The New York Jets, it could be fairly argued, possessed more untapped resources at the start of the offseason than any other NFL franchise. They allowed Mike Maccagnan, the incumbent general manager, whom they kept even as they replaced Coach Todd Bowles, to hire a new coach, spend truckloads of free agent dollars and select a top-three draft pick.
And then out of nowhere late Wednesday morning, in a quiet moment on the NFL calendar, as time came to see how those moves would unfold, the Jets fired Maccagnan and his top personnel man.
Every offseason is crucial to every franchise’s fate, but this one carried extra weight for a team with 14 wins over the past three seasons, seeking its first playoff appearance since 2010, constructing a roster around a freshly anointed franchise quarterback. The Jets trusted one man with that task, and once it was over, they decided he was no longer fit for their franchise.
It takes zero understanding of the NFL, and only the most elementary notion of how executive power structures work, to realize the timing of that chain of events is on-its-face nonsensical.
What are the Jets doing? It’s hard to invent a rationalization. The most obvious explanation, given how the NFL works and several reports indicating internal turmoil, is that new Coach Adam Gase — named interim general manager in the same stunning release announcing Maccagnan’s ouster — clashed with Maccagnan and won a struggle for control.
The New York Daily News reported that Gase did not want to spend big money on a running back, which seems problematic considering the four-year, $52.5 million contract, with $25 million guaranteed, the Jets gave Le’Veon Bell. A quick check of league rules confirms they do not get to take it back after firing the GM.
Late last week, Gase addressed the idea that he and Maccagnan had clashed, not exactly denying a rift while describing his relationship with Maccagnan as business as usual.
“We have discussions on everything. That’s our job,” Gase said. “We have to work through so much stuff. That’s what we have to do. That’s all we’ve done since we’ve been here. Since we’ve started, we just constantly are in communication, whether he’s coming down to my office or I’m going to his office. That’s all we’re trying to do is just make sure we’re on the same page all the time, making sure that we’re trying to put this thing together as well as we can in a short period of time.”
Gase also said, in reference to reports of cracks in the Jets’ cohesion, “a lot of that stuff is crap.”
Less than a week later, Gase has the job of the guy he denied he was feuding with.
Nobody would have blinked if the Jets had fired Maccagan after the season, when they canned Bowles. It would have made perfect sense. The Jets had fielded lousy teams for three years in a row, and bringing in a new coach and GM at the time same would have helped align thinking in the head coach’s office and in the front office.
The Jets had more than $100 million in spare salary cap space, plus the third overall pick in the draft. Having taken quarterback Sam Darnold with the third choice in last year’s draft, they didn’t need to devote any of their assets to the sport’s most important position, which mitigated the draft capital lost in trading up for Darnold. They had a blank canvas and a warehouse of paint.
Jets owner Christopher Johnson left Maccagnan and his personnel staff in charge after the 4-12 regular season ended, keeping Maccagnan — whom the Jets hired in 2015 — even as the Jets fired Bowles. Given the importance of the offseason and the tools at their disposal, keeping Maccagnan felt like either one more chance to prove himself or a stamp of affirmation.
The Jets — with Maccagnan calling the shots — doled out more than $190 million in contracts (much of which isn’t guaranteed and will never actually be paid), landing Bell, linebacker C.J. Mosley and wide receiver Jamison Crowder, among others, while nearly signing linebacker Anthony Barr to a massive contract before Barr changed his mind at the last minute. Then they picked defensive lineman Quinnen Williams with the third pick.
“Mike helped to execute the strategic vision of the organization during the last four seasons and especially the past few months,” Johnson said in a statement. “However, I came to the decision to make a change after much thought and a careful assessment of what would be in the best long-term interests of the New York Jets.”
Keeping Maccagnan, and allowing him to make those crucial decisions, was apparently neither a last chance nor a stamp of approval. So what was it then, exactly? It is an admission the Jets do not know what they’re doing, a question that only begets more questions.
How could the Jets retain a general manager who constructed a roster out of line with the head coach’s vision, only to choose coach over the general manager?
How could the Jets have hired Gase with Maccagnan as the general manager without understanding they had conflicting views on roster construction and management?
How is Gase supposed to coach players who now have reason to wonder if their coach ever wanted them in the first place?
The Jets are a perpetual punchline, but this offseason could have been a fresh start. Instead, the Jets took an opportunity and a cache of assets and turned it all into another mess to clean up.
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