The New York Jets are obviously tanking the 2017 season.
We knew this was coming. The Jets knew this was coming. A cursory retrospective analysis of the 2015 Jets—who, inexplicably, posted a 10-6 record and controlled their postseason destiny until the final whistle of Week 17—reveals a crumbling foundation of bad contracts, rapidly-aging veterans and soon-to-be free agents.
Predictably, the entire house caved in one year later. D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who missed exactly one offensive snap over the course of his 10-year career, retired abruptly. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played well enough in 2015 to actually demand a mid-tier quarterback salary, regressed to his wholly below-average 2008-14 form. Darrelle Revis, who signed a five-year, $70 million contract in 2015 at age 30 (absolutely, 100 percent no risk involved in this signing), forgot how to play football entirely. Eric Decker was injured for the majority of the season. He now plays for the Titans. Brandon Marshall, when he wasn’t squabbling with Sheldon Richardson, was posting some of the worst numbers of his professional career. He now plays for the Giants, following in the footsteps of Damon Harrison. The Jets finished the 2016 season with a 5-11 record.
In addition to cutting ties with Marshall and Decker this offseason, the Jets also released Nick Mangold (one of the league’s best centers of the past decade) and Davis Harris (the last remaining effective relic from the Rex Ryan-coached Jets that reached back-to-back AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010). Hilariously, the Patriots, the Jets’ longstanding daddies, immediately signed Harris, ensuring that Jets fans will be able to see their persistent defensive stalwart receive Pro Bowl honors and possibly a Super Bowl ring.
And it gets worse! Richardson, who is debatably the best player on the roster, will be a free agent this offseason, meaning the Jets can either A) re-sign him to an $18 million per year contract, pairing him Muhammad Wilkerson, who already makes $17 million per year, and Leonard Williams, who is two years away from making $18 million per year or B) let him walk away for nothing.
Regardless of how this situation plays out, the Jets can at least luxuriate in a stable defensive line. Their quarterback situation, however, enjoys no such opulence. This particular group is led by perennial Dolph Lundgren lookalike winner Josh McCown, who was undoubtedly signed this offseason to serve as a one-year fill-in while the team wisely reevaluates Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. Not that the quarterback even matters. Allow me to present the smoldering ruins that is the New York Jets’ receiving corps:
Robby Anderson, Jalin Marshall, Deshon Foxx, Frankie Hammond, Chad Hansen, Chris Harper, Gabe Marks, Charone Peake, ArDarius Stewart, Myles White, Lucky Whitehead and Marquess Wilson. I swear to God that I did not make any of those names up.
For context, the Jets passing attack finished no. 27 in the NFL last season, and this group makes that squad look like the 2007 Patriots. Maybe Hackenberg and Anderson really do transform into the next Roethlisberger and Brown, but I would not bet on it.
Speaking of Roethlisberger and Brown, the Pittsburgh Steelers have developed somewhat of a penchant for grooming game-ready wide receivers. If only they could somehow leverage the Jets’ glaring need for a receiver to their own benefit.
(I’m going to preface the rest of this with this: I know full well that none of the following scenarios would ever transpire. But, it’s the preseason, so why not have fun with it, right?)
Let’s start with a pretty extreme hypothetical: would you, the fictional general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers, trade, say, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and some mid-round picks for the Jets’ first-round pick this season?
Let’s deconstruct this. Bell’s contract expires after this season, yes, but if his professional motivations are purely financial, he won’t land in a better spot than New York, who can essentially hand him a blank check. Bryant, thanks to a yearlong suspension in 2016, is under team control for another two seasons and is still only 25. The off-field risks are evident, but he has demonstrated that he has no. 1 stuff. Both players could be excellent building blocks for a team totally devoid of offensive talent.
The Steelers, meanwhile, would receive a draft pick that will almost assuredly be the first overall (I am 26 years old, and the Jets’ roster in its current form is the worst professional football roster I have ever seen). With Ben Roethlisberger taking his professional career on a season-by-season basis, wouldn’t it be worth it to make a blockbuster trade to acquire the draft rights to Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen or another franchise-caliber quarterback? Remember, Hackenberg was a second-round pick (~laughs for 15 uninterrupted minutes~), so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the Jets to drag that experiment out for an additional year, especially if Hackenberg actually has some weapons in place.
More realistically, could it be prudent for the Steelers to attempt to flip one of their current depth receivers for a draft pick? Sammie Coates, for instance, could net the Steelers some kind of return, presumably (Coates would easily be the best receiver on the Jets). The same is true for Eli Rogers. Probably also for Justin Hunter, who the Steelers likely did not intend to make the roster, anyway.
Of course, none of this will happen. The Jets will finish 0-16, draft Darnold or Rosen, and proceed to finish 4-12 for the next four or five seasons. The Steelers will retain their current core and spend each offseason praying the Ben returns for another year.
But in an alternate universe, some moving and shaking sure would be interesting.