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By: Thomas Christopher
For Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh, everything hinges on a successful 2023 season
Getting lost in the Aaron Rodgers saga of the New York Jets‘ offseason is the importance of success for Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh in 2023.
In the last four years, we’ve seen the Jets go through two first-round quarterbacks in Sam Darnold and Zach Wilson. Neither lived up to their respective hype. This forced the Jets to ditch their “slow rebuild” approach to team-building. Now, the Jets are likely to start the 2023 season with a future Hall of Famer, Aaron Rodgers, at quarterback.
Anything less than a deep playoff run and we’re likely to see Douglas and Saleh lose their jobs.
There are a couple of reasons to believe this could be a strong possibility if the Jets don’t prove to be successful this year.
The Zach Wilson failure
In 2021, the Jets selected Zach Wilson second overall. For Jets fans, there seemed to be a renewed sense of optimism around the team.
The Jets hired first-time head coach Robert Saleh, a move that was essentially unanimously praised. Joe Douglas had already become a fan-favorite for his trade savvy. Things seemed to be looking up. Some of that optimism would be short-lived, however.
After two injury-plagued, incredibly underwhelming seasons, it was clear that Wilson was not the answer.
Only after the 2022 implosion did we learn of Douglas’ infatuation with Wilson. The Jets traded Sam Darnold because Douglas was sold on Wilson being a franchise quarterback, despite some scouts in the Jets’ building voicing concern that Wilson wasn’t a pro-ready prospect.
Not only did that failure encapsulate the Jets’ struggles in 2022, but it was a failure that Jets owner Woody Johnson felt could have been avoided. Johnson agreed with then-OC Mike LaFleur that the team shouldn’t have started Wilson as a rookie. When pressed to explain further, it seems like Johnson wasn’t too impressed with the structure of the team’s quarterback room.
In response to a question asking what could have been done differently about Wilson’s development, Johnson said, “Well, if he (Zach Wilson) sat behind a veteran … But which veteran do you have in mind? We didn’t have the veteran. But yeah, I think we could have done a better job. For sure. And we will do a better job next year.”
With that said, let’s get to the elephants in the room.
Woody Johnson’s pursuit of Aaron Rodgers
It’s quite clear that Woody has been the driving force behind the pursuit of Aaron Rodgers. In an almost romantic sense, it parallels his pursuit of another former Packers Hall of Fame quarterback, Brett Favre.
Rumors of the Jets’ interest in Rodgers had been going on for months prior to Rodgers’ interview on the Pat McAfee Show. When speaking to ESPN’s Dianna Russini at the NFL Honors ceremony in February, Johnson – while unable to talk about Rodgers without being penalized – didn’t mince words about the Jets’ staff and the team’s plan for the 2023 offseason.
“The weakness right now is in the quarterback position,” Johnson said. “Whether it was management or whatever, everybody kind of regressed a little bit so what we’re gonna do is we are gonna look for an experienced quarterback to come in and help us and help develop these other young players.”
Jets owner Woody Johnson on their search for a veteran QB and if Aaron Rodgers is possibly on their radar: pic.twitter.com/FRnAOInWBx
— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) February 10, 2023
While Johnson hasn’t given an official playoff mandate, it’s easy to read between the lines.
Woody Johnson on whether Saleh/Douglas need #Jets to make playoffs next year:
“No. I don’t do mandates. … We’ve all had a long wait. 54 years since the last Super Bowl is too long. Way too long. I’d like to change that fast, but mandates don’t work.”
— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) January 12, 2023
Johnson said something similar to former Jets head coach Eric Mangini prior to the team trading for Brett Favre ahead of the 2008 season. Of course, we know how that story ended – with Mangini being fired after falling short of expectations and missing the playoffs. I think we’re going to see a similar result if the Jets underperform this season.
As we get closer to the NFL draft, we’re seeing Johnson’s comments change. They have become more assertive, rather than patiently optimistic.
When speaking to the media at the Annual League Meeting on March 28, Johnson stated, “I’m not the patient sort. We’re in the win business. We have to win now.”
If that isn’t a definitive statement, I don’t know what is.
A tale of two cities
In the 2021 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers traded three first-round picks and a third-round pick to move up and select third overall – one spot behind the Jets – to pick Trey Lance as their quarterback of the future. As fate would have it, the 49ers would share the Jets’ bad luck in regard to their 2021 first-round quarterbacks.
Lance has started four games for the 49ers since being drafted. After seeing little action in his rookie year, Lance broke his ankle in his second start last September. He was replaced by Jimmy Garoppolo, who was injured and replaced by Brock Purdy, the 262nd overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft.
Purdy proceeded to tear his UCL in the playoffs, and the team lost Garoppolo to the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency. Despite that, the 49ers are in a vastly different – and more favorable – situation than the Jets at the quarterback position.
Like the 49ers, the Jets also played four quarterbacks throughout the course of their 2022-23 season. The difference is the Jets weren’t able to have the same team success. That was mostly due to the below-level play from the position, something Saleh hinted to when speaking to the media in January.
“We are going to be aggressive as heck when it comes to quarterback play and making sure that we do everything we can to satisfy that position,” Saleh said. “Do I want to be as arrogant to say I think this is plug and play where we’re going to get better? When you can run the ball, you’ve got special teams and you have a top-five defense, you’re supposed to be in the playoffs.”
The 49ers currently have Trey Lance, Brock Purdy, and somewhat ironically, Sam Darnold in their quarterback room. The team has three capable starters on their team, including two who have the potential to become a franchise quarterback. The Jets don’t have that kind of flexibility at the position.
Currently, the Jets have Zach Wilson and… Chris Streveler. If either player were forced to start a game in 2023, no one would have confidence in their ability to generate wins.
The Jets had a plethora of routes to choose from this offseason, considering the 2023 quarterback market was the best in years. They opted for a 39-year-old quarterback who can only offer a 1-2 year window. It’s a decision that will likely leave the Jets in this exact situation again once Rodgers retires.
The team didn’t attempt to sign a competent backup option after letting Mike White walk in free agency, either. They essentially hamstrung themselves for the pursuit of Rodgers, and that desperation could spell disaster if expectations aren’t met.
Success or unrest
The Jets’ laser focus on Rodgers is because they want to win now. With the Jets’ defense and skill positions solved, Woody Johnson wants to catch lightning in a bottle – the same way he tried in 2008.
If history tells us anything, Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas need to have a successful season if they intend to remain with the Jets going forward. Anything short of a deep playoff run, and it’s likely Woody Johnson hits the reset button on the franchise once again.
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Originally posted on Jets X-Factor