There is nothing unusual about the Jets’ sweeping salary-cap purge of the last few days, a cleanout that has caught aging, expensive veterans Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Breno Giacomini, Nick Folk and now Brandon Marshall in its web. What is unusual is the timing, especially for Todd Bowles.
If this were the first year of Bowles’ run as coach, it would be perfectly normal to start anew by shedding the burdensome salaries of veteran players who had outlived their usefulness. But the fact that the roster overhaul is taking place in his third year and follows a 5-11 season puts Bowles in an awkward spot. And perhaps an impossible one.
He now is tasked with going against a division that features five-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick with a roster that is so filled with holes that no amount of free-agent spending and draft help can salvage it in the short term. In a league in which patience has nearly disappeared when it comes to head coaches, Bowles doesn’t have the luxury of time despite presiding over a team that will need plenty of it to rebuild from the burned-out husk it has turned into.
Bowles remains unflinching in the face of the ongoing housecleaning, which also could claim defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and wide receiver Eric Decker.
“I’m not afraid of the unknown,” Bowles told reporters Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We don’t have the names that we had in the past, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have the players.”
“The unknown” is a good phrase to describe the Jets’ situation. After all, this is a team that doesn’t have a functional starting quarterback on the roster. Bowles said Christian Hackenberg, last year’s second-round pick, who didn’t get a sniff of live action in the 2016 regular season, will get a chance to start next season. But Bowles also acknowledged that the Jets’ next starting quarterback might not be on the roster.
“Right now, we’re unproven, but free agency hasn’t started and the draft’s got to come around,” he said.
The Jets have been mentioned as potential suitors for free agent Mike Glennon, and other possibilities include free agents Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown and, assuming the Bills release him, Tyrod Taylor. Geno Smith hasn’t been ruled out, either.
And with the sixth selection in next month’s draft, they are sure to keep an eye on top quarterback prospects Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina, Deshaun Watson of Clemson, DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame and Pat Mahomes of Texas Tech.
It makes much more sense to sign a free-agent quarterback to provide veteran leadership at the position, especially given the continuing questions about whether Hackenberg and Bryce Petty are good enough. Unless the Jets are convinced that one of the rookie quarterbacks is worth drafting at No. 6 — and that may be a stretch, considering there is no consensus that this group of passers has the same cache as previous draft classes — then better to draft the highest player on their board who matches one of their needs.
It’s a draft that’s deep in pass rushers, cornerbacks and running backs, and the Jets either can take the best available player at No. 6 or trade down and collect picks for later in the draft.
But no amount of help in free agency or the draft will solve all the Jets’ problems, and Bowles will need to do a formidable coaching job for the Jets to remain competitive in 2017. It’s a huge year for him, a prove-it year of sorts, because he’s signed through 2018.
If he does a good job with a limited roster, he’ll deserve a chance to continue the rebuilding process.
And if he can’t do the near-impossible, the rebuild might have to go on without him.