Adam Gase is in the house, and the Jets can move on with the business of trying to resurrect a franchise coming off three straight losing seasons.
Now comes the hard part.
While Gase comes to the Jets with an understandable sense of optimism after being given a second chance following his firing by the Dolphins, there is much work to be done to make the Jets playoff contenders. And it’s not just the coaching that will matter in the coming seasons. It’s the actual players he’ll be coaching who matter most.
Enter Mike Maccagnan.
The Jets’ general manager was retained by Jets CEO Christopher Johnson, who decided that Todd Bowles needed to go as coach and Maccagnan was a worthy enough GM to continue. That vote of confidence comes as the Jets face a critical offseason in terms of player procurement, and it’s Maccagnan who will need to come through in a big way to help Gase in his first season on the job.
Maccagnan’s bold move from No. 6 to No. 3 overall in last year’s draft ultimately may have saved his job, as his selection of USC quarterback Sam Darnold gave the Jets the franchise quarterback they so desperately needed. But Darnold needs more pieces around him to take that critical next step in his development, and Maccagnan needs to infuse his roster with a major jolt of talent in the coming months.
Maccagnan started that process with a smart decision to re-sign wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, who proved to be one of the team’s most reliable performers after returning from a neck injury. An ankle problem limited him in 2018, and he therefore must prove he can stay on the field, but keeping him was a good first step.
There is more to be done, however. Much more.
With nearly $100 million in salary-cap space, Maccagnan will have the chance to sign one or more marquee free agents who can immediately upgrade the team on either — or both — sides of the ball.
Darnold can use a No. 1 wide receiver to add to the mix; Robby Anderson is a deep threat, for sure, but would greatly benefit from more help. There’s talk of a potential trade involving Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who is coming off an injury-plagued 2018 season, and Antonio Brown will be available after running afoul of the Steelers in the final week of the season.
The feeling here is that Maccagnan needs to avoid the temptation when it comes to Brown, whose divisiveness in the locker room is simply not worth the risk, especially with a young quarterback in Darnold. The Jets already tried a similar arrangement with former Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes, and he turned into a major headache after a productive first season with the team.
The better target in Pittsburgh is tailback Le’Veon Bell, who sat out the entire 2018 season in a contract dispute. Bell is a dual run-pass threat, and he’d provide the kind of home run ability that would benefit any offense, especially the Jets. Maccagnan certainly has the financial wherewithal to sign Bell, who has hinted he’d like to play for the Colts but certainly would listen if the right offer came along.
Several free-agent defensive players also should be of interest to Maccagnan. He tried to trade for Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler, but the Rams made a better offer and brought Fowler to Los Angeles. But Fowler will be a free agent this offseason, so acquiring him won’t require any draft-choice compensation.
He’s not the only potential free agent. Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney might be available, although the Texans are expected to make a major push to keep him, including applying the franchise tag. The Cowboys will try to keep defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, but he’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Dee Ford has flourished as a pass rusher with Kansas City, and versatile Patriots defensive lineman Trey Flowers would be a great addition.
In the draft, Maccagnan might find his best value along the defensive line or among pass rushers. No longer needing a quarterback, he can afford to use the third overall pick on a blue-chip defender such as Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary or Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. Best-case scenario: They’re in line to draft Ohio State pass rusher Nick Bosa, the younger brother of Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa.
The Cardinals might find it impossible to resist taking Bosa at No. 1, but don’t forget this: new Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury is enamored of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray and once said he’d make him the first pick in the draft if he had a chance to get him. That would open up the possibility that Bosa falls a spot or two and also would make 2018 first-round quarterback Josh Rosen expendable.
Failing that, the Jets could consider Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Allen to boost a pass rush that has been virtually nonexistent for years.
Plenty of decisions to make, and plenty of room for the Jets’ roster to improve in a hurry.
It’s up to Maccagnan to make it happen.
But only if he makes the right moves to give his coach a fighting chance.