During Robert Saleh’s introductory press conference with the Jets in 2021, he told reporters and fans, “We challenge everybody to really judge us moving forward.”
I asked Saleh about those exact words last month, a day after the Jets finished 7-10 for the second consecutive season.
“I’ll leave that for you guys,” Saleh said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of frustration. We felt good about taking that next step this year.
“We’ve gotten better each year. Obviously, the record was the same as last year, but I guess I’ll leave it to you guys.”
Saleh clearly didn’t appreciate the question. Nor did he likely enjoy when I asked him if he was worried about his job status following the 34-13 loss to the Dolphins on Black Friday.
Little did I know, Saleh had already received word from owner Woody Johnson that he, general manager Joe Douglas, and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett would return for the 2024 season. Because they received a mulligan following Aaron Rodgers’ Week 1 Achilles tear, the pressure is on Saleh, Douglas, and Hackett to deliver this offseason.
A year ago, it was clear the Jets were willing to sell their souls to acquire Rodgers in a trade with the Packers by any means necessary and they eventually did. They catered to Rodgers, who was not yet on the team, by hiring Hackett to be their offensive coordinator after the Broncos fired him following his lone 4-11 season in 2022.
The Jets moved on from Mike LaFleur, hoping to improve their offense from 25th in yards (318.2 per game) and 29th in scoring (17.4). In 2023, Gang Green’s offense was somehow worse under Hackett after finishing 31st in yards (268.6) and 29th in points per game (15.8).
Douglas also gave wide receiver Allen Lazard a four-year, $44 million contract because they wanted Rodgers to have a familiar face to throw to. His signing was a complete disaster after he finished with 23 receptions for 311 yards and one touchdown. Lazard fell out of favor so much with the coaching staff that Saleh is already counting the days until the Jets can release Lazard.
“There are things that we all need to get better at, including him,” Saleh said after making Lazard inactive during the Nov. 24 loss to the Dolphins. “He is going to be here for the next year-and-a-half.”
In addition to Hackett and Lazard, the Jets also signed backup quarterback Tim Boyle and wide receiver Randall Cobb. Should the Jets continue to give Rodgers what he wants? Yes, but they have to spend their money cautiously this offseason.
Heading into free agency, which will begin on March 13, the Jets have $4.9 million of salary cap space. Obviously, to fill the team’s needs and sign their 2024 draft class, the Jets will need a lot more money than that.
According to Over the Cap, the Jets can have up to $79 million of salary cap spending with the maximum restructuring. That could restructuring the contracts of guard Laken Tomlinson (base salary of $12.6 million in 2024) and defensive end John Franklin-Myers ($13.3 million).
The Jets went all-in last season to acquire Rodgers. Now it’s put up or shut up time. During his three seasons with the Jets, Saleh has an 18-33 record.
The Jets haven’t had a winning season since 2015 and haven’t made the playoffs since 2010. Not many regimes would be able to draft a quarterback [Zach Wilson] who was a bust at second overall in 2021, have three straight losing seasons and still keep their job.
Last week, the Jets and assistant general manager Rex Hogan mutually parted ways after five years. According to sources, Hogan’s departure came after the conclusion of the 2023 season. However, the news broke the week of the Senior Bowl.
That puts even more pressure on Saleh, Douglas, and Hackett because Hogan oversaw the college and pro scouting departments. Hogan also worked on personnel evaluations.
The Jets were dealt an unfortunate hand in 2023 by losing Rodgers for the entire season. But they also put all their eggs into the Rodgers’ basket, a luxury they will not have in 2024.
Saleh, Douglas, and Hackett can’t totally rely on a 40-year-old Rodgers coming off an Achilles injury to be the only spark for their offense. That’s why the Jets need to sign or draft another playmaking wide receiver.
Gang Green also needs to solidify an offensive line that’s seen more changes than the air fresheners in my house. More importantly, the Jets need a veteran backup in case Rodgers gets hurt again.
After the 2022 season-opening loss to the Ravens, Saleh said he was keeping receipts of people continuously mocking the Jets and would share them when “it’s all said and done.”
Saleh can keep all the receipts he wants, but the NFL is a results-based business. It remains to be seen if the Saleh/Jets marriage will work to this point.
Because of that, it’s playoffs or bust next year for the Jets regime.
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