Looks like the N.Y. Jets are sacrificing this season just to get the ’18 No. 1 NFL draft pick
If that happens, head coach Todd Bowles will be the ultimate loser
By the end of the 2017-18 NFL season, Todd Bowles, head coach of the New York Jets, is likely to be out of a job.
It’s sad what Bowles is about to endure. He is entering the upcoming NFL season with the highest stakes possible, while general manager Mike Maccagnan has spent the offseason ridding the Jets of their proven talent and giving him Josh McCown at quarterback instead.
The Jets released a mainstay on their defense, linebacker and leading tackler David Harris, on June 7. He was one of the latest victims of their talent purge. But he won’t be the last. Receiver Eric Decker was released Monday. Decker will probably be the last proven player to go. There are precious few left. In the four months since the New England Patriots won another Super Bowl, Maccagnan has been ruthless.
First, he voided Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract, which was an understandable move considering what he was scheduled to be paid and how poorly he played in 2016. But he was still the best quarterback on the roster. And he was just a year removed from having a career season, throwing 31 touchdowns — just five fewer than the league leader, New England Patriot Tom Brady — and leading game-winning drives in three of the team’s 10 wins that season.
Maccagnan went for the big names next. In one seven-day stretch from Feb. 25 to March 3, he released All-Pros and Pro Bowlers: Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Marshall. Macagnan even cut the kicker, Nick Folk, and replaced him with Chandler Catanzaro, whose field goal percentage last season was 12 percent lower than Folk’s 87 percent. This makes scoring points even more difficult for Bowles’ team next season.
Not a good track record for Jets head coaches
The Jets took notice of Bowles during the 2014 season. As defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals, Bowles got the most out of his unit. Even as they were ravaged by injuries, Bowles and the defense maintained their performance with backups suddenly thrust into action. The Jets hired Bowles that offseason, and he brought his ability to overachieve with him. In Bowles’ first season, the Jets won 10 games and lost six, which was a major improvement from their 4-12 record the previous season. But the success was short-lived, as it often is for Gang Green. They followed it with an embarrassing 2016 campaign, winning just five games. Three of their worst losses came near the end of the season. They were beaten by 31, 21, and 38 points by the Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins and Patriots, respectively. After those lopsided late-season defeats, many thought Bowles, who was hired in part because of his “ability to relate to players,” had lost the team and could also lose his job.
The Jets finished the season with a 30-10 Jan. 1 win over the Buffalo Bills. After the game, a team spokesman said Bowles would be the team’s coach in 2017, setting the table for a defining season for Bowles. It will be the second-to-the-last season of his four-year contract. That means Jets owner Woody Johnson will be forced to make a decision at the end of the season. Unlike with players, coaches rarely are allowed to coach in the final year of their contracts; they either get fired or sign an extension before the last year of their deal. It is believed that a coach in his final year is a “lame duck” and won’t be able to get the most out of his team in that situation.
So, with one good season and one bad season on Bowles’ head coaching résumé, the result of 2017 will not only determine his fate with the Jets, but it will also determine the trajectory of the rest of his NFL career. If he repeats the success of 2015, he will get an extension, which is great for the obvious reasons: He gets more money, and he gets to remain an NFL head coach in the area of the country where he was born and raised. But the most important and lasting impact of this season’s result is on his reputation.
An extension is validation that he is a qualified head coach. A two-term head coach is considered a legitimate NFL head coach, which is crucial for Bowles’ future. A one-term head coach is viewed as a failed head coach. Most of them never get another chance to lead a team. Franchises with coaching vacancies are fond of hiring a proven head coach, a promising first-time head coach or an outstanding coordinator.
If he is fired at the end of this season, Bowles and his agent can’t market him to prospective suitors as either of the first two options. He will have to spend years rebuilding his rep as a defensive coordinator just to get an interview. And if he is able to do that, he’ll have to persuade a franchise that what he learned from his failed tenure with the Jets makes him more likely to succeed than other exceptional coordinators who don’t have the scarlet letter.
But that’s a long shot. A poor showing in 2017 will most likely mean that Bowles will never get another chance to be an NFL head coach. So the cuts made by Maccagnan, who was hired days before Bowles in mid-January 2015, may have already decided Bowles’ professional fate.
