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Future of the Jets: Community Tailgate

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After Aaron Rodgers spent months attempting to come back from an Achilles tear earlier than anyone before him, the lofty goal of returning this season proved unreachable. The Jets activated their preferred starter from IR, and while Rodgers can keep practicing to close out the season, his next game opportunity will come in 2024.

Rodgers said following his darkness-retreat excursion this winter he was “90% retired,” but the future Hall of Fame quarterback has changed his tune since joining the Jets. Turning 40 earlier this month, Rodgers now hopes to play two more seasons. Having planned a two-year run with the Jets, the four-time MVP is planning to start that clock in 2024 — after this lost season ended four plays in. The Jets’ outlook changed at that point as well.

Pivoting back to Zach Wilson, the Jets saw their season resemble a 2022 campaign that became defined by a losing streak. The Jets tumbled out of playoff contention, partially contributing to the call to shut down Rodgers, and have now started four quarterbacks in at least two games. The team’s playoff drought doubles the longest current regular-season-only streak in the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL.

Robert Saleh will soon become the rare coach to receive a fourth season after starting his tenure with three consecutive sub-.500 showings, with Woody Johnson confirming he and fifth-year GM Joe Douglas will be given a mulligan and return in 2024. With Rodgers given significant say in organizational decisions, his recent endorsement — and rumors leading up to it — pointed to Johnson sticking with the embattled HC-GM duo. While Johnson did not mention OC Nathaniel Hackett last week, Rodgers being a long-running supporter of the struggling coordinator — after a three-year Packers partnership — looks to count for the most at this point.

Saleh still will be joining a select few in being retained after three consecutive sub-.500 seasons. Not counting interim coaches, 152 HCs have been hired since 2000. Only five have managed to last into Year 4 without a .500 season in their first three years. Here is that short list:

  • Dom Capers, Houston Texans (2002-05)
  • Mike Nolan, San Francisco 49ers (2005-08)
  • Jeff Fisher, St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams (2012-16)
  • Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars (2013-16)
  • Jon Gruden, Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders (2018-21)

Even going back to the start of the free agency era in 1993, which seems like a decent line of demarcation for modern hiring practices, only one other HC qualifies for this exclusive club. The Bengals gave ex-Jets HC Bruce Coslet a fourth season in charge in 2000, but his three straight losing slates came after a 7-2 mark as a 1996 interim hire. No other coaches hired from 1993-99 meet the criteria, putting Saleh (and the Falcons’ Arthur Smith, should the 7-8 Falcons lose once more and he survives) in rare territory.

For all the Wilson drama to take place during Saleh’s tenure, the former 49ers DC has turned around the Jets’ defense. The team ranked last nearly across the board on that side of the ball in Saleh’s first year. By 2022, the unit had rocketed to fourth place in scoring and total defense. This season’s group has not been quite as good, sitting 16th in points allowed and seventh in total defense (but third in DVOA entering Week 17). Saleh’s defensive chops and Douglas’ ability to provide sufficient pieces — though, predecessor Mike Maccagnan brought in top front-seven pieces C.J. Mosley and Quinnen Williams — have been on display over the past two seasons.

Still, this year has brought a new chapter of Jets drama. Rodgers’ weekly spot on the Pat McAfee Show featured countless updates on a rehab effort that fell short, with the future Hall of Famer’s comments continually forcing Saleh to address various remarks. Rodgers also criticized the team’s culture after The Athletic’s report that indicated Wilson was hesitant to reclaim the starting role. Saleh pushed back on Rodgers’ criticism but also said he always believed Wilson was the team’s best QB option, even as he turned to the since-cut Tim Boyle for two games.

Wilson’s presence has largely defined Saleh’s tenure. The bust-in-progress is 12-21 as a starter and has been benched regularly since November 2022. The Jets handing the former No. 2 overall pick the backup job, while attempting an unusual redevelopment effort, turned out to be a mistake. But the team compounded the error by refusing to bring in a quarterback capable of unseating Wilson once Rodgers went down. Months later, the Jets rank last in offensive DVOA.

A September report pegged ownership as being behind the failure to seek a true Wilson upgrade, which led to the Trevor Siemian practice squad addition. Another report indicated the Jets did not want to add a starter-caliber veteran due to the effect it would have on Wilson. While Wilson is not expected to be part of the 2024 Jets, his three-season tenure — one Douglas greenlit despite the BYU alum’s unusual prospect profile — has been a low point in franchise history.

After another round of ongoing drama and offensive woes, the Jets will bank on a 40-year-old Rodgers bailing them out on the heels of the most significant injury of his career. Considering the ex-Packers (Hackett included) the team brought in this year, it should again be expected Rodgers will have significant personnel sway. Will that be a wise move for the Jets? Weigh in with your thoughts on Jets ownership’s decision to retain its current setup in PFR’s latest Community Tailgate.

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