With an increasing likelihood that the Jets are headed for a second straight 5-11 season, the focus on what happens next with Todd Bowles will become a more popular topic of conversation.
Or maybe the only topic of conversation.
Jets fans are understandably frustrated at the slow pace of progress in Year 3 of the Bowles era, even though there was an offseason roster purge more typical of a team going into its first year with a new coach. But if the final judgment from chief operating officer Christopher Johnson centers on the job Bowles has done with one of the NFL’s youngest teams, combined with a vision of how things might progress with another year of roster shaping, then Johnson should keep him for at least the 2018 season.
That won’t sit well with the fans who aren’t convinced Bowles is the answer, and many feel that way. The fact that he is mostly a flat-line performer at news conferences, where he is the anti-Rex Ryan in terms of talking a good game and buying time because of his image, certainly doesn’t help his cause.
But there is a more meaningful audience for Bowles, and its overwhelming consensus is that he deserves to stay on. That audience is his players, most of whom will vouch for him and offer their unqualified support.
“I don’t have one bad thing to say about him,” second-year linebacker Darron Lee told Newsday’s Calvin Watkins after Sunday’s loss to the Saints. “I hope he will be here next year. I foresee him being here next year, and he’s a great leader. He’s a great head coach.”
Rookie safety Jamal Adams quickly has become one of the team’s most important leaders on and off the field. “There shouldn’t be any discussion who is going to be the head coach,’’ Adams said. “It should be Todd Bowles. There shouldn’t be any indecision about how our coach is coaching us.”
It may not be a revelation to hear players support their coach, even when there is sufficient evidence that a change is needed (see: the Giants’ backing of Ben McAdoo before he was justifiably fired). But if you spend any time around the Jets, you come away with an unmistakable sense of loyalty and belief in Bowles. It’s not staged. It’s not phony. It’s not forced.
The record is not what Bowles or anyone else affiliated with the team wants, even if the 5-9 Jets have won more games than anyone outside the organization could have predicted. But even during a three-game winning streak, Bowles wasn’t satisfied and wanted more from his team.
But the truth is the roster overseen by general manager Mike Maccagnan isn’t good enough to make a playoff run. Perhaps if Christian Hackenberg had been worth starting once Josh McCown got hurt, then there would be some cause for optimism. But Bowles has had to patch things together with McCown, who had a career year before fracturing his left hand last week, and now Bryce Petty, who showed Sunday in New Orleans that he’s still nothing more than a backup.
Hackenberg has an NFL-caliber arm but may never be good enough to be a serviceable starter. And with McCown likely having played his last game and Petty not the answer, the Jets will need someone else. The Redskins’ Kirk Cousins and the Chiefs’ Alex Smith are the two most frequently mentioned players who could be on the move. Or he could be among the draft-eligible quarterbacks in 2018.
Quarterback, not coaching, is still the Jets’ big problem, and Bowles would look a lot better if he had a long-term answer under center. Maccagnan has done a nice job filtering out the dead weight and infusing the team with a promising young core, but he still needs to find a quarterback.
If he finds the right one, there’s no reason to think the coach can’t keep this team headed in the right direction in 2018 and beyond.