The Jets got better in the past week, but they still feel a long way from being a contender.
This is their depressing reality right now. The AFC landscape is daunting and it feels as if every day brings another transaction that makes it look even tougher.
The latest news was Deshaun Watson staying in the conference with the Browns when it appeared for days that he would be shipped by the Texans to an NFC South team. While Watson stayed in the conference, the bigger trend was NFC stars coming to the AFC. Russell Wilson (Seahawks to Broncos), Davante Adams (Packers to Raiders), Khalil Mack (Bears to Chargers), Von Miller (Rams to Bills), Chandler Jones (Cardinals to Raiders) and Marcus Williams (Saints to Ravens) all made the jump to the AFC either through a trade or free agency.
You have to imagine Jets head coach Robert Saleh’s stomach turning with every Twitter alert on his phone about another star landing in his conference.
Look, the Jets should feel good about what they achieved in free agency. They secured upgrades at many positions. Laken Tomlinson is a Pro Bowl guard. CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin give them a nice tight end tandem. DJ Reed and Jordan Whitehead will give Saleh some pieces to work with in the secondary. By all accounts, these players are high-character men who will help the locker room.
But are any of these players going to have a major impact? Tomlinson might have the most, and he does not touch the football.
The grim reality for the Jets is they still need more playmakers and high-impact players on both sides of the ball. Some of those may come in next month’s draft, but it is hard to count on rookies having an immediate impact. Many of the best take at least half the season to adjust to the NFL game.
That leaves the Jets feeling as if they are spinning their wheels. They could be a more talented team this year and still finish with 4-5 wins.
These are some the quarterbacks the Jets will face in 2022: Josh Allen (twice), Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Watson (if not suspended) and Wilson. That is seven games in which the Jets will be facing some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and are sure to be heavy underdogs.
For the Jets, the 2022 season needs to be measured in two ways: How much will Zach Wilson improve, and can they be “in the graphic” in December? You know the graphic, the one in which CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN post the playoff picture with all the teams in postseason position and those “in the hunt.” The Jets have not been in the hunt for the past six seasons. That is the first step toward flipping things around. It is too soon to expect Super Bowls or even playoffs, but it is time for the season to stop feeling as if it is over before Halloween.
As for Wilson, all the pressure is on him. The Jets have given him Uzomah, Conklin and Tomlinson to help on offense, and they brought back one of his favorite targets in Braxton Berrios, but the franchise rests on Wilson’s right arm.
The tenures of Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas also ride on Wilson. Douglas had a strong 2021 draft and can improve the Jets with a repeat performance next month. His free-agent strategy di lui was sound, and he has positioned the team with flexibility to make moves. But none of that will matter if the player he selected No. 2 overall last year to be his quarterback flops di lui.
The Jets got better this week, but so did the AFC. That could mean another painful year for fans.