5 moves that must be made to accelerate New York Jets rebuild

By Matt Fitzgerald
Dec 29, 2019; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets head coach Adam Gase looks on against the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It should almost go without saying that firing Adam Gase is a move the New York Jets must make to set their rebuild on the proper course. But what else can this moribund franchise do to regain relevance in the NFL?

In the midst of a winless season, perhaps the only reason Gase hasn’t been given the pink slip yet is the fact that he gives the team the best chance to lose. That is to say, a zero-win 2020 would guarantee the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

Do the Jets rebuild around Sam Darnold, or draft a new franchise quarterback like Trevor Lawrence? We’ll take a closer look at what the team can do to accelerate its rebuild, beginning with Gase getting the boot.

New York Jets rebuild must start by firing Adam Gase

New York Jets rebuild: Fire Adam Gase
New York Jets new head coach Adam Gase speaks to the media during a press conference on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Florham Park. New Jets Head Coach

Even empathetic souls who aren’t Jets fans, can imagine how merely typing those words and imagining oneself as such would yield a cathartic experience.

Ever since his strange introductory press conference behavior, we should’ve known something wasn’t quite right with Adam Gase. Those vibrations were really askew. Not to judge too harshly or diagnose from afar, but come on. Gase was struggling with something, and it hasn’t really gotten easy from there.

Gase was hailed as an offensive mastermind. His team has been offensive. That is, the offense can’t get going, and Gase has failed to develop Darnold into a viable starting signal-caller. New York is just downright awful on that side of the ball, ranking dead-last in total yards and points per game this season.

Again, it’s almost a given Gase is fired, yet until it’s set in stone, Jets fans probably won’t be able to rest their tired minds about it. Soon we will delve into who could replace Gase. But first, to the elephant in the room.

Trevor Lawrence: Catalyst for New York Jets rebuild

New York Jets rebuild: Draft Trevor Lawrence
Nov 28, 2020; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) warms up with his team before the game against Pittsburgh at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of no-brainer moves, on the heels of firing Gase — especially if he is “successful” in completing a 0-16 season — the Jets should move off Darnold and draft Trevor Lawrence.

Nothing against Darnold, who has talent and probably can get a second chance at being a long-term starter elsewhere. The truth is, Lawrence is such an amazing prospect, that regardless of the impending coaching change and unstable organizational culture the Jets are in the midst of, he can overcome that.

Lawrence is the best prospect at the position since Andrew Luck, who if not for an early retirement, would’ve likely been a Hall of Famer. In some ways, Lawrence is considered superior, having won a national title and showing off game-breaking running ability to go with a lightning-quick release and accurate, strong arm.

Because he’s set such a high bar, it seems like Lawrence’s 2020 campaign is underwhelming by comparison to what he’s done at Clemson thus far. Nevertheless, he still has time to lead the Tigers to the College Football Playoff and potentially cement his legacy with another national title.

Obviously, Lawrence’s arrival means Darnold will be traded, but the 2021 draft’s most prized draft prospect isn’t the only successor the Jets need to line up at a key spot.

Brandon Staley: Pick Rams DC as Adam Gase’s successor

New York Jets rebuild: Find the next Sean McVay assistant
Nov 29, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay reacts during the second half against the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There’s an emerging narrative that Sean McVay assistants are thrust into head coaching jobs before they’re ready, just because they’re in the Los Angeles Rams coach’s orbit. Well, while Zac Taylor is definitely not working out thus far in Cincinnati, Matt LaFleur is crushing it in Year 2 with the Green Bay Packers.

These coaches are their own men, and that’s the case with Brandon Staley, the current defensive coordinator for one of the NFL’s premier defenses. Staley is less tied to McVay, and more tied to Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio. We don’t really hear of many coming from the Fangio tree, but Staley is proving his chops in 2020, masterminding a unit that ranks second in total yards allowed per game.

Um, shout out to NFL Network’s Peter Schrager for calling the brilliance of this Staley hire in May. Wow. How bang-on was this assessment?

