Jets GM Joe Douglas speaks during a pre-draft news conference...

Jets GM Joe Douglas speaks during a pre-draft news conference at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, NJ, Friday, April 19, 2024. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Most people in his position don’t get to clean up their own mess.

Usually they’re long gone after a season like 2023 was for the Jets, a shoot-for-the-moon campaign that fizzled into an 18-week case of indigestion — yet another chapter in the annals of an organization that reads more like a joke book than a history tome. The next guy generally comes in and grabs a mop and gets to work.

But Joe Douglas is getting a rare chance in the business of team building, an opportunity to learn from his own missteps and fix them so they won’t be repeated. And he seems to have learned his lesson.

Douglas, whose ultimate legacy undoubtedly will be headlined as the man who brought Aaron Rodgers to the Jets, has worked solidly and steadfastly this offseason to ensure that the issues that befell his team last season — lack of depth at key positions and a blind faith in older, more fragile players — will not drag this season’s hopes down the same familiar drain.

It began in free agency when he added a dependable backup quarterback in Tyrod Taylor just in case Rodgers is unable to play the full season as he comes back from an Achilles tear at the age of 40. Douglas brought in a future Hall of Famer in Tyron Smith to play offensive tackle, signed wide receiver Mike Williams and traded for linebacker Haason Reddick from the Eagles.

Impressive as that was, as much as it freed him up to take risks and gamble with some of the draft picks he held, Douglas stuck with his newfound disciplined approach when it came to selecting the latest batch of young players.

The first three picks were all at positions already held — some tightly — by established starters. Olu Fashanu, a left tackle from Penn State, was taken with the 11th overall pick. Malachi Corley, the self-proclaimed YAC King at wide receiver, came at the top of the third round. Running back Braelon Allen was taken in the fourth round.

More importantly, they weren’t selections kowtowing to Rodgers’ whims and previous relationships.

Wasted picks? Maybe for Douglas. If things go kerblooey again this season, it may well be his final draft class with the Jets. Someone else, the next general manager, could be the one who benefits from his picks much the way Giants GM Joe Schoen has benefited from the few shrewd selections by his predecessor, Dave Gettleman, which include Dexter Lawrence, Andrew Thomas and, to an extent yet to be fully seen, Daniel Jones.

Still, it felt as if this draft was the first time anyone was thinking about the long-term health of the Jets since those starry-eyed days when Rodgers first walked into the building a little more than a year ago. If the upcoming season does start to tilt, the picks Douglas made will help ensure that it probably won’t capsize the way it did last year.

“I feel like we locked into a group of eight or nine guys that we felt would be the best fit for us now,” Douglas said of the first-round board, “and obviously the future with the depth we have on the team.”

This was the weekend Douglas regained control of the Jets from his quarterback. He put them in position to succeed when, one day soon, Rodgers is gone. And he took steps to ensure that when that happens, Douglas himself still could be around. He even picked a potential successor to Rodgers in Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis late in the fifth round.

The Jets now have depth that rivals anyone’s in the NFL. The defense is a proven commodity and the offense has fail-safes at the fuses that led to 2023’s blackout, most notably quarterback and offensive line.

Regarding Fashanu, Douglas said: “The young man is only 21 years old, he hasn’t even scratched the surface, and he is walking into a situation where he is going to learn exactly what it takes to last in this league [from veterans Smith and Morgan Moses].”

The biggest question left for the Jets to answer is whether offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett can make things function with — and possibly without — Rodgers on the field. He is the weak link, the one who can Jenga this whole wild experiment.

Other than that variable, though, Douglas can look in a mirror and honestly say he has done all he can to build the Jets into a championship-caliber squad. He’s given them everything from stars to caveats, ringleaders to redundancies.

He even cleaned up some of his biggest misses, trading away Zach Wilson, whom he once took second overall, essentially taking a second swing at a franchise tackle after whiffing on Mekhi Becton, and even tidying up some salary-cap accounting by trading John Franklin-Myers to the Broncos on Saturday.

If it doesn’t come together for the Jets in 2024, it definitely will be someone else’s problem to fix at this time next year. But it won’t be Douglas’ fault.


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