of that was on Bowles, but at any point the GM could have stepped in and imposed discipline. The GM is also responsible for bringing in players – like Trumaine Johnson – who seem to like to play by their own rules. In an offseason that will reshape the team, he can’t ignore character as he brings in new players. After all, almost every championship team will tell you that character and chemistry matter. The Jets have been short on both the last few years.
He’s allowed a potentially volatile coaching staff – This is more of Gase’s problem than Maccagnan’s, but this coaching staff is a soap opera waiting to happen. Maccagnan wanted Gregg Williams to be the Jets defensive coordinator long before he hired a coach, according to multiple sources. Gase obviously had to sign on. But Gase also hired his father in law, Joe Vitt, who testified against Williams during the infamous BountyGate scandal in New Orleans. Now Vitt works for Williams who works for Gase. And despite what one source said were reservations by Maccagnan, Gase hired Blake Williams, Gregg’s son, as a defensive assistant after a rocky tenure in Cleveland. Again, it’s Gase’s issue, but this was all assembled on Maccagnan’s watch.
That’s a lot to overcome, but Johnson obviously believes Maccagnan is the right guy to sort that all out. He believes he’ll use the high pick wisely, spend the cap room in the right places, fix the discipline issues and keep the coaching staff in check.
Maybe he will. But as soon as Bowles was shoved out the door, the spotlight moved to Maccagnan and his so-far unimpressive record and it became hard for many to have faith that he can do any of that at all. Now he has to, though, because no one thinks Gase has been dealt a winning hand with the Jets. And that’s Maccagnan’s fault.
Can it work? There’s no doubt Maccagnan has the cards to be a winner, if he plays them correctly. If he does, the Maccagnan-Gase pair could be the long-term solution the Jets have been seeking.
If not, the house of cards will come crashing down and the Jets will soon be looking for a new GM to clean up yet another mess.