Joe Douglas’ message to returning New York Jets? “Prove It”

Joe Douglas’ first full offseason has brought back some familiar faces to the New York Jets. Now, the message is clear: prove you belong.

It’s a tale as old as time: new management takes over a project and changes things to how they see fit. Veterans of the organization in question are often labeled expendable, their years of service only working against them. After all, it was probably their actions that led to the necessity of a new overseer in the first place.

The New York Jets were indeed an organization in need of a makeover. Their playoff drought is nearing a decade and their collective record under the watch of Mike Maccagnan (31-49) was better than only four teams. The midsummer timing of Maccagnan’s eventual ousting could be questioned, but the decision to do so was not. In his place came Joe Douglas, a member of the front office that finally brought a Super Bowl to Philadelphia.

This most unusual offseason is Douglas’ first at the helm and he has had no qualms about changing the scenery. Several Maccagnan staples have been bid farewell, be it through expiring contracts (Brandon Shell, Brandon Copeland) or cap-freeing releases (Trumaine Johnson, Darryl Roberts). His additions have been a stark reminder that these aren’t your father’s Jets or your older sibling’s Jets. Heck, they might not even be your twin sibling’s Jets at this rate.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 08: General Manager Joe Douglas of the New York Jets in action against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium on September 8, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

Contrasting Maccagnan’s negligence of blocking (i.e. one offensive lineman chosen in the draft’s first three rounds), Douglas has added offensive linemen from elsewhere during the first week of free agency. Sam Darnold and Le’Veon Bell, the supposed franchise saviors, are going to need some help to benefit the Jets in the long-term. The plan is for Connor McGovern, George Fant, and Greg Van Roten to provide that assistance over the next several seasons, evidenced by the multi-year deals offered to them.

But also along for the ride are several familiar faces. The offensive line renovations were completed by adding August acquisition Alex Lewis back on a three-year deal. Such a move was necessitated by the dire need for protection. That’s not the case for several other returnees and newcomers, who have their New York stays extended, by only a short while.

Cornerback Pierre Desir wasn’t on the unemployment line for long, granted a one-year deal by Douglas less than 24 hours after his release from Indianapolis. Joining him in the secondary will be one-year extension receivers Brian Poole and Arthur Maulet, each of whom provided bright spots where the overpaid Johnson could not.

The Jets undoubtedly hope C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson (the latter of whom appears to be staying despite a possible release saving $6.5 million) stay healthy but they were impressed enough by Neville Hewitt and James Burgess’ exploits in substitution to offer matching one-year invitations to stay. Jordan Jenkins seemed to be a goner at the start of the offseason but the Jets began the week with yet another one-year deal, bringing back the starting linebacker on a bargain of $5 million after he posted a career-best eight sacks.

Any veteran Jet asked by Douglas to stay shouldn’t take the honor lightly. Douglas, after all, was the same general manager who dealt Maccagnan’s first-ever draft pick (Leonard Williams) further down the MetLife Stadium tunnel to the Giants just over a quarter of a year into his tenure.

Douglas saw value in these remnants of Maccagnan, outliers that could further flourish with the proper support around them. But with the summoning back comes a stern message: prove it.

Those who earned one-year deals have proven themselves valuable during relatively hopeless times for the Jets. Over the past two seasons, the Jets haven’t even come close to reaching the playoffs. These players have provided a glimmer hope in the dark times, even if victory wasn’t always to be.

With the long-term blocking additions, ones that are expected to accentuate the performances of their backfield mavens, this latest iteration of Jets’ neverending rebuild is perhaps the most hopeful rendition yet. That hope only grows with the unveiling of an additional wild card slot to the NFL playoff system.

What Douglas has done with these one-year deals is offer a tryout period. With prosperous times possibly ahead (with good times potentially rolling soon upon Tom Brady’s New England and AFC departure) and big contracts likely due to franchise pillars soon (i.e. Darnold and Jamal Adams), Douglas’ offer comes with an intriguing ultimatum: you’ve been here for the bad times, now prove you’re worthy of sticking around for the good.

The case of Desir defines Douglas’ offer and ultimatum perfectly. Desir has accomplished a lot in the pros. The ex-Colt has risen from his Division II origins to become a reliable corner. It was he, after all, who kept DeAndre Hopkins from swaying the 2019 AFC Wild Card playoffs (Hopkins put up a mere 37 yards on five receptions as his Texans fell 21-7 to Desir’s Colts). But he has to earn his spot in this potential revolution of New York football. A long-term deal could well be in the cards, but he must first earn it in 2020.

The one-year men aren’t the only ones in this position. Projected 2021 free agents include Williamson, Brian Winters, and Marcus Maye, all of whom have put in consistent time for the organization. They too must prove that they are part of the team’s long-term plans. Otherwise, they could be looking for new settings.

It’s been a long, long time since the Jets have engaged in playoff football. But under the Douglas regime…some players, ones with the potential to be key contributors for years to come…every week now becomes a personal postseason.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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