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Reading between the lines with Jets GM Joe Douglas

Jets general manager Joe Douglas, shown here at

Jets general manager Joe Douglas, shown here at the training facility in June, was asked Tuesday if Sam Darnold will be the QB next year: "We're trying to get through the next eight games. My feeling on Sam hasn't changed. We have to do a better job of surrounding him with talent."   Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

Joe Douglas will be the last man standing and will be the deciding factor in whether the Jets will recover from the most embarrassing season in franchise history or are doomed for years to come.

Book it.

The Jets’ second-year general manager on Tuesday publicly accepted his share of the blame for this 0-8 mess, said he hopes that he and coach Adam Gase can sort out the problems and suggested that Sam Darnold can still be the quarterback of this team.

But I believe Douglas will be the only survivor among that group, and that he will be the one to chart the course of this team’s future.

Yes, Douglas said he still thinks Gase can help this team improve, despite the fact that the second-year coach is a combined 1-15 through the first eight games in each of the 2019 and 2020 seasons. And yes, Douglas did say that Darnold "is our best quarterback and our quarterback for the future" in response to a question about the GM’s belief in the third-year passer.

But Douglas left himself enough wiggle room with Darnold, and he will not be the one to decide Gase’s future with the Jets. That’s up to team owner Christopher Johnson, who can’t possibly think his paying customers will accept another year of Gase in 2021.

Look, there’s no way Johnson can justify Gase coming back next season. It’s just not possible, not after the miserable product he has put out there this year. And if you’re looking for clues about Darnold’s future, Douglas was asked if Darnold would be his starter in 2021, and Douglas responded thusly: "We’re trying to get through the next eight games. My feeling on Sam hasn’t changed. We have to do a better job of surrounding him with talent."

That was not a definitive yes, by any means. That was a diplomatic way of trying to buy some time, because if the Jets can’t manage to win a single game this season and wind up with the first overall pick, then Douglas is committing franchise-building malpractice if he doesn’t at least consider taking Trevor Lawrence of Clemson with the first overall pick. Or Justin Fields of Ohio State.

Douglas inherited Gase and Darnold when he got the GM job last year, and though Gase pushed hard for Johnson to hire Douglas, the GM has to be open to moving on without both. So you simply can’t hold what he says on a 25-minute Zoom call in November to be his reality once it’s January and the Jets’ season has mercifully ended.

Douglas was the first to shoulder his portion of the blame for this latest catastrophe, and he’s right to do so.

"This record belongs to all of us," he said. "I certainly take my fair share of the responsibility."

He admitted he blew it on not being able to re-sign wide receiver Robby Anderson, who is having a terrific season in Carolina while Darnold struggles with a revolving cast of receivers. And Douglas' roster coming into the season did not justify what he felt was legitimate optimism to improve off last year.

But behind the scenes, Douglas has reacted as a responsible GM should. He sees that this is a roster requiring a complete tear-down, and he has carefully deconstructed it and acquired draft capital to build for the future. His first draft looks quite good, with left tackle Mekhi Becton already being considered among the best tackles in the game, and with second-round receiver Denzel Mims finally showing some promise after being out all of training camp and the early part of the season with hamstring injuries on both legs. Third-round safety Austin Davis looks solid, as does fourth-round running back La’Mical Perine.

And Douglas has set the Jets up well in the draft the next two seasons, getting two first-round picks and then some for Jamal Adams and flipping veterans Steve McLendon and Avery Williamson for additional choices. He has nine picks in each of the next two drafts, including eight picks in the first three rounds.

"That gives us a lot of flexibility and opportunity to improve the talent on this roster," he said. "We have to continue to develop and invest in our players."

The Jets will have ample salary-cap space next season, but Douglas does not believe in the sugar high that splurging on the open market can bring.

"Ultimately, when you look at successful organizations, no matter what the sport, you don’t see a lot of teams building long-term success by buying their way out of it," he said. "Teams draft well and develop their players. That’s our vision."

It’s the correct vision, and the vision that is required to build this team back from the ashes.

Douglas will be the one to see that plan through. And he’ll be doing so with another coach and almost certainly another quarterback.

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