Can the New York Jets Go From Worst to First in 2021?
Updated: 3 days ago
We outline a plan to fix the New York Jets in a new series profiling the last placed team in each NFL division in 2020. Which teams stand the best chance of taking the leap from worst to first in the 2021?
By James Pike
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Well, that was one heck of a ride!!
The 2020 NFL regular season came to an end on Sunday, and for 18 teams and fanbases, this is time for reflection. A time to wonder what went wrong, what could have been done differently, if a certain player, coach or front office employee would have been able to make a difference. Or simply; how can we make things right for next year?
For the 14 NFL teams lucky enough to be continuing their journey to the Super Bowl on February 7th, their plans are still firmly rooted in the 2020 season, however for the teams whose season ended on January 3, it is now time to think about next season. Their focus has shifted from contesting for the playoffs, to reshaping their roster so they are in the conversation for the postseason next year.
Now is time for the rest of the league to reflect. It is time to take out the magnifying glass out and evaluate where things went wrong for them in 2020. Is it a lack of younger talent? A lack of veteran leadership, poor coaching or is it something more than that?
For certain teams, specifically those who just missed out on the postseason, it is going to take a magnifying glass to identify the holes on their roster. The teams who finished either second or third in their respective divisions are usually further along in their development and are usually just a couple of pieces away from building a winner.
A great example of this is the Miami Dolphins, who were just one bad performance away from contesting in the postseason themselves. They don’t have many glaring weaknesses to address going into the offseason.
However, these aren’t the teams I want to look at in this series. It is the teams who finished at the bottom of their respective divisions which I want to evaluate going forward. The teams who ended the season as merely fodder for the big boys on their path to a padded record. The teams who have the highest mountain to climb if they hope to become the top dogs in their division once more. I wanted to ask the question and dive into which of the wooden spoon winners has the best chance to bounce back and go from worst to first.
It has happened before. It will happen again, and overall, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility for all of our bottom feeders to find themselves looking down from the top of the division next season. However, as we dive into this series, we will soon discover that not all NFL divisions are created equally, which makes the task of certain teams infinitely harder to pull a complete 180 on their fortunes and become the team to beat.
I will try and take into account everything when compiling this list to ensure I have left no stone unturned. For example, I will be looking at salary cap space going into the offseason, draft position and number of picks, current roster, coaching staff and strength of their opposition. So, without any further delay, let’s discover which bottom-dwelling team in the NFL has the best chance of winning their division next season.
We start with the AFC East and the New York Jets.
New York Jets
Projected Cap Space: $63 Million
Notable Draft Picks: 2nd overall, 27th overall, 34th overall
2020 Record: 2-14
Chance of winning the AFC East next season: Low
The New York Jets were a bad football team in 2020. There is no other way to put it. How bad were they? Well, when a fanbase of the team became irate because the team won two games in a row in week 15 and 16 costing them the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, you know you have problems. Maybe though, this team isn’t as terrible as we first thought they were?
Don’t get me wrong: their offense was appalling during the 2020 season. They finished dead last in total offense this year, they couldn’t move the ball either through the air or on the ground and their defense couldn’t stop anyone either. This team was abysmal. There were some positives that came from this season however, as some of the Jets younger players showcased their talents.
Mekhi Becton: the 11th overall pick from the 2020 NFL Draft looks like the real deal on the offensive line, as the enormous rookie was able to impress during his debut campaign for Gang Green. 2019 third overall pick Quinnen Williams also had an impressive season for the Jets in 2020. He was able to showcase some of the sheer dominance he became famous for at Alabama and has started to justify his lofty selection two years ago.
Even Sam Darnold, who has been anything but consistent during his three years in the league so far, was able to show improvements this year. The offense looked infinitely better with him under center towards the end of the season when he took over from elder statesman Joe Flacco.
Other notable players who made an impact for New York this year were a couple of wide receivers in Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman. They clearly elevated themselves from the rest of the pack at wideout and proved their worth for this team going forward. Denzel Mims also flashed his ability in limited chances throughout the 2020 campaign. So, there is clearly talent on this roster. Young talent who the front office and coaching staff will hope to continue their development moving forward.
