New York Jets fans are used to looking ahead to next year by this point in the season, seeing as the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016.
With the Jets currently sitting at 4-10, dead last in the AFC East, with two games remaining in the season, it’s as good a time as ever to look forward to the offseason and address the five things the team must do to improve for next season.
1. Figure out the QB situation
Figuring out the quarterback situation is the team’s obvious first step heading into the offseason.
It’s highly unlikely that Ryan Fitzpatrick (56.8 percent completions, 10 TD, 15 INT) will be on the Jets’ roster come week one of the 2017 season.
With Fitzpatrick out of the picture, Gang Green must figure out if the two young quarterbacks on the roster, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, have a future on the team. Petty, a 2015 fourth round draft choice, has played in five games this season (57.7 percent completions, 3 TD, 6 INT) after not seeing the field in his first year in the league last season. Hackenberg, a 2016 second round pick, has not played this season in his first year in the NFL.
Petty, albeit a limited sample size, has shown some flashes of promise at times, while at other times he’s looked lost in the pocket, as if the game at this level is moving too fast for him. I’m not ready to give up completely on Petty just yet, but I’m also not ready to dedicate the future to his development either. As for Hackenberg, there’s no way of knowing his future in the NFL until he steps into the huddle in an actual game.
The chances of signing a free agent quarterback are unlikely, considering the Jets are already slated to be over the cap for 2017 as it is. That leaves one more option, drafting a quarterback, if Mike Maccagnan and the front office decide to pursue another option outside of Petty and Hackenberg.
I doubt many fans are keen on the idea of drafting another quarterback and once again starting from scratch, but it might be the Jets best option at this point. The team is reportedly high on North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky, although he’s delaying his decision about the NFL draft until after the Tar Heels play Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl on Dec. 28.
2. Rebuild the offensive line
As the Jets figure out who their starting quarterback will be in 2017, they must also rebuild the offensive line tasked with protecting that quarterback.
The resurgence of the Raiders and Cowboys has proven, teams can’t win in the NFL without a strong offensive line.
If young quarterbacks like Petty are going to get a fair shake to prove what they can do in the NFL, they have to be adequately protected and have time to throw in the pocket.
Petty was beat up in last week’s loss to Miami, as Dolphins’ pass rushers ran free at Petty with little resistance from the human turnstyles known as Brian Winters and Ben Ijalana.
3. Improve the secondary
What was at one time a cornerstone of one of the NFL’s top defenses, the Jets’ secondary has fallen off the pace in recent years. Cornerback Darrelle Revis isn’t the shutdown corner in single coverage he once was, and if head coach Todd Bowles is going to play his blitzing style of defense, he needs corners who can play single coverage.
The 2017 draft is rich in talent on the defensive side of the ball, and a guy like Iowa cornerback Desmond King could be an attractive name for the Jets.
4. Move on from Sheldon Richardson
As a current Mizzou Tiger and owner of a Sheldon Richardson jersey, it’s tough for me to admit it, but the Jets need to move on from Sheldon Richardson. The team reportedly tried to deal Richardson to the Cowboys earlier in the season, but no deal got done before the NFL’s trade deadline.
Richardson appears to be the odd man out on a defensive line that also features Muhammad Wilkerson, who inked a long-term deal this past offseason, and Leonard Williams, the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Bowles has made an effort to use the three players together on the field at the same time, but so far that experiment hasn’t worked.
Richardson is under contract for next season and I don’t see Gang Green making the decision to cut him, but he could be an attractive name on the trade market this offseason. He’s a modest $8 million cap hit for 2017 and there’s no doubt about the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year’s talent.
The issue other teams might have with trading for Richardson is his off the field issues. He was suspended for the first four games of the season last year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, and he was suspended one game this season for a street racing incident. Teams might be hesitant to take on a player who, at only 26, has already been suspended twice.
5. Consider Todd Bowles’ future
I’m not advocating that owner Woody Johnson think about firing Bowles after only two seasons, but Johnson does need to consider where Bowles’ job stands heading into the 2017 season.
The Jets have had a disappointing 2016 campaign and they will head into the offseason without a playoff appearance since 2010. New York fans get restless quickly when their teams don’t make the playoffs, and fans will need to see improvement next year over this season’s record if Bowles wants to remain with the Jets long term.
Unfortunately for Bowles, the road doesn’t get easier in 2017 as Gang Green is scheduled to face the up-and-coming NFC South, and one of the best divisions in football, the AFC North. With the current quarterback situation a mess, 4-12 or 5-11 is a real possibility next season, and that could spell the end of the road for Bowles.