NEW YORK - Todd Bowles' future with the Jets is a fait accompli, but there is another gigantic piece to the puzzle that must be finalized before this wayward franchise can move forward.
What should the powers that be do with general manager Mike Maccagnan?
When the wheels fall off like they have this season, nobody is immune to criticism. Bowles has absorbed his fair share of body blows. The players' repeated on-field brain cramps have been dissected ad nauseum.
So, where does that leave the man responsible for supplying talent?
Maccagnan won't be mistaken for Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf anytime soon, but the smart course for the Jets would be to retain him for myriad reasons.
Although nothing is written in stone yet, my understanding is that Maccagnan will likely be back and play an important role in hiring the next head coach. It's undeniable that Maccagnan has made his fair share of mistakes, but there's a belief inside the building that he can improve with a new reporting structure.
The current set-up has created division, friction and passive-aggressive petulance between Maccagnan and Bowles, according to sources. Their partnership, a shot-gun marriage arranged by consultant Charley Casserly and approved by Woody Johnson four years ago, has eroded through the years.
Both are culpable for the current state of affairs, but the belief inside the organization is that Maccagnan can learn from his missteps. However, the brain trust has lost faith that Bowles will be able to correct his shortcomings as a head coach.
Here's the unvarnished truth about Maccagnan and Bowles' relationship: They do not share the same vision or views on players regardless of what each has said publicly through the years. Sources said that both have been professional towards each other, but they don't think that either of them truly respects the other's ability to identify talent and have a plan for success.
Neither technically reports to each other. Each has a direct line to ownership. It's an inherently flawed structure that has reared its ugly head on many occasions in the past few years.
The Jets would be wise to give Maccagnan an opportunity to hire a head coach who truly shares his team-building philosophies and reports directly to him. Blowing it all up and starting for scratch would do more harm than good given the dynamics at play.
There's no reason at this point to give Maccagnan a contract extension after giving him one through 2020 last December, either. The Jets should protect themselves and evaluate how the next two seasons unfold under Maccagnan and the new coach. If the franchise is trending in the right direction by the end of the 2020 season, it would easy enough to give the GM an extension at that point.
This is the smart path for CEO Christopher Johnson after Woody Johnson unwittingly created a challenging environment in the wake of the Rex Ryan-John Idzik back-stabbing-hate fest. Woody Johnson had good intentions by creating parallel reporting tracks for Bowles and Maccagnan after the previous mess, but it wound up being detrimental to the organization.
Maccagnan has contractual control over the 53-man roster, but he repeatedly has bent over backwards to supply his coaches with players that they preferred to foster a healthy working environment ... even if he had reservations about the player.
It didn't always happen, but it happened enough. Coaches wanted the GM to trade up for University of Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara in the 2017 draft, according to sources. Maccagnan didn't want to part with premium draft capital. The coaches obviously were right on that one.
Maccagnan, however, has been a team player for the most part.
Case in point: Gang Green drafted Alabama wide receiver ArDarius Stewart in the third round last year because then-offensive coordinator John Morton believed that the former Alabama wideout would be his version of Steve Smith, according to sources. So, Maccagnan trusted his coaches enough to invest a premium pick in the kid. It didn't take long for Morton to sour on Stewart, who was marginalized as a rookie before getting cut this season.
Nothing slows the rebuilding process like fickle coaches who don't quite know which kinds of players they want in their system. Bowles' revolving door of offensive coordinators (three in four years) hasn't exactly helped matters, either. How can you build a team with a different scheme/system every year?
No continuity, no chance.
It's incumbent upon Maccagnan to better trust his own area of expertise even if it means ticking off the next coaching staff from time to time. Remember: The Johnsons hired Maccagnan primary because of his scouting chops. A reporting structure that calls for the coach to report directly to the general manager should help matters. Bowles was empowered to go directly to ownership on several key personnel matters, because, well, he didn't have to answer to Maccagnan.
Regardless, Maccagnan must improve his draft record. Truth be told, he's had his fair share of whiffs.
