FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Mike Maccagnan remade the Jets’ roster so quickly, so definitively and so effectively before last season that he received the NFL’s Executive of the Year award from the Pro Football Writers of America.
He traded low-round draft picks for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall, who keyed the offense in a surprise 10-6 season that nearly resulted in a playoff appearance. He orchestrated a stunning transformation of the secondary by signing cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Buster Skrine, as well as safety Marcus Gilchrist. He added free-agent guard James Carpenter and re-signed key veterans linebacker David Harris and Bilal Powell.
Almost every conceivable break went the Jets’ way last year, from an easy schedule, to a remarkably smooth transition to Fitzpatrick after Geno Smith was punched out by IK Enemkpali, to a vastly improved defense over Rex Ryan’s 4-12 team from 2014.
Less than a year later, the Jets have turned into a 3-7 dumpster fire that will result in significant change by next season. It will be up to Maccagnan to clean up the mess or else imperil his tenure and the future of coach Todd Bowles.
For what it’s worth to those who suggest blowing up the entire operation after only two seasons: Maccagnan and Bowles should be back next year. Despite missteps by both, firing either or both and starting over would just reset the clock and prevent the franchise from moving forward. Growing pains notwithstanding, the Maccagnan-Bowles partnership deserves at least one more year.
Maccagnan will remain the most interested bystander in the Jets’ building as Bowles plays out the season’s final six games and likely gets a more definitive read on the most pressing issue for a team that is all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention: whether Bryce Petty should be in the mix for the starting job next season.
There is almost zero chance the Jets will bring back Fitzpatrick next season, and while the most logical move would be to start Petty the rest of the way, Maccagnan will defer to Bowles on who plays. Bowles may be tempted to go back to Fitzpatrick in the short term, especially for next week’s game against the Patriots, but there is still enough time to get an accurate read on Petty. Even if Fitzpatrick does start next week against the AFC’s best bet to reach the Super Bowl, it’s not as if he’s going to snap out of his turnover-prone ways.
So while the coach is more interested in short-term results and the GM is focused on long-range strategy, there is nothing wrong with Bowles making the call. That’s the way it should be. Please refer to the last time a general manager tried to influence the coach on which quarterback should play. John Idzik pressured Rex Ryan to go with rookie Geno Smith right away in 2013, and the GM/coach partnership was blown to smithereens within two years.
Maccagnan was coy Wednesday about future plans, but major changes need to be made. He refused to directly criticize Revis, whose play has slipped drastically this season amid his own admission that his body is breaking down, but it’s obvious the Jets need to move on from the future Hall of Fame cornerback. And while Maccagnan defends signing Revis — remember, there were zero complaints when he made the deal last year — hindsight tells you investing that much money in an aging cornerback was risky.
Maccagnan was lauded for re-signing Mo Wilkerson just before training camp began, but this may not be the no-brainer it appeared at the time. Wilkerson has not played well this season, and his benching for the first quarter against Miami for being late to at least one team meeting — reports have indicated this has been an ongoing problem — doesn’t help. But Wilkerson is in his prime, so he’s still an asset, but only as long as he remains motivated.
Maccagnan has another decision to make about Sheldon Richardson, who also was benched for a quarter against Miami for lateness. The Jets can use the franchise tag on him in 2017, as they did with Wilkerson before signing him to a long-term deal. Richardson’s talent is enticing, but he already has been suspended twice and would be a huge risk if signed to a long-term deal.
The biggest issue, of course, is at quarterback, and it’s uncertain whether Petty or Christian Hackenberg can be the long-term answer. There are very few options on the open market or through trades — sorry, Tony Romo does not make sense here, because he’s far too injury-prone and is one hit away from retirement. As crazy as this may sound, it makes sense to consider bringing Smith back on a modest deal to compete for the starting job, since he has two years under offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. And it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the Jets look to draft another quarterback, especially if they get a high enough pick.
They’ll need another running back besides Matt Forte, who will be 31 next year. More help is needed on the offensive line, and cornerback is a need with Revis in decline.
Lots of decisions, to be sure, and Maccagnan is anxious to do his part to fix the problems. For now, he’ll wait and watch as Bowles presides over what’s left of a lost season.