One of the most important people who will determine the Jets’ future won’t be on the field for Sunday’s game against the Redskins at FedExField. He won’t be on the sidelines, either. In fact, chances are you won’t see him tucked away either in a luxury box or the press box as the Jets attempt to win two games in a row for the first time all season.
But make no mistake: Joe Douglas will play a critical role in what happens to this team in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. The recently appointed general manager hasn’t had sufficient time to place his imprint on the team, but the decisions he makes down the road will go a long way toward determining whether there is a future that Jets fans can appreciate. Or whether there will be more of the same frustration they’ve experienced too many times before.
Douglas came to the Jets after this year’s team already had been constructed by erstwhile general manager Mike Maccagnan, who was fired by CEO Christopher Johnson after Maccagnan’s dramatic and expensive roster changes, both in the free agent and trade markets, as well as the draft. There have been only a handful of changes Douglas has made since then, most notably along the offensive line with the addition of Ryan Kalil — recently put on season-ending injured reserve — and Alex Lewis.
But with the Jets proving to be one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments on the field with a 2-7 record that includes the ignominy of back-to-back losses to the Jaguars and previously winless Dolphins, this team is all about what comes next. Johnson made it clear this week that he will not entertain a coaching change with Adam Gase heading into the 2020 season, which means that the chief executive officer's hand-picked choice will get at least one more shot at proving his worth as a head coach.
Douglas can begin to equip Gase with a roster that gives the Jets a chance to compete, and the general manager's work will begin in earnest when this nightmare of a season finally concludes. He will have some salary cap flexibility and likely a high first-round draft pick at his disposal and building a roster that is both talented and deep will be his highest priority. His only priority, really.
The Jets are starved for quality players on both sides of the ball. They need additional help along the offensive line, which simply hasn’t been capable enough to adequately protect Sam Darnold and create enough space for running back Le’Veon Bell.
They need to bolster the defensive line, especially after the trade of Leonard Williams to the Giants. It remains to be seen whether No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams is up to snuff as an NFL player, and while it’s still early in his development, it’s not too early to wonder why he hasn’t been more impactful. Williams has just 1 ½ sacks and 10 solo tackles so far.
Douglas also needs to solve a years-long quest to find a bona fide pass rusher. They haven’t had someone who consistently pressures the passer since the days of Shaun Ellis and John Abraham, two of their first-round picks in 2000.
With cornerback Trumaine Johnson proving to be a colossal bust, the Jets are hopelessly overmatched at that all-important position.
There is still room for additional help at receiver despite the presence of Robby Anderson, Demaryius Thomas and Jameson Crowder. And Douglas must find an adequate backup for Darnold to avoid the chaos that ensued when the Jets were down to Luke Falk after Darnold was diagnosed with mono early in the season.
Douglas will observe Sunday’s game and continue formulating his own take-aways for what comes next, but how he fashions the roster moving forward might be the most important element of whether this team eventually rises from the ashes of this year’s collapse, or whether they’re stuck in football purgatory for years to come.
Douglas has a quality resume, having worked with two organizations that have won Super Bowls. He was with the Ravens as a scout for 15 years, then ran the Bears’ college scouting department before joining the Eagles from 2016-18 as vice president of personnel. He has come up the right way and has been universally respected by his peers. Yes, it means something when you never hear a bad word about his football know-how.
Is it a guarantee of future success? Of course not. The Jets have experienced profound disappointment at the general manager position for decades. You want to know the ultimate symbol of frustration? The fact that they were one pick away from getting Brett Favre in 1989 and settled instead for Browning Nagle. That tells you all you really need to know about how snakebit this organization has been.
Douglas will indeed fight history as he begins to reconstruct the team, and he’ll have his failures, no doubt. But if he has the right stuff and can do for the Jets what George Young did for the Giants beginning in 1979, when he lifted the team out of its darkest years, then there will indeed be hope for the future.