This is now Joe Douglas’ team. Every last bit of it.
With Monday’s trade of quarterback Sam Darnold went the last vestige of what came before, and now Douglas will go about a from-the-ground-up rebuilding process that will define his NFL legacy. And there seems to be little in-between about how history will judge the third-year general manager.
He either constructs this hard-luck franchise into a consistent winner led by a highly regarded coach in Robert Saleh and a promising young quarterback almost certain to be Zach Wilson, or he joins a legion of well-meaning executives who tried and failed to do for the Jets what no one since the days of Joe Namath and Weeb Ewbank have done: deliver a Super Bowl.
Recruited here by a coach who now sits near the bottom of failed sideline bosses in Jets history, Douglas will now set about the herculean process of transforming Adam Gase’s old team into a respectable competitor capable of becoming a destination for the best the NFL has to offer.
"Ultimately," he said Tuesday, "we want to become the team that becomes the good landing spot."
Until now, Douglas has shipped out players once considered the answer for the Jets. Darnold goes to Carolina to try and rebuild his career after three difficult seasons with the Jets. Jamal Adams went to Seattle last year for two first-round picks. Leonard Williams was dealt to the Giants, where he is now thriving. And on it goes for a franchise that can’t seem to get it right year after year after year.
Douglas knows that must change.
"We want to be a great team that drafts, develops and retains players," he said, "not draft, develop and trade."
And now comes the turning point.
He has hired an excellent head coaching prospect in Saleh, the former 49ers’ defensive coordinator who is as good a leader of men as he is a football strategist. And now that he has completed a two-year process of acquiring draft capital to build his team moving forward, it is a matter of making the proper decisions with those choices.
Starting with the most important choice of all: quarterback.
All signs point to Wilson, the talented BYU passer who appears to have done everything to convince Douglas and Saleh that he is the right choice. As with all quarterbacks, there is uncertainty. But the consensus among Douglas, Saleh and the Jets organization is that Wilson is worth the risk and that the confluence of factors that got the Jets to this spot now points to him as the answer.
"Obviously, there is an unknown factor when you’re talking about rookies and younger players," Douglas said. "We feel really good about this draft class. If we’re picking later — 12, 13, 14 — we wouldn’t be having this conversation."
But . . .
"Picking No. 2 overall, we just decided that taking a quarterback and keeping Sam would not be the best decision for the entire organization," Douglas said.
He wouldn’t put a timeline on how quickly this can turn around, but if Wilson is the real deal, then history has shown that success shouldn’t be that far off. As Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco and Eli Manning have shown, quarterbacks can win Super Bowls on their first contracts. But those quarterbacks also had the luxury of good teams around him, so it’s incumbent upon Douglas to hit on enough of his 21 draft picks over the next two years — including 10 picks in the first three rounds — to build a competent roster. And to add in quality veterans where necessary, as he did with a good free-agency harvest this year that included edge rusher Carl Lawson, wide receiver Corey Davis and linebacker Jarrad Davis, among others.
George Young, Ernie Accorsi and Jerry Reese built teams good enough to win a combined four Super Bowl titles with the Giants. Now it’s Douglas’ turn to see if he can join that elite company and give the Jets their first Vince Lombardi Trophy in more than a half century.
It’s all on him. Every last bit of it.