June is supposed to be a quiet time for NFL franchises — one of the few quiet times in fact in the increasingly hectic 24/7/365 NFL calendar.
For the New York Jets, however, the franchise is seemingly in panic mode while the league’s other 31 teams are calmly going through OTAs and getting ready for training camp. The Jets have made headlines by releasing a pair of veterans in linebacker David Harris and wide receiver Eric Decker.
The timing of the moves have also been criticized with the Jets releasing a pair of veterans just before the start of training camp after free agency opened and the draft has come and gone. After years of service to the franchise, the Jets have put both Harris and Decker in a tough position to find a new club quickly before the start of the new season. That’s not going to put the franchise in a positive light when it comes to signing veteran players in the future.
David Harris today.
Eric Decker tomorrow.
Jets' vets becoming endangered species.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 6, 2017
The timing of Harris’ release — it’s not like the Jets are up against the cap or that they have an obvious replacement — is particularly puzzling.
— Kimberley A. Martin (@KMart_LI) June 6, 2017
And apparently the criticism is coming from inside the locker room as well.
There are #Jets players who are still finding out about the Eric Decker news, literally. "Never. Wait are you serious? That's crazy."
— Josina Anderson (@JosinaAnderson) June 6, 2017
Ryan O’Hanlon at The Ringer says it’s obvious the Jets are tanking the season away to try to lose their way to drafting USC QB and everyone’s NFL messiah Sam Darnold. Much of the evidence would support that theory. The Jets now have just four players over the age of 30 on their entire roster and they just cut two veterans that were going to be major contributors this season that will undoubtedly hamper their ability to win games.
Without Decker and Harris, the Jets roster has a grand total of four players in their 30s. As such, 37-year-old quarterback Josh McCown is the oldest player on the team by five years. But despite his half decade of seniority, there might not be a more symbolic player on Todd Bowles’s squad.
McCown is the human tank: His teams have a a .353 winning percentage (a 79–145 record) over 14 NFL seasons, and the last two teams he started for both came away with the no. 1 pick in the following spring’s draft. As the Jets spent the offseason shedding veteran after veteran, they made clear that their goal in 2017, presumably, is to finish with the worst record in the league and then draft USC’s Sam Darnold or whoever wrestles the top-signal-caller belt from him in the fall. Starting McCown (or Christian Hackenberg or Bryce Petty, both of whom are reportedly being roundly outplayed by McCown at OTAs) should only further that objective.
But even the “Jets are tanking” theory shows a complete lack of short- or long-term visioning. And it doesn’t fit with a couple of other moves the Jets have made.
What sense does a “youth movement” or “tank” make when the Jets are linked with signing the retired Steve Smith? How in the world does it make sense to cut loose not only Eric Decker but also Brandon Marshall as well and try to bring in Smith? It’s almost like the Jets realized midstream “maybe we should have one guy who can actually catch an NFL pass so that we can go 1-15 instead of 0-16.” It’s laughable, though, because if Smith was going to come out of retirement do you think it’d be to catch passes from Christian Hackenberg, Josh McCown, or Bryce Petty? HA!
And that’s the other confusing part of the equation: whatever madness is happening at the quarterback position.
No college star’s draft stock fell quite as quickly or as deeply as Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg. And yet, the Jets still drafted him No. 51 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. Hackenberg didn’t throw a pass last season while 2015 fourth-round pick Bryce Petty started four games and threw for 809 yards. If Josh McCown is really leading the quarterback competition, as seems to be the case thus far, then neither Hackenberg nor Petty has any future in New York. They can’t.
If the Jets have that little faith in both quarterbacks to put them on the bench in Week 1 of the 2017 season and start a 37-year-old journeyman quarterback whose most recent work was providing a warm body to throw passes for the Cleveland Browns, then it is a complete waste for the franchise. And it would show the Hackenberg pick was especially foolish because it’s not like the Jets have a zillion high draft picks like the Browns do, spending one of their many second rounders on DeShone Kizer this year.
Judging by the reports from OTA’s, the former Penn State product isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire according to the New York Daily News:
Hackenberg has been inconsistent during the three OTAs open to the media over the last few weeks, flashing brilliance on some plays while looking inept on others. Tuesday’s session was a microcosm of that development.
In total during 11-on-11 team drills, Hackenberg went 5-for-11 passing with a touchdown, a confident strike to Eric Decker on a fade route inside the red zone. He also threw four passes that were nearly intercepted, including the very next play after the touchdown pass, and fumbled on a strip sack earlier in practice.
If you’re going to really go into the tank, why bring in McCown at all? How does a 37-year-old quarterback fit into a youth movement? Why not just throw the young kids out there and see what you have — or don’t have — at the quarterback position when the games really count. McCown doesn’t have a future with the Jets, but Hackenberg or Petty might. If they go out and fail, then the team will know they need to spend another high pick on a QB. If they somehow turn it around, then the Jets will actually have a quarterback they can hope in for the future.
But if Hackenberg or Petty don’t see the field this year, then the Jets will never know either way and admit that they might as well have forfeited those two selections. And furthermore, if both Hackenberg and Petty are that bad that they can’t beat out Josh McCown… isn’t that a more effective way to tank?
From an NFL exec- "I think the Jets might have the worst roster I've seen in a decade."
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 7, 2017
In the end, maybe the Jets’ plan will work out and they’ll get a Top-3 pick so they can select one of the presumptive franchise quarterbacks that will be available in the 2018 draft. At this point though, calling that a plan might be giving the Jets too much credit.