FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets desperately need an edge rusher, but they took a hard pass on one of the league’s most productive sack artists, Yannick Ngakoue, who was traded over the weekend at a marked-down price.
A little over a month ago, the Jets traded star safety Jamal Adams instead of satisfying his contract demands. They got plenty in return, including first-round picks in 2021 and 2022, but the current team got worse.
On the surface, the Jets appear to be kissing off the 2020 season. It has to be maddening for a fan base that is tired of waiting for “next year,” but this has to be viewed through a wide-angle lens. Patience is required. It’s not fun, not after four straight losing seasons, but Jets general manager Joe Douglas deserves a chance to implement his plan.
Hired 15 months ago, Douglas inherited one of the league’s worst rosters, which is why he demanded a six-year contract. He knew it would take time to build it correctly. Though highly regarded in league circles, he has no track record for this sort of thing, so there’s an element of blind faith. That said, he already has demonstrated a savvy for the job with some of his moves and he is better positioned to succeed than his predecessors.
John Idzik (Jets’ GM from 2013 through 2014) tried to the slow-build approach, too, one that included an Adams-like trade (cornerback Darrelle Revis), but his drafts were terrible and his strained relationship with coach Rex Ryan created a toxic atmosphere.
In came Mike Maccagnan, who tried the quick-fix. It damn near worked in 2015, as the Jets (10-6) almost made the playoffs, but his Band-Aids didn’t last. (That’s why they’re Band-Aids.) He spent big money, right up until the bitter end, but the result was three straight last-place finishes in the AFC East.
So now they’re back to the conservative approach with Douglas, who spent cautiously in free agency because his objective is to build through the draft — one of the few methods in the NFL that never goes out of style. Those familiar with his thinking say he will pivot — i.e. make a bold move — if he smells an opportunity. Evidently, he felt Ngakoue, despite his 37.5 sacks in four seasons, didn’t fall into that category.
It was a good non-move.
While Ngakoue looks to be a terrific fit for the Minnesota Vikings, a 2019 playoff team with designs on a Super Bowl, he wasn’t going to be the proverbial “final piece” for the Jets. Truth is, the Jets need a lot of final pieces on both sides of the ball.
The compensation for Ngakoue was a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 fifth-rounder, close to what the Jets received in the Leonard Williams trade with the New York Giants. (The Jets wound up with a high three and a 2021 fifth-round pick for Williams.) Ngakoue is a better player than Williams, so why didn’t the Jets pursue a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars?
While some felt Ngakoue wasn’t a good fit in coordinator Gregg Williams’ scheme, the prevailing reason is because the Jets didn’t want to part with draft capital for a potential one-year rental — that, and the actual price tag.
Because of the franchise tag, Ngakoue can’t sign an extension until after the season. That would have been risky. Plus, there’s no guarantee he would’ve given the same discount to the Jets as he did for the Vikings — nearly a $6 million pay cut on his $17.8 million tag amount. That’s how badly he wanted to get out of Jacksonville and play for a winner. Douglas wasn’t about to dole out $12 million (or more) for a player who didn’t put him over the top.
That also applies to why the Jets are not showing any interest in Jadeveon Clowney, who, as a free agent, would cost straight cash, no draft picks. He would make the Jets’ front seven better, but Douglas isn’t an impulse shopper.
Clearly, Douglas is looking beyond this season. He’s gearing up for 2021, with five picks in the first three rounds (including two in the first round). That’s his nest egg; that has to be his watershed draft.
Douglas also will have financial flexibility in ’21, bolstered by unused cap space from this year. The carryover will be invaluable, especially since the cap could be reduced in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic-induced shortfall in league revenue. Currently, the Jets have $34.1 million in cap room, per Over the Cap. (Interestingly, the New England Patriots have the same amount.) While some teams will be dumping salary next year to get under a reduced cap, the Jets can be active shoppers.
Douglas has a good plan. Though he hasn’t said so publicly, his recent moves (and non-moves) suggest he is asking for patience. The fan base has no choice but to trust him and hope he does a better job than those who came before him.