2017 NFL Preview: The tanking Jets are even worse than the Browns

Shutdown Corner is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2017 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 2, the day before the Hall of Fame Game kicks off the preseason. 

At least the New York Jets have a plan. It’s “The Sham for Sam,” or whatever clever nickname you have for tanking to draft USC quarterback Sam Darnold next April.

When a team bottoms out, it usually doesn’t happen this fast. There are signs of erosion, a slow decline to the bottom, then a tough decision to rebuild. Not for the Jets. The fall was steep and sudden.

The Jets spent big in 2015, with $168 million going to five free agents. They finished 10-6 in coach Todd Bowles’ first season. One year ago, they were considered playoff contenders.

A horrendous season later, the Jets look like the worst team in football. They’ve embraced it.

The Jets have stripped down the franchise to an embarrassing level. Veterans Ryan Fitzpatrick, Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall, Nick Mangold, Ryan Clady, Calvin Pryor, David Harris and Eric Decker are all gone from last year’s roster. The latter two were cut in June, which made clear what the Jets thought of their chances this season. Taken individually, each move made sense. Those vets weren’t worth their contracts anymore, or had simply run their course with the organization. Put together, it seems like there’s a plan. Even owner Woody Johnson asked fans to not judge the team on wins and losses, but “how we improve during the year.” Everyone knows.

If the term “tanking” seems extreme, we’ll just call it an extreme teardown. Whatever it is, it’s smart. The Jets understood they weren’t going to sniff the playoffs in 2017 so they weren’t going to spend a lot of money to make a run at seven wins. If a brutal 2017 leads to them getting the first pick and drafting the franchise quarterback that has eluded them forever, it’s worth a bad few months.

And make no mistake, it’s going to be bad. Even the 1-15 Cleveland Browns have more to look forward to this season.

The Jets’ quarterback situation is really scary. There aren’t many decent players for the quarterbacks to throw to anyway. The defensive line should be good, but the rest of the defense is iffy. There isn’t a proven edge rusher and cornerback is a concern, which is a bad combination. A lot of young players will play out of necessity, and a few will presumably emerge and become a part of the team’s long-term plans. But the Jets didn’t strip the roster because they had a ton of great young prospects ready to step up. They just swallowed hard and punted 2017. At least they’re not trying to fool anyone.

The Jets will be bad. Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan will be on very hot seats. Hope resides in players who will be on college fields this fall. Maybe the Jets land Darnold, or by then Wyoming’s Josh Allen or UCLA’s Josh Rosen will be the best quarterback in the draft. One of them could provide optimism for 2018 and beyond. But it’ll be a while before the Jets are considered playoff contenders again.

Coach Todd Bowles and the Jets look like they’re in for a long season. (AP)

The Jets gave out a little more than $34 million guaranteed to sign tackle Kelvin Beachum away from the Jacksonville Jaguars and retain tackle Benjamin Ijalana. And that was about it. The Jets tried to get linebacker Dont’a Hightower but Hightower returned to the New England Patriots. The Jets did pick up quarterback Josh McCown for $6 million and cornerback Morris Claiborne for $5 million on one-year deals, so they can still resemble an NFL team. Their draft started very well with LSU safety Jamal Adams in the first round, though it seemed odd to double up at safety with Marcus Maye in the second round. Not many teams start rebuilding jobs with two safeties. Maybe all the veterans who were let go were past their primes, and the Jets’ strategy is understandable, but it’s still a lot of production out the door. Grade: F

Ratings for USC games on Saturdays this fall should see a healthy increase in the New York market. Jets fans can pass the time this fall watching Sam Darnold YouTube highlights on a loop.

Sheldon Richardson, an unrestricted free agent after the season, had just 1.5 sacks in 2016 coming off a broken leg. Muhammad Wilkerson signed a huge contract extension last year, played poorly and the Jets could decide to move on next offseason (and avoid a stunning $20 million cap hit in 2018) if he plays poorly again. Both were benched for the first quarter of a game last season for being late to meetings, so they weren’t just disappointing on the field. The strength of the Jets, on paper, is the defensive line. But it’s not much of a strength if the Jets can’t trust Richardson and Wilkerson. It would be tough for the Jets to move on from either, or both, next offseason.

