Within minutes of the stunning announcement on May 15 that Mike Maccagnan had been fired by Jets CEO Christopher Johnson, the first name that came up as a potential successor was the man who indeed became the successor Friday night.
Joe Douglas, the Eagles’ director of player personnel and a close associate of Jets first-year coach Adam Gase dating to their days working together with the Bears, was the target from the start. And a little more than three weeks after parting ways with Maccagnan, Johnson got his man.
The timing certainly wasn’t optimal, not after Maccagnan had gone on a whirlwind spending spree to land the likes of running back Le’Veon Bell, linebacker C.J. Mosley, wide receiver Jamison Crowder and guard Kelechi Osemele. And not after Maccagnan ran the draft that eventually netted first-round defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, third-round pass rusher Jachai Polite and a handful of other rookie prospects.
But Johnson went with his gut and realized that the uncomfortable partnership between Maccagnan, a deliberate decision-maker, and Gase, an alpha male who chafed under the general manager’s style, wouldn’t work over the long haul. So Johnson took a calculated risk and went with a man whose familiarity with Gase and whose solid track record as a front-office executive in Chicago, Baltimore and Philadelphia seemed like a more natural fit in the years ahead.
The hiring process turned into a dance of sorts, with the Jets interviewing Bears assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly, who had previously worked with Gase in Chicago and Denver; Seahawks co-director of player personnel Scott Fitterer and Saints director of pro scouting Terry Fontenot. The Jets were rebuffed by Vikings assistant general manager George Paton, who had turned down the Jets on two previous general manager searches.
But let’s not kid ourselves here. The Jets could have extended the search to include a half-dozen other candidates and Douglas still would have been the final choice, because that’s whom Gase wanted all along.
Even before Maccagnan’s firing, Douglas himself had told some associates with other teams that he might be headed for the Jets if Johnson decided to part ways with his general manager.
It was a classic power play orchestrated by Gase, and Douglas was a willing accomplice in securing his first job as an NFL general manager. It also is worth noting that Gase and Douglas are represented by the same agent — Jimmy Sexton — which is further evidence that this wasn’t simply a coincidence.
Oh, and Sexton is Sam Darnold’s agent, too.
Even so, there are very few people around the league who would dispute Douglas’ credentials. He worked 16 years with the Ravens — 13 of them as a scout — and was involved in the drafting of quarterback Joe Flacco, a former first-round pick and eventual Super Bowl MVP.
Other players Douglas had a hand in bringing to Baltimore: Mosley, who wound up signing a five-year, $85 million contract with the Jets, guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda, cornerback Lardarius Webb and kicker Justin Tucker.
Douglas became Eagles GM Howie Roseman’s chief lieutenant in 2016, and the two collaborated in a stunning post-Chip Kelly roster upgrade that led to the team’s first Super Bowl championship after the 2017 season. The Eagles dethroned the five-time Super Bowl champion Patriots, 41-33, in Super Bowl LII.
Johnson wanted to take his time in the hiring process, admitting after firing Maccagnan that he had needed to take a “deep dive” into the organizational structure. There may have been some urgency at the end of the process, especially after Friday’s news in Houston that the Texans had fired general manager Brian Gaine.
Rather than risk the Texans getting in on the pursuit of Douglas, Johnson closed the deal and ended a front-office imbroglio that led to questions about Johnson’s stewardship of the organization and whether he was up to the task of steering the team in the right direction.
In the end, he found someone who meshed well with his new coach, who has ingratiated himself into the organization and earned high marks for creating what Jets front-office executives believe is a vibrant, healthy environment that ultimately will translate to on-field success.
Whether the second part happens remains to be seen. The Jets have a long way to go in a rebuilding process that began in earnest after the 2017 season. But Douglas certainly has built a quality reputation over the years, and his familiarity with Gase will create a viable situation.
Gase has said he’s not into working with a “yes man,” and there will be inevitable disagreements, even between him and his preferred choice for Maccagnan’s replacement. And now that the upheaval in the wake of Maccagnan’s firing is over, at least the Jets can concentrate on getting back to what they need most: building a roster capable of getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.