FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Monday after the Jets' Week 1 home loss a year ago, Robert Saleh declared he was “taking receipts” of all the people mocking the Jets.
He may be able to return those receipts this season.
With one franchise-shaking move, the Jets have gone from missing the playoffs for the last 12 years to being a Super Bowl contender.
Aaron Rodgers could be the megastar the Jets have needed and one of the final pieces for a team that already was on the road to being competitive.
General manager Joe Douglas and coach Robert Saleh have completely transformed the Jets’ roster.
They were 2-14 the season before Saleh arrived in 2021. On Monday night, the Jets will open the season against the Bills with one of the deeper and more talented teams in the NFL, led by a four-time MVP and All-Pro players and young rising stars on both sides of the ball.
“It’s been a complete 180,” said center Connor McGovern, who was on that 2-14 team. “There’s been some good players that have left, but they also have done a really good job getting rid of the bad apples. There’s not a cancer, a bad apple or somebody rotting the bucket in the locker room. Every single player in the locker room is a good person and a great football player.”
The transformation began when Douglas replaced Mike Maccagnan in June 2019.
Douglas made some masterful trades: getting three draft picks for Sam Darnold and two No. 1s and a No. 3 for Jamal Adams. He drafted well and didn’t overspend in free agency. He's always maintained the flexibility to be in any discussions for a star player.
Since April, Douglas has traded for Rodgers and signed four-time Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook. The Jets still have the assets and ability to clear space should Davante Adams, Mike Evans or Aaron Donald become available.
“We have great flexibility moving forward if the opportunity does present itself,” Douglas said.
Only four players remain from the Jets’ Week 1 roster that Douglas basically inherited in 2019: Quinnen Williams, C.J. Mosley, John Franklin-Myers and long snapper Thomas Hennessy. No offensive players are still with the team that went 7-9 under Adam Gase.
Douglas didn’t sign Mosley or draft Williams, but he built a defense around the two who were All-Pros and Pro Bowlers last season.
In 2020, the Jets added McGovern, Mekhi Becton, Bryce Huff, Ashtyn Davis and Bryce Hall, all of whom remain. Not one skill player from the team that started 0-13 is still here. Two-fifths of the starting offensive line is, though.
Saleh took over for Gase and the Jets’ transformation started to kick into high gear. They were focused on “bringing in the right type of people,” Saleh said.
“It has always been a belief — and it is why Joe and I get along so well — people win in football, people win in life,” Saleh said. “It is not scheme. It is not . . . whatever. It is people that make things happen.”
The Jets added Zach Wilson, Michael Carter, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Quincy Williams, Michael Carter II, Jamien Sherwood, Justin Hardee and Brandin Echols in 2021. They also signed Carl Lawson, but he missed the season after rupturing an Achilles.
Wilson and Carter have been demoted, but the Jets drafted their top offensive lineman (Vera-Tucker) and acquired starters/key players on defense and special teams. The Jets finished 4-13.
The 2022 offseason set the tone for the Jets to start elevating and become appealing to a future Hall of Famer in Rodgers.
They had one of the best draft classes in franchise history: Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Jermaine Johnson, Breece Hall, Jeremy Ruckert, Max Mitchell and Micheal Clemons. Gardner was the Defensive Rookie of the Year and Wilson was the winner on offense.
The Jets also signed free agents D.J. Reed, Duane Brown, C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin, Jordan Whitehead, Solomon Thomas, Laken Tomlinson, Tony Adams and Greg Zuerlein.
“They’ve done a great job reconstructing this team,” Franklin-Myers said. “Coach Saleh came in and brought the guys he wanted in. We got great players on every level.”
The Jets fell apart after a 7-4 start last season, losing their last six games while playing four different quarterbacks down the stretch. That made them pursue Rodgers.
The Jets also added his former Green Bay targets, Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, along with former Kansas City receiver Mecole Hardman Jr. and Cook. They plugged holes up front, signing veteran defensive tackles Al Woods and Quinton Jefferson, and drafted freakishly athletic edge rusher Will McDonald IV to strengthen an already dominant D-line.
“We’ve been able to stack up a lot of really good decisions,” Saleh said. “The result is a really freakin’ good locker room of people who embody everything you want out of a football player.”
“What Joe Douglas and Saleh and their teams have done to get this locker room to where it is now is remarkable,” he said. “It’s the most ironed-out team I’ve ever been a part of in my entire seven-year career.”