Eight new starters, different atmosphere: Inside the New York Jets’ exciting offseason

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FLORHAM PARK, NJ – Five months later, Joe Douglas still remembers the feeling. The New York Jets had just lost their season finale to the Buffalo Bills 27-10 and finished 4-13 – their sixth losing season in a row. On the flight home, the general manager tried to remind himself that it was a year of reconstruction that growing pains were expected, but it did not dull the sting.

“Stop having games like that,” Douglas told ESPN, recalling his thoughts from Jan. 9.

By the time they landed, their mindset had changed by 2022 and beyond.

Then began the Jets’ offseason, a period in which Douglas went from being sick to being sick.

The Jets used the free agency and the draft to add eight potential starters, fueling optimism around the team. A punchline for most of a decade, they are now in the unusual position of getting a pat on the back.

On his podcast, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth captured the Jets as a team to watch, saying, “I just feel like if there is a team out there that could take a leap this year and surprise everyone … Jets, maybe they are that team this year. “

The Jets have a history of turning optimism into despair, but the difference with the 2022 team is that it is built with young, rising players as opposed to big name free agents who took the money, became complacent and did not live up to expectations. The list includes seven players who were drafted in the first round from 2019 to 2022, and they are equal to the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars for most of that time. Six were selected by Douglas, the only exception being the defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (2019), who is in contract negotiations for an extension.

“We have to develop them and we have to win matches, but I feel like things fell our way in the draft the last few years,” Douglas said.

After the 4-13 debacle, hardly a surprise with the amount of young people on the roster, the front office devised a plan that was born out of their meetings at the end of the season with the coaching staff. Douglas called it “the most important meeting” of the offseason. They reviewed the overview, player by player, and discussed strengths, weaknesses, and potential growth. Free agents were grouped by priority. A 2022 depth map was established.

Many notes were taken during these meetings and they were crystallized into a master plan.

“The dialogue, the meeting, it really set the plan to go into the offseason,” Douglas said.

For the most part, the Jets used the free agency to fill gaps in non-premium positions, signing tight-ends CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, guard Laken Tomlinson and safety Jordan Whitehead. The exception was cornerback DJ Reed. No one is known names, but they are all productive players in the age group 25-t0-30. Tomlinson is the oldest, but 30 is not old for an offensive lineman. He came to the Pro Bowl last season as a substitute.

In the draft, Douglas focused on first-class positions – cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson and defensive end Jermaine Johnson, all of whom were selected in the first round. Douglas said the prey for Johnson, which sparked an emotional celebration in the trunk, was the highlight of the offseason.

Their choice in the first round was not a coincidence. Douglas has a value system, one in which he prefers to invest his most valuable assets – ie. high draft picks – in premium positions. He believes he can fill the rest with great deals in free agency. It can be frustrating for the fan base, which sees big players signing elsewhere, but Douglas does not deviate from his plan.

“We did not go out and have a major spending round,” Douglas said. “We were not on the sidelines, but we did not go out and pick up $ 18-, $ 19-, $ 20-million-a-year players.”

The Jets spent $ 90 million in full guarantees on free agents, including their own, which finished fifth, according to overthecap.com. Among the AFC teams, they were far behind the Jaguars ($ 195 million), the Miami Dolphins ($ 127 million) and the Los Angeles Chargers ($ 124 million).

Douglas faced a difficult decision in terms of allocation, which means how to split the money between attack and defense. He wanted to upgrade quarterback Zach Wilson’s supporting cast, but he did not want to neglect a defense that was number 32 in most of the key categories.

In the end, it was a share-and-rule approach.

Counting their top four draft picks, the Jets’ 17 contracts that have at least $ 1.5 million cap charge by 2022 are giving away a total of $ 55.3 million – about a quarter of the entire ceiling. Attacks account for 56% of the $ 55.3 million, defense 44%.

In other words, Wilson needed help with Garrett Wilson, second-round running back Breece Hall, Uzomah and Conklin, who Douglas believes could be one of the surprises in their free-agent class. The defense, which allowed a franchise record of 504 points, got a boost with Gardner, Johnson, Reed & Co. They stockpiled enough assets from previous trades to fix both sides of the ball – in theory at least.

“We are better and I know we will be better, “said coach Robert Saleh.” We’re young, we’re a year older, we brought in some really cool pieces, a bunch of guys who stand for the right things, who live and breathe football. “

After investing heavily in the offensive line in 2020 and 2021, Douglas focused on offensive skill players. The NFL is a passing league, and the Jets averaged just 180 yards per game. fight with Wilson as quarterback – embarrassingly low.

In recognition of the lack, Douglas made a well-publicized attempt to swap for star receiver Tyreek Hill, whose decision to play for the Dolphins was the low point of the Jets’ offseason. It was a brave attempt that did not pay off. They responded by drafting Garrett Wilson and sticking to the organization’s goal of adding dynamic athletes on both sides of the ball.

In doing so, they ignored the offensive line on days 1 and 2, a calculated bet due to tackle Mekhi Becton’s injury history. Becton, a first-round pick in 2020, has only played eight full games out of 33. It would be ironic if Douglas, himself a former lineman in college, left them vulnerable up front. That’s the biggest problem in their offseason makeover.

Former GM Randy Mueller, who worked in the front offices of the Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks and now runs Mueller Football Advising Services, is taking a wait-and-see approach to the Jets’ offseason. He’s high on Zach Wilson’s upside – “I really have no doubt about Zach Wilson” – but he’s not sure about the new pieces.

“One thing is to build a team on paper, it’s something else to get it to come together,” Mueller said. “It’s up to the coaching staff to develop the guys and bring them together. I’m a little scared to say, ‘Hey, this is it.’

“They have to hit the three draft picks,” he added, referring to the first-time players.

Douglas thinks this is a much better team than the one that flew with him from Buffalo in early January, but he is not about to hold a party. He knows it’s a young team and there’s a lot to grow. Four of their top five receivers and running backs are rookies and sophomores, and they will be fed by a sophomore quarterback. So do not expect the organizational growth pains to disappear.

And do not forget the competition.

“The conference is an absolute bear,” Douglas said.

Still, there is a positive vibe around the building and it should not be minimized. There was also optimism last year, mainly due to Saleh’s arrival, but everyone knew there was a serious talent shortage. Now there is hope.

Linebacker CJ Mosley, who has been around long enough to know that every team drinks spring Kool-Aid, said: “Every year will be that Years – we all know how it goes – but we’re all looking forward to putting something together and really getting the New York Jets back on the map. “

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