It could be instructive for Bowles to take a look at the history of Jets head coaches under Johnson, who bought the team now valued at $2.75 billion for $635 million in 2000. Excluding Al Groh, who quit after one season to coach at the University of Virginia, Johnson hired three head coaches before Bowles: Herman Edwards, Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan. Johnson kept both Edwards and Ryan past the three-year mark. Edwards — who, like Bowles, was a black coach getting his first opportunity to lead a team (sadly, that’s still noteworthy in 2017) — went from the Jets to being head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs after five years, via a trade. Ryan was fired after six years. He became head coach of the Buffalo Bills the following season.
Mangini’s career might be the most interesting. In it, Bowles can find both hope and despair. Mangini’s first two seasons were nearly identical to Bowles’. Mangini went 10-6 and then 4-12. He went 9-7 in his third season. Bad news is he was fired. So if Bowles needs to win 10 games this season to keep his job, his agent should start making some calls now. On the bright side, Mangini immediately got another head-coaching opportunity with the Cleveland Browns, where he went 10-22 in two seasons. Even with a decent showing this season, Bowles might still be fired, but there is a very slim chance head coaching is in his immediate future.
There is also the possibility that Johnson will fire the general manager first, as he did after a 6-10 2012 season, when he fired general manager Mike Tannenbaum, keeping Ryan. That seems unlikely because roster moves as significant as the ones executed over the past few months can only be made with the owner’s approval and by a general manager with job security. About those moves made during the offseason, Maccagnan said, “We’re doing things that we feel are going to help this organization both short and long term.”
It’ll be a Suck-and-See Year
Well, that sounds good. But actions speak louder than words. And Maccagnan’s actions are saying that the upcoming season is only about the long term. That’s the only way your decisions seem remotely logical. You and Johnson decided this would be a Suck-and-See year. By parting ways with most of your talented older players, your team will suck, earning you a high draft pick. Expelling the elder statesmen also clears the way for younger, untested players to get significant playing time, allowing you to see what kind of players they are.
The S&S strategy could potentially result in two more S’s. The third beneficial S is only for Johnson: Save. The older, more accomplished players are more expensive, so getting them off the books will put millions in Johnson’s pocket. I doubt Johnson cares much about that money. He was wealthy before he was born, as his full name reveals: Robert Wood Johnson IV. The first Robert Wood Johnson, Johnson’s great-grandfather, founded the Johnson & Johnson company in 1886 with two of his brothers. The original Robert Wood Johnson was the company’s first president. His son, Robert Wood Johnson II, is credited with having the vision and drive to grow Johnson & Johnson into the biggest company of its kind in the world. Robert Wood Johnson III, Johnson’s father, worked at Johnson & Johnson for more than 20 years before being fired by his father from his role as president of domestic operations. Johnson worked for the company as a teen but never as an adult.
Having already lost his father to cancer, Johnson took his hefty inheritance to Florida. He invested in real estate, with mixed results. But his investment in the early days of cable television in Florida was a big success. He sold his stake in 1983.
In the 16 seasons Johnson has owned the team, the Jets have had five different head coaches. By the end of next season, they will have had at least 13 different starting quarterbacks. And I would bet we’ll see more. Employing the S&S strategy might be Johnson acknowledging that the peaks and valleys in the Jets’ fortunes are due to the instability at the quarterback position and with the head coach. Which brings us to the fourth S, Sam.
University of Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold is already considered a franchise-changing quarterback, and he will be draft-eligible next year. With just one season as a college starter, Darnold is being compared to Andrew Luck, who was the first pick in the 2012 draft. The Jets’ 8-8 record in 2012 landed them the 16th pick in the draft, where they selected defensive end Quinton Coples, who is no longer with the team. Armed with hindsight, I am sure Johnson would have preferred Ryan to win six fewer games and secure the No. 1 one pick and Luck. So I understand why he and Maccagnan are motivated to lose their way to a franchise quarterback.
However, it is unfortunate that they have to push a one-legged Bowles into the center of the arena to do so.