The New York Jets may have a new rallying cry this year.
Instead of their traditional, “J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!’’, what’s left of their fan base might adopt, “Trust The Process!’’ instead.
That’s the cheer loyal Philadelphia 76ers' fans have been muttering the past three seasons after the Sixers opted to tank each year beginning in 2013 to rebuild with future draft picks and shellshock their way to becoming relevant again.
That plan was the brainchild of general manager Sam Hinkie, a number’s crunching MBA from Stanford who brought “Moneyball’’ to basketball. Now it seems Jets’ general manager Mike Maccagnan may be trying to do the same thing with the Jets.
Tanking has been a regular part of the NBA for years as struggling teams decide to compete only for the lottery picks that can reverse their fortunes. They do it because in the NBA you have to stink before you can compete. The Jets seem to have adopted the same odorous approach.
In a surprising Monday Morning Massacre this week, the Jets cut their 10th and 11th veterans since February, dumping highly productive linebacker David Harris and veteran wide receiver Eric Decker (a high-priced free agent signing only two years ago). Those moves would actually have been considered stunning under normal circumstances, but there has been nothing normal about the Jets’ offseason.
In less than four months, Maccagnan has lopped 11 veterans from a team that went 5-11 last year, reducing the Jets’ 2017 payroll by a staggering $67.9 million dollars. Gone are former Pro Bowlers Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall and Darrelle Revis, as well as the latest casualties, and Maccagnan may not be done yet.
Rebuilding is one thing. Utter capitulation is quite another.
That the Jets want change is difficult to argue with. They’ve had only one winning season in the past six years and haven’t made the playoffs in seven years. Considering that history, surgery on the roster seemed in order. But transforming yourself from a bad NFL team into a bad Ivy League team seems more like a triple bypass than a knee replacement.
The Sixers made their fans suffer mightily, watching a completely non-competitive team stagger through the NBA schedule for three years before landing Joel Embiid with the third pick in 2014, Jahlil Okefor with the third pick in 2015 and Ben Simmons with the No. 1 overall pick last year.
After going 10-72 in 2015-16, the second-worst record in NBA history, the Sixers improved by 18 games last year ... but still ended up a non-competitive 28-54. Although that was improvement, it wasn’t enough to make the playoffs or save Hinkie’s job. But it was a sign that the Hinkie Plan may be ready to pay dividends soon.
Maccagnan can take some solace in that, but only if he can ignore the fact Hinkie won’t be around when his tanking efforts bear fruit. Asked if he was going down the same path this week after unloading Harris and Decker with no apparent players to replace them, Maccagnan insisted he wasn’t tanking anything.
“That’s not something we’re focused on," Maccagnan said. "We’re focused on making decisions about this team going forward."
Going forward how?
Two years ago the Jets went 10-6 and appeared to be going forward under new coach Todd Bowles. But they regressed to 5-11 last season, in part by refusing to pay quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick after the best season of his career. In the end, they brought him back, but he was unhappy, they were unhappy and both played like it.
Now Fitzpatrick is gone, and, it seems, so is the Jets’ 2017 season.
Maccagnan refused to speculate on how bad his team will be, but he doesn’t have to enumerate. The rest of the world will do that for him.
The way Maccagnan sees it, the Jets were an aging team whose talent was going in the wrong direction. That being the case, he sent them in the direction of unemployment, and he did it on the cheap.
Those $67.9 million worth of contracts the Jets jettisoned left them with only $11.3 million in dead money this year. More important, it left owner Woody Johnson smiling. The moves should provide Maccagnan with the flexibility and freedom next offseason to pursue whatever free agent he wants because the Jets will have around $66 million in cap space to play with.
But for this to work, both Johnson and Jets fans have to be patient, Maccagnan and his personnel people have to be right on Draft Day and someone has to come through at quarterback. That’s a lot of ifs, with more than a few butts on the line.
If this process is slow, and the Jets’ downward spiral continues, will Mike Maccagnan be around when the assets he’s now gathering pay off? Maybe. But Sam Hinkie wasn’t in Philadelphia.