FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – If he had to do it all over again, Christopher Johnson would have made one of the biggest decisions impacting the Jets much sooner. Instead, his unwillingness to part ways with former general manager Mike Maccagnan has resulted in a roster reconstruction delay, the likes of which might take GM Joe Douglas years to straighten out.
"I want to avoid embarrassment for Mike and others, but there’s no question I feel we're in better hands in terms of putting together a roster with Joe," Johnson said Wednesday during a briefing with reporters at the Jets’ training complex. "I have so much confidence in (Douglas). Do I wish I had made that change earlier? Absolutely."
Johnson knows that waiting more than a year to find a new general manager was an error for which he continues to pay.
"No question," he said, when I asked if he acknowledged the roster building process was delayed as a result of his decision. "I have made mistakes, and that’s one of them."
It is an unusual and quite frankly and uncomfortable moment in time in the Jets’ rebuilding process, with roughly half the roster comprised of players brought in by Maccagnan and the other half being Douglas picks – whether through the draft or free agency. Many of Maccagnan’s players are already gone, even though it has been just 15 months since Douglas took over.
• Safety Jamal Adams was the sixth overall pick in 2017 and was traded to Seattle for two first-round picks, plus safety Bradley McDougald.
• Wide receiver Robby Anderson wasn’t re-signed and is now in Carolina.
• There are no starting offensive linemen left from the Maccagnan era.
But there are still several significant players who were brought in by the former GM, and the awkwardness is obvious. Le’Veon Bell, who is now out with a hamstring strain, has never really fit into Adam Gase’s offense. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who signed a gargantuan $85 million contract but missed most of last year with injuries, has opted out of the 2020 season because of coronavirus concerns. Quinnen Williams, the third overall pick in 2019, has been a major disappointment so far.
The one major exception in terms of how Douglas will proceed is perhaps the most important player Maccagnan selected: quarterback Sam Darnold.
Douglas and Johnson remain firmly committed to the former USC quarterback, despite the fact that his career still hasn’t taken off the way you’d expect from a No. 3 overall pick. But in many ways, Darnold is in the middle of the Maccagnan-Douglas transition, because he has had to deal with a rebuilding process that is now taking longer because Johnson didn’t clean house entirely after the 2018 season. The chief executive officers didn’t feel comfortable hiring a new coach AND a new GM, so he held onto Maccagnan for an extra year and, more importantly, an extra draft and free agency cycle in 2019.
It has left Douglas fighting an uphill battle. The former Bears, Ravens and Eagles front-office executive has done what he can in a short period of time to address his team’s myriad need. But as you saw in Sunday’s season-opening 27-17 loss to the Bills, there is a long way to go before this team can be pronounced playoff worthy. Johnson said Wednesday he won’t put a playoff mandate on this year’s team, although he does demand improvement as the season goes on. Which shouldn’t be too hard, considering how woeful the Jets looked on Sunday.
Asked if his decision not to fire Maccagnan sooner meant that Douglas will be afforded more time to continue the rebuild, Johnson acknowledged, "You can make that assumption."
Douglas, who has been very solid so far, deserves the benefit of time.
But Johnson still has some major decisions to make moving forward, the biggest of which is whether Gase is the right man for the job. Johnson insists he believes in his coach, especially after the Jets rallied from a 1-7 start last year with a 6-2 second half of the season. Gase is also impacted by a roster reconstruction that has been delayed by Johnson waiting more than a year to hire Douglas, a close confidant of Gase who might very well have signed off on the coach’s hiring had Douglas gotten here sooner.
But there should be enough evidence moving forward to determine whether Gase ought to continue into 2021 and beyond. He needs to live up to his reputation as an offensive innovator, and if he isn’t up to the job, then Johnson will need to find someone else sooner rather than later.
And not make the same mistake with Gase that he did with Maccagnan.