The Jets' 6-2 finish has given the franchise a renewed sense of hope, even though GM Joe Douglas didn't want to use that word. Hope, he said, is "not a strategy." The only way they can really capitalize on their strong finish is with a plan.
And they'll need a good one, too, because while Douglas is right that "Going 6-2, that's not luck," it's also not the sign of a finished product. The Jets were a disappointing 7-9 overall this season and did not look like a franchise on the verge of a long-awaited breakthrough. They have big, gaping holes throughout their roster.
So there is a lot of work still to do.
Douglas surely has his own plan for rebuilding the Jets, but in case he needs any help: Here's a blueprint for the offseason to quickly make the Jets a contender again:
Upgrade the offensive line - immediately
This has to be the Jets' No. 1 priority, and several sources have told SNY that it will be. The Jets are projected to have about $60 million in salary cap space this offseason, and can easily get that closer to $80 million by cutting some expendable players (like guard Brian Winters). And a good chunk of that money should go to revamping the offensive line. The whole thing. They should - and probably will - try to re-sign guard Alex Lewis and tackle Kelvin Beachum to small deals.
But everything else should be new.
If the Redskins don't use the franchise tag on their 6-5, 315-pound guard Brandon Scherff, he should be a top target, though he'll be expensive (figure $15 million annually). Titans tackle Jack Conklin (6-6, 326) should get a look too, and he might be a bit cheaper. There are others on the market too, like Patriots guard Joe Thuney and Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
They have the money for one premium offensive lineman, at least, and they should use it. Two would be better.
Draft an offensive lineman high
The Jets are picking 11th so they'll miss out on the top lineman (Georgia's Andrew Thomas), but they might be able to get the next guy on their board. It's too early to tell who that'll be, but a player like Iowa's 6-5, 322-pound tackle, Tristan Wirfs, could be a good fit.
The point is, even if they add several free agent linemen they still need to develop young linemen both for the future and for depth. Sure, they have other needs, but protecting Sam Darnold has to be the priority. The Adam Gase offense was generally terrible this season in large part because they couldn't protect the quarterback. So, overkill at this position isn't bad.
Improve the line, and the Jets might become a contender almost instantly.
Replace Robby Anderson with a No. 1 receiver
Anderson is not a bad receiver, but he's just not a No. 1 receiver and he's very likely to get No. 1-like money this offseason as a free agent. If the Jets can get him cheap, sure, bring him back. If he ends up with $10 million-plus annually or a deal longer than three years, the Jets should look elsewhere.
And what they need to complement the shifty Jamison Crowder is a big, strong guy on the outside. Amari Cooper would be a nice fit, but he'd probably be too expensive. Emmanuel Sanders is a much more interesting option. He's not big (5-11, 186) and he's a little too similar to Jamison Crowder, but he's played the outside.
In fact, he had his best season as the outside receiver for the Denver Broncos in 2014 (101-1,404-9) when their offensive coordinator was … Adam Gase.
Do NOT trade Jamal Adams (but don't rush to sign him either)
Douglas spent a lot of time on Tuesday talking about culture and building "a self-sustaining entity where professionalism, leadership, (is) transferred from one generation of players to the next. You see that in every great team." Yes, you do. And who in the Jets' locker room embodies that more than their MVP and emotional leader?
Some of this might come down to economics and whether Adams causes any issues this offseason when he's finally able to renegotiate his rookie contract. The Jets still have plenty of leverage and should open negotiations, but there's no need to give him mega-money now. They can lay the groundwork and get to that next offseason when they'll have more cap room for a deal.
But they should keep him. They will get calls and probably offers, and maybe some will approach the first-round pick plus that a source said the Cowboys offered at the trading deadline. But unless they're bowled over - think multiple first-round picks - they need to resist. Adams is the kind of player to build around, not trade away.
Shop Le'Veon Bell, but don't be afraid to keep him either
It seems really clear the Jets are going to shop Bell, from Gase's "You can ask Joe" response to a question about Bell's future, to Douglas' subsequent deflection. Several teams have told SNY they expect Bell will be elsewhere next season, too.
The problem is the Jets probably won't get a lot in return. As great as Bell has been in his career, he's coming off a terrible season and the Jets are probably going to have to eat some of the $13 million he's guaranteed to make next season just to move him. Depending on the money, they could be looking at something like the third- and fifth-round picks they got from the Giants for Leonard Williams.
It's really the Jets' fault that they failed to get a lot out of Bell this season. True, he didn't look like his old self, but he had no room to run and Gase never could figure out how to use him. It does make sense that they'd want to move on from Mike Maccagnan's big free agent acquisition. But he's too talented to just dump.
If the return is good, then fine, deal him. If not, they should bring him back. If nothing else, he was a quality guy in the locker room. He should be better behind an improved offensive line. And if the Jets' coaches are as good as they think they are, they'll find a way to make this marriage work.
Spend money on a pass rusher
The best part about the Jets this season was the work of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was dealt a bad hand on defense that got worse with injuries, and he played it into the NFL's seventh-ranked defense (No. 2 against the run). And it could be better next season just with the return of injured linebackers C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson.
Imagine if they finally found a pass-rusher, too.
They should definitely re-sign Jordan Jenkins, who had eight sacks this season and 15 in the last two years, as long as his money doesn't get crazy. But they should complement him with a big-ticket edge rusher on the other side.
The problem is it's unclear how many of them will actually hit free agency. It's hard to see the Bucs letting Shaq Barrett and his 19.5 sacks go, for example. Dante Fowler and Bud Dupree both could hit free agency, but they won't be cheap with each coming off an 11.5-sack season. Jacksonville's Yannick Ngakoue might be one of the top pass rushers available. And scouts still love Jadeveon Clowney, who likely will be a free agent, even though he had just three sacks this season and has never hit double digits in his six-year career.
The Jets very likely will have to overspend in free agency because pass rushers tend to be overpriced. But they need to do it. It's the missing piece to what could be a dominant defense next year.
Draft young cornerbacks
It is absolutely amazing what Williams did with the Jets bad cornerback group this year. They really only had one good corner - Brian Poole, whom they should try to re-sign before he hits free agency. And they really only have one young corner who has shown some promise - rookie Bless Austin - though he was benched at the end of the year.
Offensive linemen have to be the priority in the draft, but corners have to be second. They probably need to add one or two in free agency, somewhere in the bargain bin. But they need to use at least one of their Day 2 picks on a corner. They need young players to develop at key positions. And right now, their cornerback cupboard is bare.