A recent study by overthecap.com revealed Maccagnan's record in four drafts versus the rest of the league. Only 64.3 percent of players drafted by the Jets from 2015-2018 are still on an active NFL roster. The Titans are the only team with a lower percentage. The league average during that span is 76 percent. (On the other end of the spectrum, the Chiefs have a league-high 87 percent of their drafted players on an NFL roster).
A round-by-round breakdown reveals exactly how much Maccagnan has struggled in Rounds 2-5. Although all four of his first-round picks (including three in the Top 6 overall) are playing, the Jets have been far below the league average in each of the next four rounds.
Only 33 percent of Maccagnan's second-rounders are on an NFL roster. The league average for second-rounders from 2015-18: 92 percent.
Only 50 percent of his third-rounders are on any active roster. The league average: 84 percent.
Only 50 percent of his fourth-rounders are on any active roster. The league average: 82 percent.
Only 50 percent of his fifth-rounders are on any active roster. The league average: 75 percent.
The Jets did, however, exceed the league averages with their sixth- and seventh-rounders.
There was no more glaring mistake than Christian Hackenberg in the second round in 2016. Nobody other than Maccagnan wanted Hackenberg at that point in the draft. Mike was on Maccagnan Island with that selection.
The feeling on One Jets Drive was that Bowles didn't play Hackenberg for two seasons, including meaningless games at the end of 2016 and 2017, because A) He didn't believe that Hackenberg was any good and B) He wanted to send a message to the general manager for the wasted pick.
Hackenberg bounced around with three other teams before landing in the start-up Alliance of American Football League.
Bowles was 100 percent correct, but he could have handled that situation better. By every objective measure, there would have been no harm playing Hackenberg in the 2017 season finale in New England. It was a meaningless game at the end of a lost season. Besides, Bryce Petty had clearly shown that he was not the answer, either.
But the head coach had contractual control over who played and who didn't. And he exercised that control.
Fast forward to this season. Maccagnan's third-round pick Nathan Shepherd played a season-low 12 snaps last week. Rookie cornerback Parry Nickerson hasn't played a single defensive snap in the past five games.
The team's offensive struggles during their six-game losing streak prompted reporters to ask Bowles if he's considering any personnel changes on offense: "I'm playing everybody I can."
Translation: Maccagnan hasn't given me enough good players.
Bowles and Maccagnan made mistakes in free agency too. The most recent example: big-money signing Trumaine Johnson.
Mistake No. 1: Bowles and defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson made it clear that they wanted Johnson, according to sources.
Mistake No. 2: Maccagnan and former contracts negotiator Jackie Davidson gave Johnson a 5-year, $72.5 million deal, which effectively was a three-year, $45 million pact. The team's escape hatch should have come after two years instead of three. Johnson has underperformed by every objective measure.
There's a belief in the organization that Maccagnan will fare better with a coach that aligns with his principles - and reports directly to him. Teamwork makes the dream work ... and true team work, frankly, has been lacking between the GM and head coach for quite some time.
The biggest concern on One Jets Drive about retaining Maccagnan is his ability to accelerate the team's building process. There's a feeling from all corners of the building that the general manager has been much too methodical during this phase. I'm sure that Maccagnan could turn the Jets into a perennial winner by the Year 2040, but that's not reality. He doesn't have an eternity to build a champion.
Simply put, he needs to put his foot on the gas without being reckless. There have some promising signs in the past year or so that should give ownership hope.
Trading up from No. 6 to No. 3 in the 2018 draft might wind up being the single best move in franchise history if Sam Darnold is what everyone thinks he is. Drafting Jamal Adams last year was brilliant. Stealing Chris Herndon in the fourth round might be a coup.
It's those types of decisions that should give Christopher and Woody Johnson belief that sticking with Maccagnan is the right move at this pivotal moment in the franchise's history.
There are important questions that the Johnson brothers must ask themselves amid this massive offseason undertaking.
Can Maccagnan identify and hire the right head coach? Can he sign the right free agents with the projected $100 million in salary cap space? Can he draft the right players?
The GM is far from perfect, but he should have this opportunity to pick a true partner to help him steer the franchise forward.
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