The Jets have been roundly criticized for the poor timing of the firings of general manager Mike Maccagnan and vice president of player personnel Brian Heimerdinger on Wednesday, with the moves by chief operating officer Christopher Johnson suggestive of continued dysfunction within the organization.
Michael Lombardi thinks just the opposite.
“The Jets have won 28 games the last five years, of which they won 10 in Maccagnan and [coach Todd] Bowles’ first season,” said Lombardi, who first reported last month that Maccagnan and newly hired coach Adam Gase were having problems getting along and that Maccagnan and Heimerdinger could be out after the draft. “I think it was an obvious play. You don’t go very far to find out who picked the personnel.
“That’s why I don’t think they’re dysfunctional,” Lombardi said. “I think [Johnson] finally took time to learn about his own organization. I think the move should have been done in December.”
Lombardi has been around the NFL nearly all of his adult life, having been the Browns’ general manager and an executive under Bill Walsh with the 49ers, Al Davis with the Raiders and Bill Belichick with the Browns and Patriots. So he speaks from experience when he sees how organizations behave, what works and what doesn’t. Lombardi has three Super Bowl rings to show for his work, one under Walsh and two with Belichick in New England.
During a conference call with reporters, Johnson acknowledged Wednesday that he hadn’t fully immersed himself in the Jets’ day-to-day operations until recently but said his extensive time around Gase and Maccagnan made him believe he needed to make changes.
“Todd Bowles is one of the great human beings of all time, and he never complained,” said Lombardi, who now writes for The Athletic and recently wrote a book, “Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL.” “He’s a tremendous human being. He never said anything. He took his medicine and he never complained about personnel. I’m sure Chris Johnson didn’t understand what was going on in his whole organization. It took him some time to figure it out. I think most owners are so far in the forest to see the trees.”
Johnson had two years to observe Maccagnan and the personnel operation, and you can take him to task for not getting a better sense of what was happening during that time and perhaps making a clean sweep by firing Maccagnan along with Bowles. But credit Johnson for admitting he didn’t know what he didn’t know and deciding to spend more time understanding the machinations and inner workings of the front office.
Johnson said he was in on every major decision in the offseason, up to and including the signings of running back Le’Veon Bell, linebacker C.J. Moseley and wide receiver Jamison Crowder, draft-related meetings with players and other personnel meetings.
He also saw that Gase had interacted not just with the coaching staff and personnel departments but made himself available to people in other areas of the team’s Florham Park, New Jersey, training complex. Johnson mentioned wanting a new GM who would be recognized throughout the building as a leader and a facilitator, not simply someone who oversaw the draft, free agency and roster-building elements of the job.
“It was a decision that evolved,” Johnson said Wednesday. “It took a while. Maybe I was slow with that decision, but I finally came to it in the last few days.”
Lombardi believes Gase didn’t orchestrate the ouster of Maccagnan and Heimerdinger.
“I don’t think Adam wants to be the king of all kings,” he said. “I think Adam wants a partnership. I think he wants somebody he can work with, and that wasn’t [former Dolphins GM] Mike Tannenbaum. He was adding players without thinking about the locker room. We’re not collecting baseball cards. We’re building a team.”
Lombardi thinks Gase inherits a potentially strong situation at the most important position on any football team: quarterback.
“Knowing Adam from a football standpoint, [Sam Darnold] is exactly what he would want in a quarterback,” Lombardi said. “He’s a team guy. He values the name on the front of the jersey more than the back. He’s got great talent. I think he’s very coachable. Let’s face it.”
Then again, Lombardi wonders how things might have turned out if Maccagnan had taken either Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson in the 2017 draft; the Jets instead took safety Jamal Adams.
“The reality of it is that Maccagnan is taking no heat for [not taking] Watson or Mahomes,” Lombardi said. “Imagine if either guy would have been picked? The Jets would be better.”
Former Jets GM Tannenbaum, who was fired by the Dolphins after the 2018 season and is now an ESPN commentator, said it shouldn’t be forgotten that Maccagnan left behind what may have been the two most important components of any organization.
“Maccagnan, who hired Gase, may have put a head coach and a quarterback in place for a number of years,” Tannenbaum said. “Which is the ultimate irony, because at the end of the day, that’s what the general manager is charged with. [Maccagnan] may have hit on both. If you believe in Darnold, then the hardest part of the job is in place for you.”