With the upcoming departure of wide receiver Eric Decker and the release of long-time linebacker David Harris, it is clear the New York Jets are in a nose dive straight towards rebuilding mode, whether that was on purpose or not. The team will likely have journeyman Josh McCown starting at quarterback to start the season, an unproven number one receiver in Quincy Enunwa, an offensive line that profootballtalk.com ranked 21st in the league and a defense with five new starters.
So where do they go from here?
If there is any team that epitomizes the rebuilding process in the NFL, it’s the Seattle Seahawks. After losing to the Steelers in Super Bowl 40 in 2006, Seattle enjoyed two more winning seasons before falling to 4-12 in 2008. Just four years after that, the Seahawks were back in the playoffs and a year removed from blowing out the Broncos in Super Bowl 48.
They accomplished this by focusing on building around physicality and depth, particularly on defense and offensive line. In 2010, they drafted safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, receiver Golden Tate, cornerback Walter Thurmond and traded for Marshawn Lynch. Over the next two years, they added Richard Sherman, linebackers K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin along with the cornerstone of their franchise Russell Wilson. In 2013, the team recognized they were primed for a Super Bowl run and added free agents Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and traded for Percy Harvin for multiple draft picks. While the Harvin trade may not have panned out as much as the Seahawks had hoped, it was a clear departure from building via the draft after years of doing so.
So how do the Jets emulate this process? Well luckily for them, and likely the reason they didn’t draft one this year, next year’s draft is loaded at the quarterback position. The Seahawks showed how much flexibility a team is given when they have a franchise quarterback at a discounted price. USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Heisman winner Lamar Jackson are all projected to be first or second round picks by most draft experts. While spending a high draft pick on a quarterback isn’t exactly what the Seahawks did, expecting to find a franchise quarterback in the mid-rounds a la Dak Prescott is far riskier.
The Jets also have to gain as many draft picks as possible as there is safety in numbers; the more draft picks you have, the higher chance you find value in the later rounds. This is much easier said than done but luckily for the Jets they have a piece in Sheldon Richardson who has had character concerns and is scheduled to become a free agent after this season. Contenders like the Falcons, Cowboys, and Broncos could all trade for him if they felt he would help in a Super Bowl run.
The Browns have also shown that selling off current draft picks can lead to having a plethora of mid-round picks later on as they drafted 14 players in 2016 and 10 in 2017, including three first round picks.
If the Jets follow this practice, they have to focus most of their picks on the offensive line and secondary. The two most important things in today’s NFL is being able to pass and defend against it. The Jets are luckily ahead of the curve as their defensive line is one of the league’s better ones and with the selection of Jamal Adams in the first round, they’re already starting to build a better secondary. If Morris Claiborne can prove himself on his one-year deal that would leave New York with another key building piece.
The offensive line is the Jets’ biggest concern behind the quarterback. Guard James Carpenter saw a career revival of sorts in New York but the rest of the line can be improved on. This is why it’s important for the Jets to build up mid-round picks as offensive tackle is consistently in the top five in most players selected in the draft showing it is one of the deepest positions every year.
Once this foundation is laid down, the Jets can afford to dish out money for free agents at the skill positions on offense and linebackers to shore up their defense. Obviously, all of this is contingent on drafting well but the good news for the Jets is general manager Mike Maccagnan has a history of drafting well. He was the director of college scouting in Houston when they drafted Jadeveon Clowney, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt and Mario Williams.
The key to this blueprint is patience from ownership as it takes a few years to work out and constant turnover in the front office and the sidelines is the without a doubt the biggest wrench that could be thrown into these plans. Should stability be maintained and this blueprint is followed, the Jets could return to contention for the first time since 2010.