For the first time in his ownership tenure with the Jets, Woody Johnson is green-lighting a youth movement.
"If you want to go to the promised land, you have to go in a certain direction," Johnson told ESPN Radio on Tuesday. "I think this is a direction we've never tried in the 17 years I've been associated with the Jets. We've never gone this way."
He added that the team is focused on "getting the right type of player in the locker room ... young ... build through the draft ... young free agents that a lot of guys don't even pay attention to, the guys who weren't drafted. A lot of good players out there play American football, a lot of them."
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While building through the draft is a fairly obvious method of success, a look back at the last decade of Jets history shows a hesitance. To Johnson's credit in many ways, he's never seen the franchise that far off from a playoff berth. That has caused the club to interrupt what should have been obvious rebuilding years -- 2012 through 2014 and 2016 come to mind -- for the pursuit of a veteran-heavy roster built on free-agent acquisitions.
Unfortunately, the aggressive play has left the club with what NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah called one of the worst rosters in the National Football League. The Jets are trying to rid themselves of unnecessary assets like safety Calvin Pryor and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson while simultaneously propping up what they believe to be the future. Leonard Williams is one of the best defensive linemen in football. One has to believe Muhammad Wilkerson is on his way back after a down year. Guard Brian Winters was just signed to a long-term deal.
When general manager Mike Maccagnan arrived two years ago and, to much fanfare, signed Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie together again, he was interrupting what had long been a plan to reassemble the Jets from the ground up. Maccagnan's predecessor, John Idzik, was brought in specifically to clean up the team's salary-cap space and increase its draft capital -- something he did almost immediately. When the draft production did not meet expectations, the franchise took a hard right turn back to the Rex Ryan days -- quick, flashy veteran signings to bandage the real, significant issues. The question now is whether Johnson will stay the course. Should the Jets struggle in 2017, there will be a strong inclination to clean house and start all over again. But a youth movement is rarely fun or easy.
"Really, the way I want to be judged, hopefully from the fans' standpoint, is just watch how we improve during the year," Johnson said. "Look at each individual on the team, and if they're getting better, that's a mark of progress. That's what we're looking for."