It started with a culture change.
Conflict was erased. Drama left the building. A team-first mentality was preached.
In came the decorators. “One Team” was painted on one wall. “One Goal” donned the other.
These aren’t your father’s circus New York Jets. Changes were made.
A drastic roster overhaul brought mixed emotions to the Jets fanbase this spring and summer. The 2016 season left general manager Mike Maccagnan with no choice. One year after a free agent spending spree exploded in his face, the team’s head decision maker was faced with the difficult decision to rebuild – a term no sports executive enjoys listening to or saying. Contracts were shed and roster veterans were shown the chopping block. This would handcuff head coach Todd Bowles. He was considered, by some, a dead man walking.
Fast forward to Week Five of the 2017 NFL regular season and the “rebuilding” Jets are 2-2, one game out of first place in the division. Yes, it’s early. Cue Jim Mora. But, just as fast as you were blaming Maccagnan and Bowles for the 2016 circus, is as fast as you should applaud them for this surprising start to the year.
“I think we’ve surprised some people outside,” cornerback Buster Skrine told CBS NY after the Jets’ 23-20 overtime win over Jacksonville on Sunday. “But inside, we’re not surprised that we’re winning games.”
No executive or coach is perfect. Maccagnan and Bowles are no exceptions. Yet, they pushed the right buttons in the offseason and through the first four weeks to be offered a tip of the cap.
Think about it: The Jets created cap space while sweeping their roster clean of players who anchored the team from moving forward. That’s on Maccagnan. With youth and inexperience, the team has played strong defense and smart offense. That’s on Bowles. Like them or hate them, this start is not only on the players, but also the men pulling the strings.
As of now, the general manager is looking like a genius. That’s a fact. Take a look at his moves:
- Rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye are ball-hawking playmakers in the secondary. Adams has 16 tackles and one sack and has passed the eye test with flying colors. Maye has 19 tackles, 15 of them are solo. Not bad.
- Linebacker David Harris was recently inactive on Sunday for the New England Patriots.
- Cornerback Darrelle Revis, who was released this offseason, is still a free agent. The man who replaced him – Morris Claiborne – allowed no catches against the Jaguars and was targeted once.
- Center Nick Mangold, also cut, remains a free agent. Wesley Johnson has filled in admirably for the elder Mangold.
- Inconsistent safety Calvin Pryor, who was swapped to Cleveland for linebacker Demario Davis, is on the Injured Reserve with Jacksonville after being released by the Browns for a physical altercation with a teammate. Davis is second in the league with 40 total tackles.
- Bridge journeyman quarterback Josh McCown has been a reliable veteran and leader on and off the field for the Jets. He is also second in the league in completion percentage (70.1). Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg didn’t show the development necessary to start for New York in 2017. McCown has been everything the Jets could have asked for.
- Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker were dropped by the team, signing with the Giants and Titans, respectively. Marshall has 16 catches for 139 yards and zero touchdowns. Decker has 12 catches for 104 yards and no touchdowns.
- Defensive end Kony Ealy was claimed off waivers, he had four passes defensed with one interception against Jacksonville.
- Safety Terrence Brooks was recently named AFC defensive player of the week after a two interception performance against Miami.
- Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley has 12 receptions and has been a reliable target for McCown.
- Defensive end Sheldon Richardson was traded to the Seahawks for receiver Jermaine Kearse and draft picks. Kearse leads the young Jets receiving core with 18 catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Richardson has a mere 12 tackles and no sacks in four Seattle games.
It is quite the resume for Maccagnan. You have to give it to him. He has made up for himself after the turbulent 2016 season.
For Bowles, he’s no different. He is coaching a young team that nobody expected to win or play well. The development of players like Adams and Maye is special to watch, but the progress players like Darron Lee, Jordan Jenkins and Dylan Donahue are making is even better. Before the season started, some coined this roster as one of “the worst in a decade.” Many predicted an 0-16 or 1-15 record. The team may finish 2-14 but you’d be naïve to think they won’t die trying.
Tip your cap to Bowles and Maccagnan. They’ve got this group playing hard on a weekly basis. This team believes, even if nobody else does. That mindset was instilled this summer.
Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone) or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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