Season grade: Below-average -- No one expected a playoff berth, but the season was a total failure -- from the front office to the coaching staff to the players. The mandate from ownership was to show progress, but the Jets went backward. Their roster was poorly constructed, not nearly strong enough to withstand the growing pains of rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. When the Jets played competitively, they had no clue how to finish games, blowing late leads with dumb penalties and poor execution -- and that falls on coaching. They were 1-6 in games decided by eight or fewer points. Just brutal.
Season in review: Let’s start with a positive: After a midseason slump and a four-week foot injury, Darnold showed enough in the final month to make you believe that the Jets finally have a quarterback. He must cut down the number of his interceptions, but he has the talent and intangibles to be really good as long as the Jets don’t mess him up. Imagine if he had a strong supporting cast. The top skill-position players -- Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson and Isaiah Crowell -- each had disappointing seasons, although Anderson played better late in the season. The offense disappeared during the six-game losing streak, but the real culprit was the defense, the second worst in franchise history based on points allowed in a 16-game season. Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams emerged a star, but the unit crumbled when it needed to make a big stop. The special teams were the best unit. Hey, it’s something.
He said it: “I'm sick of losing. I'm fed up with losing. It pisses me off every time. I'm not a loser. I want to get back on the winning track. ... I’m not going to hold my tongue for anything anymore.” -- Jamal Adams after the Nov. 4 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Who’s the next coach? Todd Bowles, only the sixth NFL coach since 2000 to suffer three straight seasons of double-digit losses, is expected to be fired. It won’t be easy to find the right replacement because the pool of candidates is thin. Mike McCarthy would be a terrific choice because of his track record and offensive background. The question is, do the Jets have enough savvy to land a big fish? Their last hire with head-coaching experience was Bill Parcells in 1997. If they don’t hire McCarthy -- it might be tough to sell him on New York -- the talent drops off significantly from there. Unless Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh changes his mind or John Harbaugh unexpectedly shakes free from the Ravens, the Jets probably will hire a coordinator again. Ideally, they should hire an offensive-minded coach who can develop Darnold and rebuild the offense. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this decision.
How will they spend their $100 million in salary-cap room? General manager Mike Maccagnan will be calling the shots, assuming he isn't fired. Maccagnan has an affinity for RB Le’Veon Bell, and there are some in league circles who believe that Bell’s decision will come down to the Jets and Colts. The price will be enormous, and he’d come with baggage, but his playmaking ability would take pressure off Darnold. Other names on their free-agent wish list are DE DeMarcus Lawrence, OLB Jadeveon Clowney, DE Dante Fowler Jr. and OLB Dee Ford. The Jets have 22 of their own free agents, namely DE Henry Anderson and CB Morris Claiborne. Enunwa was set to be a free agent, but he was locked up with a four-year, $36 million extension. This means they won’t have to overpay for a No. 2-caliber receiver in free agency. They won’t be able to fill every hole in free agency, but they will be in better shape if they can sign Bell and a defensive to bolster the front seven.
Can they hit on another high draft pick? Maccagnan has made a lot of mistakes, but give him credit for nailing his two most recent first-round picks, Adams and Darnold. A GM can’t live in the top five -- it can be hazardous to his employment -- but Maccagnan will get another swing. Unfortunately, the Jets' needs don’t match with the value at the top of the draft. In other words, it’ll be tough to find an offensive playmaker or blue-chip offensive lineman. Unless there’s a way to get Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, they will be motivated to trade down, hoping to recoup the draft capital it cost them to trade up for Darnold. Doing so would be a coup because the Jets have multiple needs.