NY Jets: Evaluating Joe Douglas’ tenure, 4 years in

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By: Stefan Stelling

Has New York Jets GM Joe Douglas done a good job through four years?

On June 7, 2019, the New York Jets hired Joe Douglas as their new general manager on a six-year deal.

Douglas inherited the franchise’s worst roster and coaching staff in decades. Over the three seasons prior to Douglas’ arrival, the Jets had the NFL’s third-worst record (14-34) and second-worst point differential (-326). A few months before Douglas was hired, the Jets exacerbated their situation by hiring Adam Gase as head coach, who unsurprisingly became one of the worst coaches in team history.

Only three of the 73 players that played for the Jets in 2019 remain with the team: defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, linebacker C.J. Mosley, and long snapper Thomas Hennessy. They are also the only players on the current roster who were not acquired by Douglas.

Fast forward four years to June 2023, and the Jets have the sixth-best odds to win the Super Bowl at +1600, per BetMGM.

However, while the Jets’ roster looks strong entering 2023, they still have not made the playoffs under Douglas. Their record since he was hired is 20-46.

Let’s evaluate the work Douglas has done over the past four years – both the good and the bad.

2019 roster vs. 2023 roster

This new-look Jets team is led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers, three young offensive stars in Garrett Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Breece Hall, and two Defensive Player of the Year candidates in Sauce Gardner and Quinnen Williams.

Here is a comparison between the Jets’ 2019 opening-week depth chart (Week 1 vs. Buffalo) and their projected lineup in 2023.

Pos 2019 2023
QB Sam Darnold Aaron Rodgers
RB Le’Veon Bell Breece Hall
RB Ty Montgomery Michael Carter
RB Trenton Cannon Zonovan Knight
WR Robby Anderson Garrett Wilson
WR Quincy Enunwa Allen Lazard
WR Jamison Crowder Corey Davis
WR Josh Bellamy Mecole Hardman
WR Braxton Berrios Randall Cobb
TE Ryan Griffin Tyler Conklin
TE Trevon Wesco C.J. Uzomah
TE Daniel Brown Jeremy Ruckert
LT Kelvin Beachum Duane Brown
LG Kelechi Osemele Laken Tomlinson
C Ryan Kalil Joe Tippmann
RG Brian Winters Alijah Vera-Tucker
RT Brandon Shell Mekhi Becton
EDGE Jordan Jenkins Carl Lawson
EDGE Bronson Kaufusi John Franklin-Myers
EDGE Frankie Luvu Jermaine Johnson
EDGE Tarell Basham Bryce Huff
EDGE Harvey Langi Will McDonald
DT Leonard Williams Quinnen Williams
DT Henry Anderson Quinton Jefferson
DT Steve McLendon Al Woods
DT Quinnen Williams Solomon Thomas
LB C.J. Mosley C.J. Mosley
LB Neville Hewitt Quincy Williams
LB Blake Cashman Jamien Sherwood
CB Trumaine Johnson Sauce Gardner
CB Darryl Roberts D.J. Reed
CB Brian Poole Michael Carter II
CB Arthur Maulet Brandin Echols
S Jamal Adams Jordan Whitehead
S Marcus Maye Chuck Clark
S Rontez Miles Tony Adams

It’s safe to say Douglas has been a busy man.

Let’s break down some of Douglas’ best and worst moves since taking over.

Best Free Agent: D.J. Reed

Signing cornerback D.J. Reed to a three-year $33 million deal was a great move at the time and it only looks better a year later.

Reed followed up his dominant 2021 season with another elite season but was denied a Pro Bowl nod despite ranking top 10 in several key statistics.

Together, Reed and Sauce Gardner formed the best cornerback duo in the NFL this past season. Reed was an absolute home run signing.

Worst Free Agent: Laken Tomlinson

There were several options for this title but Laken Tomlinson‘s hefty cap hit makes him the choice for worst free agent signing. After breaking out as a top-10 guard with the San Francisco 49ers, Tomlinson signed a massive three-year, $40 million deal. At $13.3 million per season, it ranks as the ninth-largest contract among guards in terms of average annual value.

Unfortunately, Tomlinson didn’t live up to expectations in Year 1. Tomlinson received the worst Pro Football Focus grade of his career at 56.8, which ranked 49th out of 64 qualified guards. After being an excellent run-blocker throughout his career, Tomlinson had the fifth-lowest run-blocking grade among all guards at 46.9.

There is some reason for optimism as Tomlinson improved after a disastrous start. From Weeks 5-18, Tomlinson received the 10th-best PFF pass-blocking grade at 77.3. The Jets hope so as he will have a $18.8 million cap hit in 2024.

Related Article: NY Jets desperately need the old Laken Tomlinson to return

Best Draft Pick: Sauce Gardner

While it is expected that a player selected fourth overall would be the best pick, Sauce Gardner still managed to far exceed his draft slot.

