As an organization, both on and off the field, the Jets made significant progress in 2015. The pairing of first-year GM Mike Maccagnan and HC Todd Bowles is a win for Jets’ Owner Woody Johnson, as the GM-HC combo provides the franchise with the stability and cooperation that was sorely lacking the previous two seasons. As we mentioned at the outset of this week’s blog, the Jets jumped up into contention with a 10-6 season, a six-game improvement from the 4-12 finish in 2014.
GM Mike Maccagnan upgraded the team’s talent base through the draft, in Free Agency, and with some shrewd acquisitions. The March 2015 trade with Chicago Bears that netted WR Brandon Marshall, in exchange for New York’s 5th round draft pick, will go down as one of the better trades in Jet history. Marshall’s huge 2015 season – 109 catches, for 1,502 yards, and 14 TDs – all established or tied single season franchise marks. Signing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as a Free Agent from the Texans provided the Jets depth at QB behind Geno Smith heading into the season. But, once Smith sustained a broken jaw in a training camp fight with former Jet LB IK Enemkpali, Fitzpatrick seized the opportunity and had the best year of his 12-year (check) NFL career; Fitzpatrick surpassed Vinny Testaverde’s team record for TDs in a season, throwing 31 in ’15. WR Eric Decker teamed with Marshall to set a new Jet record for TDs by a receiver tandem in a season with 26, and established a new NFL mark with each catching TDs in 9 different games. The running game excelled early with RB Chris Ivory (1,070 yards, 4.3 yds/carry, 7 rushing TDs), while Bilal Powell (47 receptions, 388 yards, 2 receiving TDs) took a big step forward with the most dynamic season of his 5-year career.
On defense, DE Muhammad Wilkerson had the finest year yet of his 5-year career with 12.0 sacks. The Jets allowed the 2nd fewest rushing yards per game (83.4) in the NFL with a talented front seven that was bolstered by the addition of 2015 1st Round pick DT Leonard Williams (3.0 sacks). LB Lorenzo Mauldin (4.0 sacks) appears to be an excellent addition with a bright future; Mauldin was the Jets’ 3rd round pick of the ’15 draft. SS Calvin Pryor emerged in his second-year, slotted into his natural position and figures to be a mainstay in the years ahead.
The Jets jumped out to a 4-1 start that included early wins over Cleveland, at Indianapolis, Miami (in London), and Washington. The 1-4 stretch in the middle of the season was capped by a disappointing Week 11 effort in Houston that dropped the team to 5-5, and on the verge of being pushed from AFC playoff contention. The sloppy loss to the Texans raised the ire of HC Todd Bowles, who challenged his team and motivated it to play to, and exceed, its capability. And, the Jets responded…with a five-game winning streak that included wins over Miami, the Giants (Battle of the Meadowlands), Tennessee, at Dallas, and rival New England. This tremendous effort placed the Jets on the doorstep of the playoffs, until the final loss last weekend in Buffalo. In all, a great effort – with, as HC Todd Bowles put it during an interview on Tuesday – “a lot of work to be done”.
The Jets have the fair share of question marks heading into the off-season, including: will they re-sign QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is a pending Free Agent? What will they do with Free Agent-to-be DE Mohammed Wilkerson, and how will he heal after surgery to his broken leg sustained against the Bills? GM Mike Maccagnan will need to work through the challenging contract situations presented by the Defensive Line and make some decisions on how to proceed from that position of strength. Some of his potential options may include a combination of new contracts across the D-Line, use of the franchise tag (Wilkerson) and/or trades. He’ll likely examine potential upgrades on the Offensive Line in the Free Agent market and through the draft, infuse the LBs and Secondary with some youth, and bring in competition to challenge / improve the Kicking Game on Special Teams.
We’ll look more in depth at the Jets in the weeks to come, heading up to Free Agency in March and the NFL Draft in April.
Mike Lalor can be heard talking about New York sports on the Spadora on Sports radio program. His blog can be found at SpadoraonSports.com.