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How the Jets can take flight in 2020

Matt Johnson
Jets rumors: Sam Darnold
Dec 12, 2019; Baltimore, MD, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) stands on the field before the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The 2010s will be remembered as a decade of disappointment for the New York Jets and their fans. Now, nearly 10 seasons after the Jets last appeared in the playoffs, everyone wonders if this team might finally be turning a corner. It’s an especially important question as the Jets enter a critical offseason.

Jets grounded in January: When the Jets last played in a playoff game, an AFC Championship loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Darnold was preparing for his freshman year in high school.

Even worse, the Jets have put their fans through six seasons with seven or fewer wins since the team’s last playoff appearance.

Concern at the controls: The Jets thought they found their leader when Rex Ryan helped coach the team to consecutive AFC Championship Games in 2009 and ’10. However, the team kept getting worse and New York ultimately fired Ryan after a four-win season in 2014.

In Todd Bowles’ first season under control, the Jets got off the ground with a 10-win season in 2015. New York fell a tiebreaker short of the playoffs, but seemingly had momentum going into the offseason. Once again, though, the Jets came crashing down with just 14 combined wins over Bowles’ final three seasons in New York.

New York brought in Adam Gase as its new head coach. Finally, only after general manager Mike Maccagnan bombed another offseason by wasting more than $100 million in cap space, the Jets hired Joe Douglas to take over and build a competitive roster.

Reviewing Gase’s first year: The hires of Gase and Douglas largely received praise. While each offered their own qualities, both men were viewed as the right personnel to help lift this team off the ground.

In Gase’s case, he was viewed as a bright offensive mind who could help Sam Darnold make a significant improvement in his second season and Gase could uplift the Jets’ offense.

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Sam Darnold (’19)13441191361.96.941.47-6

Darnold showed slight improvements from his rookie season. He displayed better accuracy and committed fewer interceptions. However, ESPN’s total quarterback rating (QBR) captures how, when factoring in strength of opponents and his overall play, he failed to take major strides.

  • A year after New York ranked 23rd in points and 29th in total yards, its offense fell to 31st in points per game (17.3) and ranked last in total yards per game (273).

Yes, the Jets won seven games in 2019. However, that’s largely due to improvements on a defense coordinated by Gregg Williams. In fact, it’s Gase’s offense that held the team back from accomplishing even more.

The Jets are bringing Gase back for the 2020 season. While he might be a big part of what is holding this team back, he also isn’t alone. Horrendous decisions by the previous regime resulted in a roster plagued with holes that must be addressed for this team to fly once again.

Missing Parts: There is no going back to fix the mistakes from the last offseason. The metaphorical holes in the wings and engines that grounded this team for years, remain today.

  • OL – Protecting Darnold must be New York’s top priority. New York’s offensive line allowed pressure on Darnold in 2.5 seconds or less on 27.5% of its dropbacks last season, per PFF. The Jets also surrendered the fifth-most quarterback hits (106) in 2019.
  • WR – New York heads into the offseason with only Jamison Crowder as a reliable weapon in the receiving corps. If the Jets can re-sign Robby Anderson, this team needs a game-changing receiver. Darnold hasn’t had a go-to receiver in his career and he needs one to take the next step in his career.
  • EDGE – The Jets can’t protect Darnold and they can’t create pressure on opposing passers. Henry Anderson failed to live up to his contract and the Jets haven’t had a player record double-digit sacks since 2015. Despite finishing fourth in blitz rate (39.2%), New York’s defense ranked 24th in pressure rate (21.1%).
  • CB – New York must find multiple starting corners this offseason. Re-signing Brian Poole, who impressed in the slot, should be one of the team’s first moves. Once the Jets sign Poole, finding help on the outside is crucial to avoid the defense becoming a disaster in 2020.

Fixing the Jets: Even after some disastrous moves by the previous regime, Douglas is in good position to add talent this offseason. Supported with more than $50 million in cap space and a top-12 pick, this can be a great offseason for the Jets if Douglas executes his plan.

  • Byron Jones – While the organization has a history with highly-priced corners not living up to their contract, this is a new regime. Jones can step in as the No. 1 corner in Gregg Williams’ scheme and also be moved around the field.
  • Anthony Castonzo – Darnold needs a left tackle that consistently protects him from the NFL’s top edge rushers. While he is about to enter his age-32 season, adding a brick wall on the left side is crucial for New York.
  • Breshad Perriman – Spending on the offensive line and secondary means losing Anderson. Perriman came on late in 2019 with the Buccaneers, averaging 17.9 yards per catch and ended the year with three consecutive 100-yard games. He is the perfect replacement for Anderson and will come at a fraction of the cost.
  • Brian Poole –Poole exceeded expectations on his one-year, $3 million deal and now it’s time for a raise. The 27-year-old slot corner deserves a multi-year deal and Williams’ defense will thrive with Poole in the slot and Jones on the outside.

These offseason signings maximize the Jets’ cap space to address their key needs. When the draft begins, New York can go in with peace of mind. It already found a left tackle for Darnold and strengthened its secondary, making the plan of attack easier on draft day.

  • 1.11 – A.J. Epenesa, EDGE – Epenesa falls right into New York’s laps and it couldn’t be happier. He brings size, intensity and strength off the edge that is tough to match and will allow him to frequently overpower opponents. Epenesa is everything Williams looks for in a player and the duo will have plenty of fun together.
  • 2.48 – Lloyd Cushenberry III, C – A captain on the offensive line, one of the most beloved players in LSU’s locker room and a great player. Cushenberry drew rave reviews at the Senior Bowl and continues to climb up draft boards. He can step in immediately and be New York’s center for the next decade.
  • 3.68 – Denzel Mims, WR – Crowder and Perriman each bring a necessary set of skills to this receiving corps, but Mims is different. He can go up and get the football, whether it’s a sideline catch or a leaping grab in the red zone, Mims can do it.
  • 3.79 – Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB – The Jets need to move on from Bell this offseason. There are plenty of options available in the draft and Edwards-Helaire is perfect. He brings power and athleticism as a ball-carrier with the ability to run routes as well.

The Jets would come out of this offseason with upgrades on the offensive line and an improved receiving corps. Meanwhile, a better offense will be paired with more talent and athleticism for Gregg Williams to utilize.

The bottom line:

Sam Darnold is the answer at quarterback. He earned his role as this team’s captain and he still flashes all the tools to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL. Really, it’s the coaching staff and surrounding talent that held him back the most.

This is the offseason the Jets can finally give him what he needs. There are plenty of talented offensive linemen available to improve this team’s pass protection and provide Darnold time to throw. New York can also cast a wide net to find exciting playmakers at receiver this offseason.

The Jets are close to finally taking flight. The fan base deserves to see a winner and New York would greatly benefit from this team becoming a contender once again. If the Jets can make moves like this, they will have turned a corner and can compete for a playoff spot in 2020.