In his rookie season, Gardner was undeniably a top-10 cornerback and has a very strong case to already be the best cornerback in the NFL. Gardner led 82 qualified cornerbacks (min. 500 defensive snaps) in the following categories:

  • Yards Per Coverage Snap (0.54)
  • Pass Breakups Per Target (19.2%)
  • Passer Rating Allowed (52.5)
  • Completion Percentage Allowed (45.2%)

The fact that Sauce Gardner’s rookie season compares well to the Defensive Player of the Year campaigns of Stephon Gilmore, Charles Woodson, and Darelle Revis is insane.

Even when cross-referencing with Pro Football References statistics (the stats used above are via PFF), Sauce’s 2022 season is better than Gilmore’s 2019 DPOY season in every statistic except interceptions and passer rating allowed.

The sky is the limit for Sauce Gardner.

Worst Draft Pick: Zach Wilson

Quarterback Zach Wilson takes the spot as the worst draft pick after two disappointing seasons in New York. After being selected second overall, Wilson was expected to be the face of the franchise for the next decade.

Instead, Wilson’s struggles prompted the Jets to trade for Aaron Rodgers. While the jury is still out on the rest of the quarterbacks selected after Wilson in the 2021 draft, Wilson is clearly the worst of the class at this point.

The flashes of talent that left scouts drooling slowly disappeared over the course of his rookie season and were nowhere to be found in 2022. Wilson is still under contract for the next two seasons but the Jets can’t rely on him as an option after Rodgers.

While Wilson was the easy pick for this one, it’s concerning that only two players drafted from 2020 to 2021, Alijah Vera-Tucker and Michael Carter II, are expected to contribute in 2023 and beyond.

Best Diamond in the Rough: John Franklin-Myers

John Franklin-Myers is easily Joe Douglas’ best pickup relative to what it took to acquire him. Franklin-Myers was claimed off waivers back in September 2019 and wasn’t active for the entire season.

In 2020, however, Franklin-Myers earned himself a spot as the pass rush specialist at defensive tackle. His 14.4% pressure rate was third-best among qualified defensive tackles as his combination of speed and strength allowed him to dominate on the interior.

However, a scheme change in 2021 caused him to bump out to defensive end. While his pressure rate dropped, Franklin-Myers used his size to dominate against the run and would still move inside on passing downs.

I also considered Bryce Huff for this spot as he’s developed into an excellent pass rusher in his own right. However, Franklin-Myers has a much larger role with the team.

Best Move: Trading Jamal Adams

Trading Jamal Adams is easily the best move Joe Douglas has made in his time as general manager. The Jets traded Adams and a 2024 fourth-round pick to the Seahawks for their 2021 first- and third-round picks and their first-round pick in 2022.

The Jets packaged their own 2021 third-round pick with the two picks from Seattle to move up nine spots and select Alijah Vera-Tucker at 14th overall. The following year, Douglas used the Seahawks’ first-round pick to take Garrett Wilson at 10th overall.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks inked Jamal Adams four-year $70.5 million contract and drafted cornerback Coby Bryant in 2022.

While Adams was still good in 2020, breaking the sack record for defensive backs and being named second-team All-Pro, it’s been mostly downhill since leaving New York. Adams has missed 25 out of 51 possible games while recording the lowest PFF grades of his career and seeing huge drop-offs in his coverage production. While Coby Bryant was a good find in the fourth round, it doesn’t offset the success of the Jets’ selections.

Aside from saving just under $10 million in cap space by trading Adams, the Jets also hit home runs with their picks. Vera-Tucker has developed into one of the better guards in the NFL and displayed excellent versatility playing three different positions in 2022. Meanwhile, Wilson won Offensive Rookie of the Year, and many expect him to establish himself as a top-10 wide receiver in 2023.

Too early to crown Joe Douglas yet

While Joe Douglas has done an excellent job of rebuilding the roster, he’s been far from perfect.

Very few of Douglas’ draft picks from 2020 to 2021 have lived up to expectations. Unless Mekhi Becton stays healthy, undrafted free agent Bryce Huff is by far the best player from the 2020 class and the only one likely to be re-signed. In 2021, only Alijah Vera-Tucker and Michael Carter II are expected to have significant roles going forward.

Meanwhile, the only free agent signing that has lived up to expectations is D.J. Reed. The rest have either underperformed or struggled with injuries.

Still, Douglas deserves credit for what he’s done. Despite the blunders, Douglas is significantly better than his two predecessors. He has built the Jets into a serious playoff contender entering 2023.

If Douglas’ 2023 additions are anywhere close to as good as his 2022 moves, the Jets will have a successful season and Douglas will put himself in the conversation as one of the league’s better general managers. For now, Jets fans can only hope that his success in 2022 is the new standard instead of an outlier.

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