Step 1: They must pick wisely in the 2021 NFL Draft
Reinforcements will also come in the form of the 2021 NFL draft class, as the Jets have the luxury of picking twice on day one of the draft. They pick second overall, before they are back on the clock later on with the (circa) 27th pick they acquired from Seattle in the Jamal Adams trade. The only round this team doesn’t have a pick in this year is the seventh, which all in all shouldn’t be a massive loss. Therefore, this team should be able to bolster their ranks going into the 2021 season.
Step 2: Spend wisely
They will also have cap space to burn as well, as they are projected to have around $63 million dollars to spend when the free agency window is open in March. If the Jets can use this cap space wisely, then they could improve their positions of needs, without tying themselves down to large, lengthy contracts going forward.
This should give them enough flexibility for when the aforementioned Becton, Williams and potentially Darnold require a payday down the road. Bringing in fresh talent is one thing, but it is a balancing act as you have to ensure that you leave yourself the room to hold onto the difference makers you already have on the books.
New York has the spending power to outbid most of their rivals during free agency, as well as multiple high draft picks to help improve this roster next year. So why have I graded their chances of winning the AFC East so low next year? To put it bluntly, the AFC East is no longer a cake walk.
Sizing up the competition
The Buffalo Bills have been on a meteoric rise the past two seasons, and this season they made the leap from a team on the rise to bonafide contenders mostly thanks to the play of MVP Candidate Josh Allen. A player ironically selected the same year as Jets quarterback Darnold. Allen’s improvements have taken the Bills from fringe contenders to one of the most potent teams in the league who on their day can beat just about anyone. Their offense is among one of the most explosive in all of football, with the likes of Stefon Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley running riot on the outside while their defense is anchored by Pro Bowler Tre'Davious White at the cornerback position.
It isn’t just the Bills who are a threat in the AFC East. The Miami Dolphins have taken enormous strides in the past two seasons. Going from the worst team in football to just missing out on the playoffs on the final day of the season. Miami, led by rookie Tua Tagovailoa, won 10 games this season and are just a couple of pieces away from being a true powerhouse in the AFC. Their defense is already among one of the best in the league, and along with two first round picks in April’s NFL draft, the future looks very bright in South Florida.
Even the Patriots aren’t to be taken lightly. Missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 is going to be a bitter pill for the organisation to swallow, and you better believe that Bill Belichick and co have big plans during the offseason to transform this team into a contender once more.
New England is projected to have even more spending power than the Jets, with the current figure standing around $58 million in cap space for next year, as well as a high selection from an organisation which has historically (although maybe not in recent years) been able to find playmakers wherever they find themselves picking during the draft. Injuries, COVID opt outs and historically bad quarterback play hindered the Patriots in 2020, but all of these issues should be addressed during the offseason making New England a force once more in the AFC.
The AFC East has gone from being a one team division to a gauntlet for the Jets to overcome, making the job of improving the roster enough to be contenders next season that much tougher for a team who already have a lot of holes to fill. The question now becomes which areas of need are the biggest priority for the Jets going into the offseason?
Step 3: Fire Adam Gase. Check!
Well first things first this team needs a new Head Coach. Adam Gase's reign of terror in New York has finally come to an end, and we all would like to personally thank him for his meme worthy tenure with Gang Green. Letting Gase go is the first positive step this team has taken this year, and hopefully for the sake of their fans’ sanity it is the first of many good moves during the offseason. The question now turns to who should be his successor when the 2021 campaign begins? Despite not being the most enticing of jobs from a roster standpoint, the HC job for the Jets might be one of the most hotly contested on the market.
No other team currently on the lookout for a new play caller has the sex appeal of the Jets. Purely as they are based in the City that Never Sleeps (well, technically it’s New Jersey, but it's close enough). Being able to coach in such a big market with the eyes of the media and expectations of a New York fan base is not an easy task however, and it will take a certain type of character with a thick skin to succeed in this job.
There is one man who comes to mind.
Step 4: Hire an agent of culture change as Head Coach
Robert Saleh: the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers in my opinion is the perfect man for the job in New York. Saleh will be coveted by many during the NFL’s “silly season” of coaches switching teams, but New York should have him firmly planted at the top of their list of candidates.