The Christian Hackenberg pick last year was strange. He was selected in the second round, when his inaccuracy and general poor play his final two Penn State seasons made him look more like a late-round developmental pick. Hackenberg was bad last preseason, then didn’t take a snap in the regular season even though the Jets were completely out of the playoff race. Reports on him this offseason haven’t been glowing either. An actual NFL general manager thought Hackenberg was worth a second-round pick, so maybe he’ll surprise us this season. But if ancient McCown is starting all year for a team in an obvious rebuild, it says everything you need to know about Hackenberg’s future with the Jets.

The Jets need something to feel good about going forward, so any progress by young players will be celebrated. Receiver Quincy Enunwa has a great chance to establish himself as one of the Jets’ core players. He’s only 25, and will be the de facto No. 1 receiver after the team dumped Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The big target had 58 catches for 857 yards in a surprising 2016 season. It would be great news if Enunwa established himself as a reliable option for whoever the Jets’ quarterback will be in 2018.

From Yahoo’s Brad Evans: “Lordy do I love me some Bilal Powell! Last year when finally thrust into a three-down role Week 14, he finished with the second-most valuable line during the fantasy playoffs (5.0 ypc, 138.0 total yards per game, 3 TDs). Digging deeper, he also compiled 14 missed tackles and a 3.2 YAC over that four-game span.

“My best guess is offensive coordinator John Morton installs a 60-40 platoon Week 1 with ‘Boom Boom’ shouldering the heavy side (14-15 touches per game). Expect Powell to provide owners with significant versatility and value (69.3 ADP, RB25), particularly in PPR leagues. The Jets’ suspect defense only enhances his garbage time appeal.” [Check out Yahoo’s Pressing Questions for more on the Jets’ fantasy outlook.]

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The Jets threw 25 interceptions last season. It was shocking how Ryan Fitzpatrick went from a hero in 2015 to a nightmare in 2016. It’s a lesson: When a player isn’t happy with his contract offer and angrily signs because he has no other options, it usually doesn’t turn out well. The Jets’ quarterback situation is bad, but it’s not too much to ask for them to keep the interceptions under 20. That would be a huge improvement.

CAN TODD BOWLES SURVIVE ANOTHER TERRIBLE SEASON? 

If we assume the Jets are going to be one of the worst teams in football, that means Bowles will be on the hot seat. I like Bowles as a coach. He was brilliant defensive coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals and he did a fine job in 2015. But coaches without a long track record generally don’t survive back-to-back double-digit loss seasons. It’s not entirely his fault, but the Jets’ locker room dysfunction last season doesn’t bode well for him either. If the Jets truly evaluate Bowles based on the development of the young players, after sticking him with a subpar roster (Bowles made it clear he wasn’t part of the decision to cut Harris and didn’t seem in favor of it, which puts his situation in context), maybe he can make it another year and coach one of those great quarterback prospects in 2018. But it’s hard to see that happening. To save his job, Bowles probably has to win more games than anyone expects out of this roster.

You know it’s bad when a team’s top goal is securing the first pick of the following year’s draft. You’d have to be insanely optimistic to believe the Jets will fight for a playoff spot with this roster. Unless there’s some unforeseen miracle lurking, the Jets should be happy if they finish with the NFL’s worst record this season, get the first pick and start anew with a potential franchise quarterback.

Realistically, 6-10 or 7-9 is the worst case, as described above. If you’re going to tear down the roster, don’t screw it up by winning too many games and blowing your draft position. Other than the record, it would be bad if none of the young players who are being given opportunities this season establish themselves. The Jets at least want to find a couple of young players to build around. Then again, if all the young players are that bad, the Jets will definitely be drafting first next April.

It was hard to pick anyone but the Browns, who were 1-15 last season and outscored by 188 points, as the worst team in football. But the Jets look really bad on paper. The organization’s intentions were fairly clear. The Jets knew they weren’t going anywhere and stripped down the roster to start a long rebuilding process. The only suspense for the Jets this season will be if they earn the first pick of next year’s draft. They might want to lose Oct. 8 at Cleveland to make sure.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!