Fittingly, it started with denial. A year ago, there was the belief that Ryan Fitzpatrick could lead the Jets to the playoffs for the first time in six years, and that Darrelle Revis’ 31-year-old legs could cover ground like they used to.
Eventually there was anger and maybe a little bargaining. Many Jets fans will tell you that depression wasn’t too far off after that.
And now? Well, welcome to acceptance.
It’s true that the 2017 season likely promises more grief than anything, but if we are to look at the bright side — and after all, isn’t that what preseason is about? — it’s that there might be an end game to all this misery. A year after woefully underperforming and finishing 5-11, the Jets are done with soft rebuilds. Fitzpatrick and Revis are gone, and so are Eric Decker and David Harris and . . . well, it takes too much space to name everyone. What’s left is youth, inexperience and a roster with maybe a handful of wins in it — maybe.
But though playoffs may not be the immediate, realistic goal, progress is certainly in reach.
The Jets this year are led by Josh McCown, a 38-year-old journeyman quarterback who provides what the team needs at this moment. McCown isn’t flashy, but he is familiar with the West Coast offense, has experience in volatile situations and has a high school coaching background. That last characteristic is more pertinent than it sounds; in McCown, the Jets hope for a mentor. McCown has taken both Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty under his wing, and it’s likely all three quarterbacks will see playing time this year.
Granted, starting McCown is probably not ideal. Hackenberg, last year’s second-round pick, was given every opportunity to snatch the top spot, but he struggled significantly in the preseason and couldn’t prove he has what it takes to win. As a result, the training wheels stay on and now, the best the Jets can hope for is that McCown offers a stabilizing presence while Hackenberg gets his footing, learns from past mistakes, and ascends a few weeks into the season.
To do that, Hackenberg will somehow have to learn how to manage around the Jets’ weak offensive line — the one that allowed him to be sacked three times against the Giants in the third preseason game and at least partially led to his troubles moving the ball.
And even though Fitzpatrick had many faults, his mobility covered some of those deficiencies. But now, between McCown, who’s not quite as quick, and Hackenberg, who’s still essentially a rookie, the Jets don’t have much room for mistakes with a line that’s even more porous than it was last year. Neither Ben Ijalana nor Brandon Shell look to be the long-term solution at right tackle, and Nick Mangold’s departure has left a gaping hole that Wesley Johnson and his competition, Jonotthan Harrison, haven’t quite filled at center.
The rest of the offense is a mishmash of whatever the Jets had left after their purge. Bilal Powell and Matt Forte are more than respectable options at running back, but thanks to Quincy Enunwa’s season-ending injury, things are dire at the wide receiver position.
Jermaine Kearse, acquired from Seattle in the trade for Sheldon Richardson, will provide a much-needed veteran presence. Robby Anderson showed speed and ballhandling skills this preseason, but his inexperience and inability to solve the press coverage are a concern. Undrafted out of Temple last year, he also didn’t have an abundance of experience with complex route running until joining the Jets.
Behind him, things get thin, though the Jets hope to see progress out of the two receivers they drafted this year, ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen, both of whom showed flashes of promise against the Giants. All this also potentially means it could be a big year for tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, who had a brilliant training camp after quitting alcohol and losing between 20 to 30 pounds. He’ll miss the first two games with a suspension dating to a DUI arrest last season.
If there is one true strength this year, though, it’s on the other side of the ball. The Jets have the ability to dominate up front, with Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson, who have both become vocal leaders in the locker room. And though the cornerback position appears weak behind Buster Skrine and Morris Claiborne, there’s plenty to be excited about at the safety position. Rookies Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye already seem NFL ready and primed to make an impact.