FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Considering the increased scrutiny and decreased job security among even the more successful NFL general managers, Mike Maccagnan maintained his usual equanimity when discussing a team that — after a massive offseason makeover — might be lucky to win four games.
Maccagnan sat in a conference room overlooking the Jets’ practice fields Monday morning, his usual cup of coffee at the ready, with his thoughts set squarely in opposition to the overwhelming consensus that his team is at the start of a season that surely will end in failure.
“Every team goes into training camp with the idea of trying to make the playoffs,” said Maccagnan, entering his third season with the Jets. “We’re no different from any other team out there.”
If anything, the skepticism being voiced outside the building has only worked to embolden those inside the walls of One Jets Drive.
“When you’re in this business, you have to focus on what’s inside your building,” he said. “I like the chemistry and character that we’re developing. To a certain degree, I think it may give people motivation, a little chip on the shoulders of some of our players.”
Is Maccagnan out to prove the doubters wrong? “That’s not something I focus on,” he said.
Yet his long-term job security is linked to what happens this season and beyond. Owner Woody Johnson gave Maccagnan the green light to tear down the foundation of an aging, mediocre team and replace it with a younger group at just about every position. The notable exception is 38-year-old quarterback Josh McCown. He might be the default choice to enter the season as the starter, if only because he gives the team the best chance to be functional early.
The rest of the team is made up mostly of players with little to no experience. In a division that includes the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots and the improved Dolphins and Bills, this has the makings of a torturous season that will test even the most callused souls of Jets fans used to disappointment.
If 2017 is as dreary as the forecasts are predicting, there’s no telling whether Maccagnan or Todd Bowles will get the chance to continue rebuilding. With owners becoming increasingly impatient about bottom-line results, attrition among coaches has never been higher. The same is true for GMs, particularly this offseason. Gone are Washington’s Scot McCloughan, Kansas City’s John Dorsey and Carolina’s Dave Gettleman. All three oversaw a playoff team within the last two seasons, and Gettleman’s Panthers made the Super Bowl after the 2015 season.
The best record of the Maccagnan-Bowles era was 10-6 in 2015, as the Jets narrowly missed the playoffs. After last year’s 5-11 season, in which Ryan Fitzpatrick played his way out of town and Darrelle Revis’ play fell off a cliff, the roster purge claimed a number of aging, expensive veterans.
Unless Christian Hackenberg somehow becomes a franchise quarterback — a shaky proposition at best — then it will be a years-long project to get the Jets to contend on a regular basis. That likely will include taking a quarterback high in next year’s draft.
Maccagnan remains unflinching in the face of a daunting challenge. “With this job, you have to focus on decisions you feel are in the best interests of the organization,” he said. “Those are the decisions we made, and we made them with the vision of what we want this team to be.”
Maccagnan’s vision will be put to the test in the coming months. It remains to be seen whether there will be sufficient progress to earn him the chance to see it through in 2018 and beyond.