With a team like the New York Jets, one would expect an uneventful spring. After years of the win-now mentality brought big-name offseason acquisitions like Brandon Marshall, Darrelle Revis, and Matt Forté to the squad, the organization seems to have turned a corner.
In March, general manager Mike Maccagnan cleaned house: Revis, Marshall, Nick Mangold, Ryan Clady, and Nick Folk were all shown the door, signaling the start of a youth movement. Then, after Josh McCown and Kelvin Beachum were brought in as low-risk, low-reward stopgap options, the draft featured much of the same attitude.
The first round set the tone for the rest of the draft, as the Jets took well-rounded, experienced safety Jamal Adams–the “safe” pick–as opposed to hitching the wagon to a quarterback early. The rest of the draft unfolded in similar conservative fashion, with countless trades down and a slew of solid role players like Jordan Leggett and ArDarius Stewart.
An offseason like that indicates that the team’s management has resigned to the fact that the team is rebuilding, and is committed to building the team gradually rather than taking shots in in free agency. So, knowing this, one would expect the Jets to be controversy-free and out of the papers. After all, they are far from being a contender in the imminent future, and having gone all offseason without making a splash, they should be continuing quietly into training camp.
However, with several more major moves having come in the past few weeks, the Jets have become a mainstay in the incessant, and somewhat unfair, New York media cycle.
1. The Calvin Pryor Trade
The Jets first stirred up a media furor on June 1st after trading safety and 2014 first-round pick Calvin Pryor to the Cleveland Browns for Demario Davis. Despite being the laughingstock of the league for over a decade, the Browns have become a media darling of sorts since prying a second-round pick from the Houston Texans in a unique, NBA-style trade. As a result, the Browns were applauded for the move: Charles Curtis of USAToday actually went as far as to call it, “the kind of move the Patriots are known for,” referring to last year’s acquisitions of Barkevious Mingo, Shea McClellin, and Kyle Van Noy, while the Jets were met with reactions that were lukewarm at best.
However, in terms of the skill set of Pryor and Davis, as well as the construction of both teams’ rosters, the haul actually ended up fairly even for both. The Browns got a stopgap option at safety to pair with rookie Jabrill Peppers at the cost of creating a temporary hole in an otherwise-solid linebacking corps, and the Jets cleared a wasted asset while adding depth at arguably their weakest defensive position. Ultimately, the Browns got a slight upside advantage, as Pryor is a hard hitter that could also contribute in a limited, “moneybacker”-style role, but, ultimately, neither player is likely to be a long-term contributor for either team.
2. The (Ridiculous!) Christian Hackenberg Coverage
Living in New York, it is impossible to escape the media cycle, even when there is seemingly nothing to write about. Unfortunately for quarterback Christian Hackenberg, it means that he has become a “whipping boy” of sorts for the Jets’ beat. Pre-draft, Hackenberg was considered a mid-round talent and a developmental backup with a slim chance to develop into a backup, putting him in the same tier as guys like Connor Cook, Cardale Jones and Jacoby Brissett.
However, after underperforming in preseason, with 54 yards on 31 attempts in his final appearance, and then being stashed on the bench all season long, Hackenberg has become more than just an impulsive, irresponsible draft pick. Rather, his name has become synonymous with being a disaster at the position. As a result, with Hackenberg now expected to compete for the starting job among the league’s weakest quarterback corps, the New York media has wasted no time in exploiting his imperfections.
It started with a report in early June by NJ.com that Hackenberg had “hit reporters twice” with passes over the course of the OTA period, and has transitioned into a topic of nationwide debate. Local beat writers have even begun sharing and dissecting videos of Hackenberg throwing as a way to provide “evidence” of this phenomenon. Unfortunately, the only thing that this has accomplished is hurling waves of criticism at the young quarterback that has never featured in a league game, and has no say in determining his team or draft slot, despite that fact that there is very little to actually take away from third-team reps at an optional, contact-free minicamp.
Furthermore, the criticism may actually be unsubstantiated within the organization, as insider Adam Schefter has reported that the Jets are “pleased” with Hackenberg’s offseason progress. While this may just be generic coach speak, coaches are often upfront about calling out players that are far below expectations–take the example of Bruce Arians, who last year referred to Justin Bethel as a “failure in progress.” Thus, this should suggest that Hackenberg is far from the disaster that he is made out to be, even if he never does develop into a long-term starter.
3. The Harris and Decker Cuts
Even on a rebuilding team, there still exists a need for a strong veteran presence. Something that stood out in the midst of the Browns’ 1-15 season was the distinct group of veterans that accompanied the overwhelmingly young roster. In Josh McCown, Gary Barnidge, Joe Haden and, most notably, Joe Thomas, the Browns had their veteran presence. They even added Jamie Collins, a Super Bowl champion, in midseason to anchor the defense, and also brought in Kenny Britt and Jason McCourty in recent months.
The problem with the Jets is that, having cut Eric Decker and David Harris, the roster is almost devoid of veterans. Though Josh McCown and Matt Forté are there, they only represent two players, and both on the offensive side of the ball. Furthermore, with neither guaranteed to have a prominent role this coming season, their influence in the locker room should be limited, which is a concern considering how much the antics of Brandon Marshall and Sheldon Richardson resonated with the team last year.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, losing Decker and Harris forces unready players into undermanned positions. Though Robby Anderson has prototypical size and strong hands to win at the catch point, he is ultimately unproven. With highly limited experience facing No. 1 corners, he could have likely thrived as a complement to Decker, but forcing him into the top slot now may only stunt his growth. Meanwhile, Harris’ departure forces Demario Davis to start alongside Darron Lee, only weakening an already-shaky linebacker unit with little depth behind Davis and Lee.
Overall, the Jets’ offseason has been different from what they normally do, but the scrutiny comes off as bizarre. Though some of the moves that they have made have been questionable, none are especially uncharacteristic of a rebuilding team.
Last year, when the Browns broke ground with the “Moneyball” philosophy and then traded out of the No. 2 slot instead of taking Carson Wentz, few really sounded off until Wentz’ early season success. In fact, and perhaps rightfully so, the team was applauded for stockpiling picks, gambling on a low-risk, high-reward option in Robert Griffin III, and planning for the future. People seemed to simply accept that the Browns would play poorly and move on. In this case, however, the media is not just criticizing roster moves, but actually dissecting individual practice reps of the third-string quarterback. Hopefully, everything calms down by the time training camp comes, because what the Jets are doing is not new, and should not be treated as though it is.