The Jets are the laughingstock of the NFL, and they have not even lost a game yet in 2017.
People around the league from coaches to front-office executives to player agents are cackling about the state of the Jets franchise and the team’s latest moves — releasing veteran linebacker David Harris and planning to dump wide receiver Eric Decker through either a trade or his release.
In several conversations over the past two days, NFL people have wondered whether the Jets actually have a plan, how much dysfunction there is inside the organization and why they waited until June to dump one of their most respected players.
All of it reflects poorly on owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Maccagnan, the architects behind this complete roster teardown (let’s not call it a rebuild until we actually see evidence of building).
Coach Todd Bowles is a sympathetic figure around the league, viewed as someone who will ultimately pay the price for a 2017 season that looks like it will be filled with failure.
“They have the worst roster in the league and it’s not close,” one executive said.
A roster that looked bad got even worse Tuesday. Harris was the heart and soul of the Jets’ defense, a player twice voted the most inspirational player on the team and once team MVP, in 2010. Decker impressed teammates with how he looked this spring after shoulder and hip surgeries and was clearly the best receiver the team had.
Clearly, Johnson wanted to save some money by getting rid of Harris and his $6.5 million, a shortsighted, ill-conceived decision. Harris was a respected voice in the locker room and one who could help shape second-year linebacker Darron Lee, who got himself into trouble over the weekend. Years ago, the Jets brought in guard Alan Faneca, whose greatest contribution to the Jets might have been teaching young players Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson how to be pros. Harris could have done the same for Lee.
The Jets are going with a youth movement, but teams still need a few veterans to point the way. Harris and Decker could have been those guides. You don’t think Decker could have helped along young receivers Robby Anderson, ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen and Charone Peake?
Many people around the league are scratching their heads at the timing of these decisions, particularly Harris. Why would a team treat a player who spent 10 years representing the organization well and doing the right things like this? The time to make a request for a salary cut or to release him was in February or March, not after the eighth OTA.
“It’s like they have no plan,” one agent said.
The time to rebuild was in Year 1 of the Maccagnan/Bowles regime in 2015. Instead, they went on a spending spree to be competitive, and now they are left in this strange no-man’s land, where Bowles and Maccagnan have been here for 29 months already with little to show for it.
It feels like the last two years were wasted.
That leads to questions about who can survive this season. The consensus seems to be Maccagnan is probably safe unless the team goes 1-15 or 0-16 and Johnson succumbs to public pressure. Bowles is viewed as a goner by nearly everyone. His contract expires after the 2018 season, and NFL coaches do not usually go into a season as a lame duck, meaning Johnson either has to fire or extend Bowles after this season. How can he extend a coach if they go 3-13 or 4-12 and have missed the playoffs for three straight seasons?
On Tuesday, Bowles showed the first signs of frustration with the direction the team is going. The Harris cut clearly hit him hard. The microscope will be on his relationship with Maccagnan this season as the two appear to be operating off different game plans.
The Jets are viewed as a team that is years away from contending again, with all the pressure falling on Maccagnan and his scouting chops. There are questions about those after two drafts that have produced Leonard Williams and a whole bunch of question marks.
On Tuesday night, when Maccagnan met with reporters, he looked as somber as he ever has publicly since taking over as GM in 2015. Smiles and laughter are hard to come by around the Jets offices these days.
It’s hard to laugh when you’re the NFL’s punch line.