During his tenure with San Fran, he has helped to develop the 49ers into one of the most dominant defensive units in the league. Even this season with the plethora of injuries the Niners suffered throughout the season, Saleh was able to throw together a top 10 defense in the league. This speaks volumes of his creativity when you consider he was missing the likes of Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Ezekiel Ansah, Richard Sherman, Dee Ford and Jaquiski Tartt throughout the season.
Having so much talent in the trainer's room, and still managing to field a stifling defense is an amazing achievement to have on your resume, as well as the fact that just last season when he had all his toys to play with, San Francisco made the Super Bowl. Saleh has definitely put himself in a position to be one of the most sought-after coordinators in the league next year. It isn’t just his impressive feats that make him the man for the job in New York however. It is his mentality which sets him apart from others who could potentially take the helm at Metlife Stadium.
Saleh is one of the more animated coaches on the sideline in the league. When a call from one of the officials goes against them, you will often see him talking to the closest ref and contesting it.
That is exactly the type of energy this franchise needs, as far too often last year we would see Adam Gase simply not caring enough to challenge officials. That along with the internal strife in the locker room which was reported from multiple media sources throughout Gase’s time with the Jets all point to this team needing someone with some fire in their heart to take over. I believe that Saleh would bring the intensity this team desperately needs if they are to challenge their divisional rivals next year.
Then come questions of what the Jets will do at number two in the draft. This could be one of the most important decisions this franchise will make in decades, as there is a chance here for this organisation to set out their intentions for the next few years depending on which way they go with the pick.
Is picking at number two not so bad?
Throughout the 2020 season it was almost a lock that the Jets would be selecting Clemson Superstar Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in the draft. The Jets managed to win two games however, which cost the team the chance to select the highly touted quarterback from the Tigers. Now the question is who do they take at two? Or do they trade the pick and move back, acquiring more draft capital later in the draft, and in the future? There are so many directions New York could go in April. Although this might be more difficult than selecting Lawrence with the first pick, it might not be a bad thing.
The Jets could elect to select a player like Penei Sewell, who is the consensus top tackle prospect in the draft. In fact, he is being considered as one of the best left tackle prospects to come from the college ranks in years. By adding Sewell and sliding him or potentially Becton over to the right-hand side of the offensive line, the Jets could go into next season having two of the best young tackles in the l eague protecting Sam Darnold.
Popular opinion dictates that New York will take Justin Fields. Who despite not being an absolute sure thing like Lawrence, is a two-year starter for one of the best schools in the country and has done everything he possibly can this season to cement himself as the number two QB in this class. If the Jets take Fields, they will surely be moving on from Darnold and could use the youngster in trades to acquire more talent to build around the Ohio State star.
Or the Jets could use other teams’ desperation against them and trade away the second overall pick. This option has been gathering some steam in the media in recent weeks. Ever since the Jacksonville Jaguars were confirmed to be picking number one. If the Jets can work out a deal with another quarterback needy team picking later in the top ten (the Falcons, Lions and Broncos come to mind) then they could add even more assets to their war chest, and potentially add more pieces to the puzzle later on in the draft.
There are so many different ways that the Jets could go this Spring in terms of shaping their roster, and each of these options would be extremely intriguing to see play out. Regardless of which direction New York decides to go during the offseason, it will be fascinating to see what this franchise is going to look like six months from now. But will they be able to make enough changes to put themselves into the conversation for an AFC East title next year?
There is simply too much to do for this team to overhaul their rivals inside their own division. The Buffalo Bills look like a legitimate force for years to come. The Miami Dolphins are on the rise, and the New England Patriots should return to winning ways next season if they can address their issues during the Spring. Not even taking into account their division now being one of the most competitive in football, there are simply too many areas that the New York Jets need to improve to even think about contending for a long time.
Therefore, with all things considered, I see the Jets as being an exciting team to watch during Free Agency and in the build up to the 2021 NFL draft. As far as their chances of winning a divisional championship any time soon? I doubt it.
One thing is for sure though: by next Summer when training camps are about to begin, everyone will be talking about the J.E.T.S, Jets, Jets, Jets!!
So do you believe the Jets can mount a challenge on the AFC East in 2021? Which other teams stand a chance of going from worst to first? Let us know on Twitter or join our group on Facebook and start the debate!