Fangio is a little chilly personality-wise at least to the public, yet he’d probably be working out better in Denver if he had a surefire quarterback. Who better for Staley to learn the ropes from and how to connect with young players as a head coach than McVay?

Some Jets fans may be saying: We need offense! Eric Bieniemy! Hard to argue, except it seems like the Chiefs assistant already has an inside track to Houston’s vacancy thanks to Deshaun Watson’s reported endorsement. Bieniemy could also rejoin forces with general manager John Dorsey in a package deal.

In New York, provided things go according to plan and the Jets draft Lawrence, Staley will already have a QB of the present and future. Provided Jets general manager Joe Douglas can build out the defense through the rest of the draft and free agency, there should be enough for Staley to work with in his area of expertise.

From there, it’s just about Staley surrounding himself with a strong staff. How about current Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy as offensive coordinator? Staley and Fangio were on Nagy’s staff in 2018 when the Bears went 12-4 and won the NFC North. Imagine if Nagy gets fired in Chicago, and then hits the Big Apple with Lawrence under center?

Related: Chicago Bears rumors: Team to ‘clean house’ following 2020 season

Rebuild by retaining: Sign Marcus Maye to big contract

New York Jets rebuild: Re-sign Marcus Maye
Sep 13, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets safety Marcus Maye (20) jogs off the field following the game against the Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of Douglas, he’s done a phenomenal job clearing the decks. Per OverTheCap.com, the Jets have the second-most cap space entering 2021 at $79.6 million — even with the cap projected to drop significantly. Even better, New York remains in the top five in cap space as of now through 2023.

That means Douglas can really shell out some cash for impact players. There aren’t many to speak of on the Jets’ current roster, with the exception of free safety Marcus Maye. It’s important for culture-establishing purposes that Douglas reward players who’ve been in the program and intend to see through the franchise’s rebuild.

After netting two first-round picks by dealing disgruntled All-Pro Jamal Adams to Seattle, Douglas needs to set a tone by rewarding one of the team’s few successfully grown in-house talents of recent years. Maye hasn’t had much of a chance to showcase his full potential while playing for recently-fired defensive play-caller Gregg Williams, who’s notorious for dropping his safeties illogically deep.

The reality is, Maye is refusing to let the awful 2020 campaign get him down. In the midst of a contract year, he’s Pro Football Focus’ No. 4 highest-graded safety. Given how Williams essentially sabotaged his ability to succeed and how bad the circumstances are in New York right now, those factors alone are enough to merit Maye’s contract extension.

Target offensive linemen to protect Trevor Lawrence

New York Jets rebuild: Brandon Scherff, other FA linemen must be targeted
Oct 25, 2020; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Football Team guard Brandon Scherff (75) prepares to block against the Dallas Cowboys during the second half at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The upcoming 2021 NFL free agent class is loaded with viable offensive linemen. Particularly in a year where most teams will be strapped for salary cap space, the Jets can really kick off their rebuild on the right foot.

With 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton showing immense promise at left tackle, Douglas must turn toward the interior of the offensive line. There should be no shortage of excellent players from there between New England Patriots franchise tag recipient Joe Thuney, Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley and Washington’s Brandon Scherff, a three-time Pro Bowler.

In all honesty, New York has the cash flow to acquire one, two or all three of those players. Even landing two of them would be a big boon to the offense, as players should want to be lining up to play the next phase of their career with Lawrence under center.

The common thread between those free agents named is that they aren’t veteran stopgap options. They’re seeking big, multi-year contracts for the next phase of their respective careers, and the Jets have tons of room to pay for them, particularly with their new quarterback on the rookie pay scale.

It’s not a time to sit around, spend years marinating on what could be and fine-tuning the roster at a slow pace. Things change quickly in the NFL. Lawrence is about to give these Jets a spark they haven’t gotten in a long time. Douglas and the front office must take advantage, spend aggressively to protect him and win before their future face of the franchise earns a massive payday.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Jets, check out #TakeFlight rumors, rankings, and news here.