There may be no more important person in New York sports right now than Joe Douglas, whose decisions in the coming months and years will determine whether the Jets can pull themselves out of this decade-long malaise that has sucked the joy out of even the most ardent fans.
Or whether the misery will extend even further.
The Jets’ general manager has been on the job for just over 16 months, and it is still way too soon to judge the results of his moves, many of which were made with an eye toward the future. He’s had only one draft and one free-agent class to acquire players, the result of his delayed hiring after the Jets dragged their heels on firing Mike Maccagnan. He will need to continue tearing things apart — right down to the foundation, perhaps — and build a team the way his mentor, Ozzie Newsome, did with the Ravens during his time as general manager.
Newsome turned Baltimore into a Super Bowl champion and perennial playoff contender by selecting the right coach, the right quarterbacks and the right supporting cast before his longtime personnel chief, Eric DeCosta, took over in 2019. He was a key front-office executive in the years leading up to the team’s 2000 Super Bowl win. And as GM, he brought in Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson, hired John Harbaugh, drafted patiently and sensibly and spent wisely on the free-agent market. The Ravens are now a gold-standard franchise, largely because of Newsome’s leadership.
The 40-year-old Douglas worked for 15 seasons under Newsome, learning immeasurably important lessons along the way that formed his vision of how to build an NFL team. Newsome was a Hall of Fame tight end for the Browns who worked his way from the ground up as a scout and personnel executive before being named general manager in 2002. He not only had a keen eye for talent but turned out to be an organizational wizard in terms of putting the right people in the right place.
Newsome suffered no fools, and he could see through phoniness in a minute. Douglas possesses many of those same qualities, but it remains to be seen whether he can take the knowledge he consumed under Newsome and transform a franchise that hasn’t won a championship in more than half a century. The Jets are far more often associated with failure since the days of Joe Namath’s improbable victory over the Baltimore Colts on Jan. 12, 1969. And they are near another low point in franchise history, with this 0-5 team threatening to be nearly as bad — if not just as bad — as Rich Kotite’s 1-15 team in 1996.
Adam Gase is the author of this year’s winless season, and it’s virtually impossible to see him returning next season, barring a sudden and unexpected turnaround from what has so far been an abysmal failure. It’s what comes next that will define the Douglas era.
There are several worthy future NFL head coaches out there now, including Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and many, many more. Newsome went way outside the box in selecting Harbaugh in 2008, but he saw something in the Eagles’ special teams coach that transcended tradition. He saw a coach with vision, a leader of men, and a stabilizing force who could transfer his skills to the next level. Harbaugh is now one of the league’s top coaches, and the Ravens have won a Super Bowl under him and figure to win at least one more in the years ahead. Perhaps even this year.
Douglas must find his own Harbaugh to begin the painstaking process of rebuilding a team that is simply not competitive.
Just as important, he must decide whether Sam Darnold will be his quarterback moving forward, or whether he needs to begin anew. Especially if the first overall pick can net him Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, considered by many scouts to be a generational talent along the lines of Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck.
Douglas has plenty of draft capital from his trade of disgruntled safety Jamal Adams, who went to the Seahawks in exchange for two first-round picks and then some. And even if he decides that he can win with Darnold over the long haul, he is well-positioned to add talent around him.
The rebuilding job is massive, and it is daunting. And perhaps Douglas won’t be up to the job, given the high degree of difficulty.
But if he can apply the lessons imparted by Newsome and turn the Jets into winners, then Douglas will have earned a place in New York sports history.
If not, then he will become another part of the Jets’ legacy of failure.