The Jets finished third in the AFC East with a 7-9 record. It was clear that if they wanted to get into the playoffs or even dethrone the Patriots, things had to change, they were a team that very obviously needed a rebuild. This offseason they have done so at the very least, a start on one. A pragmatic if somewhat understated rebuild should see the Jets an improved team even if the record may not indicate as much.
The Jets came into the offseason with a bit of momentum, always a dangerous word for NFL teams. A 6-2 close to the season was helped by a weak backend schedule but there is still the sense that the Jets turned the corner after winning just one of their first eight games. The strong close to the season helped silence the criticism around a first-year head coach in Adam Gase, who was an unpopular hire at the time and still splits opinion.
But the finish to 2019 was a positive sign for an organization that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010 and has had just one winning record since then. The Jets seem to be turning the corner, albeit slowly.
Part of the reason for the optimism is the emergence of quarterback Sam Darnold. Over the second half of the season, the quarterback did a tremendous job of settling into a new offense. Turnovers were cut back, he learned to throw the ball away and his comfort in the huddle and at the line was apparent. A team without a franchise quarterback since Joe Namath appears to have found a foundational piece, a cornerstone, for their rebuild.
And while the offseason wasn’t glamorous, it did address needs. In what was his first, full offseason with the Jets, general manager Joe Douglas beefed up the offensive line, an area of neglect over the past few years. Four new starters emerged, with three key pieces coming in free agency and the selection of left tackle Mekhi Becton at No. 11 overall in the NFL Draft. Becton, an All-ACC selection, will be expected to protect the blindside of their franchise quarterback.
The offense will only go as far as Darnold takes them. And Darnold could only take the offense so far given the state of the offensive line a season ago.
Constantly under pressure, Darnold’s high turnover rate in the first half of the year was the result of this terrible protection. The patchwork group improved in the second half of the season but still needed an overhaul.
If the line is improved and is adequate (which would be an improvement), then the Jets offense could be serviceable and competent. Darnold has the requisite arm strength which is now coupled with an increased comfort in the playbook. Le’Veon Bell, disappointed last year after signing a four-year $52.5 million contract that offseason, averaging a career low 3.2 yards per rushing attempt. He is back, in improved shape and the All-Pro running back could be dangerous if the line play is improved.
And while the Jets lost Robby Anderson in free agency, the Jets replaced their second-best wide receiver in 2019 with the speedy Breshad Perriman and added Denzel Mims in the second round of the NFL Draft. Returning tight end Chris Herndon, who was solid as a rookie in 2018, returns after playing just one game a year ago.
While the offense won’t be prolific, there is the chance for things to be improved. The Jets should be able to move the ball with some confidence. If the line is indeed better, the offense should be improved.
Last season, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was nothing short of remarkable. Given the injuries to his unit, the fact that the Jets were as solid defensively as they were was a real testament to the coaching done by Williams
The defence certainly isn’t star-laden but is young, athletic and has depth. The loss of two key players, however, will test their depth and the ability of Williams to game plan to his strengths.
In late July, the Jets traded All-Pro safety Jamal Adams to the Seattle Seahawks. Bradley McDougald, part of the net the Jets obtained in return, is a solid safety but Adams was an elite athlete and a versatile defender. A couple weeks after losing Adams in a trade, the Jets saw linebacker C.J. Mosley, the only other All-Pro on their defence, opt-out of the season.
The good news, though, is the young talent and versatility that was emerging at points last year. Nose tackle Quinnen Williams was unfairly slagged on for a quiet rookie season when he in fact was very effective and disruptive. Bless Austin, a Day 3 pick out of Rutgers last year, showed potential at cornerback and has great length to press.
If Williams and Austin can take a step forward, the defence can withstand the loss of Adams and the opt-out of Mosley. But the Jets still need an effective edge rusher. One of the worst teams in the NFL at getting to the quarterback a season ago, the one demerit for Douglas this offseason was the failure of a true pass rusher being added to the defence.
Rookie Jabari Zuniga has potential, but this defence is screaming for an end who can get to the quarterback effectively.
Predicted Record: 7-9
It might seem like no progress but given a more difficult schedule, this would be another solid year in terms of development for the Jets. If Darnold progresses and takes another step forward and the offensive line can come together, then even another losing record would be seen as a positive.
This year is all about 2021. The Jets can use this as a developmental year, have a solid free agency and draft and become playoff contenders sooner rather than later.