If ever there was a Jets season that screamed “clean house!” — and we’ve seen a lot of them over the years — this would seem to be it.
It’s the third year of the coaching regime and the fifth season of the front office’s reign and the organization has shown zero growth during either of those tenures. They inherited a franchise that hadn’t made the playoffs in the eight years before any of them arrived, averaging 6.25 wins per campaign in that span, and are poised to extend that fruitless postseason streak into a fifth straight on their watch while averaging even fewer wins than their predecessors managed (five in the first four years, four thus far this year).
And that’s while playing one extra game each season with one extra playoff spot available.
Outside of a few notable draft picks last year, most of their selections have been flops. Outside of a few notable performances, their games have been debacles.
They have managed to lose important games in a multitude of ways, from last-second punt returns to Hail Mary returns to leaving tight ends inexplicably wide open.
They are in the process of having collapsed late in the season two years in a row and have churned through more mediocre to lamentable starting quarterbacks during that time than just about any other team in the league. Then they refused to add better players at that key position and proved incapable of improving the ones they had to an acceptable standard.
Barring a December to Remember, they deserve to be fired. All of them.
They probably won’t be, though.
Not as long as one particular person has anything to say about it.
No. Aaron Rodgers.
Nearly all of the sins of this dastardly 2023 season seemingly have been absolved because of the Achilles injury Rodgers suffered four offensive snaps into the opener, and now the Jets appear poised to head into an offseason in which this sickening status quo will remain in place to placate the quarterback who has become emperor.
It was no surprise, then, that after last week’s miserable Black Friday loss to the Dolphins, when Robert Saleh was asked if he was concerned about his job security — a reasonable question for someone in charge of a team that has flopped so clumsily and lost four straight — he was able to shake his head.
“No, I’m not worried,” he said.
Alfred E. Neuman has more stress.
Saleh knows who has his back.
The mere potential of a team that will have Rodgers returning for 2024 has become the career life raft for Saleh, Joe Douglas, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and almost the entire crew that has illustrated during the past three months that they are virtually nothing without their guardian angel playing for them.
Rodgers, of course, denies this dynamic. He called it a “trap question” when asked this past week if his return next year is tied to those of the coaches and execs with whom he has aligned himself, which is telling in itself. But he also said the Jets have the “recipes in place to be really successful” and “a really good organization structure” in their building.
“I feel like Joe's drafted really well; I feel like Robert is a fantastic coach, so is Nathaniel,” he said. “Whether it's finishing up this year or starting fresh next year, I feel like with those guys in a position of leadership, this team can get to where it wants to go."
What has given him that idea is anybody’s guess. They’ve done nothing but fail at their jobs during Rodgers’ brief time as a Jet.
Beyond that endorsement, Rodgers said the decisions are “out of my hands.”
The rest of them had better hope not.
The non-Rodgers players, the ones who actually have been on the field trudging through this season, are at least aware that something needs to change.
“Next year I would like them to be here, and I’m sure they will be,” defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers said. “I’m trying to finish out this season strong and then we’ll worry about next year. But shoot, I might not be here next year.”
Linebacker and defensive captain C.J. Mosley said he hasn’t seen any indications from the staff that they are starting to coach for their jobs. There have been no wild swings in strategy or illustrations of them pulling away from the team, as often happens in these circumstances.
“Usually you can tell when somebody is just talking or trying to get somebody’s spirits up just because,” he said. “But I don’t feel that at all. I feel like every day we come in the building and any message that Coach Saleh or other coaches have had for us have been the right thing. Whatever they’ve said, I felt like I wanted to say but just didn’t know how . . . The losses, they start to build up, but I don’t think anybody is here just going through the motions to keep their job.”
The reason is that they probably don’t have to. They’re the tenured professors of Rodgers U.
The visions of Rodgers lifting this team to unparalleled heights that drove the organization through this past spring and summer were not dimmed by his absence these past few months. If anything, they’ve been amplified in contrast with the blech results that have taken their place. The Jets again have proved what they are without Rodgers and can only believe they will be much better when he comes back. Even if they have managed only a short four-snap sip from that golden chalice, it tasted so good on their parched lips that they will do anything for a second round.
They’ll even stick with the parts that clearly aren’t working to make the one piece they hope transcends all of them feel comfortable and cozy.
Just about every coach on just about every team delivers the same hymn every offseason, singing the refrain that last year has nothing to do with this coming one. The Jets aren’t trying to duplicate 2023, to be sure, at least not the last third of it. But if they could start 2024 exactly where they left off at about 8 p.m. on Sept. 11 — with fireworks and lasers and Rodgers swirling around MetLife Stadium, the most exciting moments of Jets football in more than a decade — they’d take that in a flash. That’s why they’ll try to keep everyone together.
When Rodgers was shunned by the Packers in the offseason, his choices were simple: Retire or play for the Jets. There weren’t any other teams chasing after him. Saleh and Douglas assembled his supporting cast of coaches and free agents and gave him an opportunity to prove to the world that he wasn’t washed up, that he still could succeed in the NFL despite coming off a sad, disappointing, frustrating year that looked much more like the end of something than a simple pothole on a longer road.
This offseason, it sure seems as if Rodgers will get to return that favor.