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NFL: the rise of tanking

Drew Mattiola, Staff Writer

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No one wants to be the worst team in professional sports, let alone be a bad team. In the NFL, being the worst franchise is far from appealing and isn’t pleasant to watch, especially as a spectator. A regular season is only defined by 16 games, unlike baseball and basketball where the games are innumerable to most viewers.

When a football team becomes a washout, the whole world fixates their attention on whether or not that franchise will win another game. Some viewers closely ponder on what the future could hold for that respective franchise – particularly the outcome of their coaching staff and 53-man roster.

Fans and sports analysts regularly discuss who will get fired. Will the head coach be retained? Will the general manager be terminated for fielding an atrocious team through inflated contract management, bungling the team’s salary cap by overspending on free agent acquisitions, whiffing draft selections or declining fifth-year options on marquee personnel? Will a player return next season? Who are the possible candidates suitable to fill the vacancy as head coach and general manager? The questions are boundless.

Sometimes the owners reach crunch time after the regular season concludes, commonly known among NFL zealots as Black Monday, in which a crucial decision is made as to whether a coaching or general management regime remains intact.

New York Jets owner, Woody Johnson, has some serious contemplation to do regarding the future of his franchise. The team endured another ruinous off-season after floundering the previous season at 5-11 in fourth place. It wasn’t long ago when the Jets were a team with playoff aspirations.

In 2015, Todd Bowles took helm as head coach and unearthed a 4-12 Jets squad constructed by Rex Ryan to a surprising 10-6 finish, narrowly missing the playoffs after losing the tiebreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers. At the time, the 2015 New York Jets had the embodiment of a contender.

The team reacquired cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis who were instrumental to the Jets defensive secondary prior to the arrival of Bowles as they experienced susceptibility at the position in the years following their departures.

The obtainment of wide receiver Brandon Marshall via a trade with the Chicago Bears also enhanced the Jets offense which lacked a legitimate target outside of Eric Decker. Even journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick served as an excellent game manager as he endured one of his best statistical seasons over his lengthy career passing for 3,905 yards and throwing a high of 31 touchdowns as a starter.

After the 2015 season, a harsh reality struck the Jets square in the face. The warranties of cornerbacks Cromartie and Revis began to expire as their defensive edge and agility declined tremendously over the past two seasons. Fitzpatrick even held out from offseason OTA’s and training camp in 2016 after an impasse was reached between the quarterback and general manager, Mike Maccagnan, demanding a larger contract.

As a result, Fitzpatrick received a one year deal worth $12 million but, unlike his 2015 campaign, the quarterback regressed immensely, throwing 12 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and later finding himself benched in favor of Geno Smith and Bryce Petty.

The disappointing finish of the Jets’ 2016 season led to an alarming roster overhaul in which the franchise witnessed the exodus of longtime players such as Nick Mangold, Nick Folk, David Harris, Calvin Pryor and Sheldon Richardson. What was once viewed as a promising team has now transpired to a dumpster fire.

The Jets were highly fortunate that an influx of veteran talent allowed Bowles and his staff to catch lightning in a bottle for the 10-6 season in 2015. However, that was two seasons ago and in the NFL, players, coaches and general managers alike know quite well that the acronym “NFL” also transcribes as “not for long.”

It should be abundantly clear to Bowles and Maccagnan that with most of the team’s essential pieces now departed, the Jets have taken an enormous step backwards. As the 2017 season approaches Sept. 10, the Jets are well on their way to becoming one of the worst teams in the NFL.

The quarterback depth has underperformed in training camp and the preseason as the trio of Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg have all been equally inept. The Jets wide receiving corps took a massive blow when its best receiver Quincy Enuwa was placed on injured reserve with a bulging neck injury. The special teams which were among the team’s strengths have now vanished.

Outside of Enuwa, the team doesn’t have any notable playmakers as they lack a surefire quarterback, zero offensive weapons, a wash at running back in which a decaying Matt Forte leads the ground game and a defense that has struggled to find an identity.

This offseason and upcoming slate of games vividly parallels 21 years before when the 1996 New York Jets placed 1-15 under former Philadelphia Eagles head coach, Rich Kotite. They had entered the season 0-8 and floundered 1-7 after their week 10 bye. This year the Jets will be lucky to win at least one game as their competition is highly daunting.

It’s more than apparent that the New York Jets put little to no effort improving the existing structure of its roster as most of its supporting cast were either shopped or released in efforts to manage the team’s salary cap. This leads many to believe that the franchise is tanking the 2017 season, a process which involves purposely weakening a roster in order to attain a higher draft prospect. This could be the plan all along as the top quarterback in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft is USC quarterback Sam Darnold.

In essence, the Jets are turning the page on the upcoming season without care or worry because the team knows there is more value in grooming young talent as opposed to plugging in retreads that are only temporary. Quite personally, this process seldom works but for a quarterback like Darnold, the risks could certainly outweigh the reward.

Drew Mattiola is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The Student News Service of West Chester University
NFL: the rise of tanking