We’ve all been guilty of it to one degree or another — captured by the moment and captivated by the possibilities of a big-time free-agent signing. Or several big-time signings.
It happened last year with the Jets, with Mike Maccagnan spending money like a drunken sailor to get the likes of running back Le’Veon Bell, linebacker C.J. Mosley and wide receiver Jamison Crowder. It happened with the Giants in 2016, when Jerry Reese opened the vault for defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. It has happened too many times to count in Washington, with the Redskins bringing in faded stars such as Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jeff George and so many others.
And where has it gotten these teams and others who’ve looked to free agency as a roster-building panacea? Mostly nowhere.
Although big-money signings can provide a sugar high in the short term, history repeatedly has shown that long-term success lies in drafting well, making prudent free-agent decisions and managing your salary cap in a responsible fashion.
In his first go-round as the Jets’ general manager, Joe Douglas did not engage in free-wheeling spending, instead choosing to offer prudent contracts and make solid roster moves that should prove beneficial. By the time this month’s draft is over and Douglas adds further talent when veteran players are released in the annual salary-cap dumping in June, this should be a decent enough team to compete in an AFC East that doesn’t have Tom Brady for the first time in two decades.
There have been no fancy moves by the meat-and-potatoes GM, who hasn’t yet completed his first full year with the Jets after replacing Maccagnan last May. But he has added second-tier free agents who address several needs on a team with plenty of them.
“We had a lot of holes to fill,” Douglas said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. “Our plan was to be strategic and disciplined. I think we had a clear plan of what we wanted to do. I feel like we needed to build a foundation moving forward with the right type of people. We also wanted to be disciplined financially. That financial discipline will play a big role in having flexibility and becoming a team that can have continued long-term success.”
Douglas went a long way toward addressing needs along the offensive line by signing tackle George Fant and interior linemen Greg Van Roten, Alex Lewis (acquired in a trade last year) and Connor McGovern. He promised Sam Darnold’s parents that he’d do what he could to protect the Jets’ quarterback, and he is starting to make good on that vow.
Even so, this is hardly the second coming of the Seven Blocks of Granite, and Douglas still might want to find an elite tackle in the draft. Or perhaps he’ll explore a deal for disgruntled Redskins tackle Trent Williams, although he might be too expensive, especially for a 31-year-old player.
Douglas chose not to meet the Panthers’ price to try to keep wide receiver Robby Anderson, but Breshad Perriman is an adequate short-term replacement. And in a receiver-rich draft, Douglas should have more than enough opportunity – especially with four picks among the top 80 choices — to re-stock the position. Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and Clemson's Tee Higgins headline what is considered one of the best receiver drafts ever. Keep in mind, too, that Douglas signed former first-round pick Josh Doctson and believes Braxton Berrios can continue to develop into a solid slot receiver and punt returner.
Douglas re-signed key defensive players such as linebacker Jordan Jenkins and cornerbacks Brian Poole and Arthur Maulet, among others, and his signing of former Colts cornerback Pierre Desir will go a long way toward making up for the ill-fated run of Trumaine Johnson, one of the biggest free-agent busts in team history.
Yes, there still is much work to be done. The Jets badly need an edge rusher. They need help behind Bell at running back. Depth along the defensive line is a priority. But there still is time to address his remaining needs, and Douglas’ patient roster- building process is both logical and prudent, even if this will not be an overnight process.
“We’ve done our best to attack some of the issues we’ve had in the past,” he said. “We’re going to try to keep it simple with guys that are smart and tough and versatile. We’re going to keep addressing that moving forward.”
The Jets still are a long way from owning a championship roster, but it feels as if they are in good hands.
Now it’s on Douglas to prove it.