Todd Bowles isn't going anywhere any time soon. He signed a contract extension just nine months ago, and while that doesn't give him a free pass through the end of the deal in 2020, he certainly gets a pass through these first three games.
How much longer he gets, though, entirely depends on how often the Jets can avoid ugly, sloppy, undisciplined losses like their 21-17 stinker in Cleveland on Thursday night. Because contract extension or not, the feeling around the Jets is still that the 54-year-old Bowles isn't really that safe at all.
Bowles is being watched, evaluated, judged in a way that coaches usually aren't just three games into a new deal. And no one in the organization has ever really come out with a full-throated endorsement of him as the right guy to lead the franchise back. It was interesting, two weeks ago, when Jets CEO Christopher Johnson spoke to the media. He talked of how he'll evaluate Bowles (and GM Mike Maccagnan too), saying he's "looking for the team to advance" and saying in the end whether it does "will be obvious to me."
No, it wasn't a "win now or else" or a "playoffs or bust" mandate -- which Johnson said would have been "highly counterproductive." But if he was really confident in Bowles, why wouldn't he point out that he just made a big financial commitment to him, profess his confidence, and dismiss everything else as unnecessary and wildly premature fuss?
Maybe that's reading too much into his words (or lack thereof). But it's hard to do anything else after what happened Thursday night. It's not that the Jets became the first team to lose to the Browns in 635 days -- although that's humiliating enough. It's the way it happened, and how familiar it all seemed.
The Jets were unable to handle prosperity -- blowing a 14-0 first-half lead. They were dumb and undisciplined -- three personal foul penalties in one maddening stretch, including Isaiah Crowell's disgusting touchdown celebration where he wiped his butt with the football before throwing it into the stands. And they looked unprepared -- not from the start, but from the moment rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield came into the game and seemed to have a clean pocket and wide open receivers all over the field.
Does all that sound familiar? To a lot of weary Jets fans, blown leads, mindless penalties, and unprepared teams are the hallmarks of Bowles' four seasons in New York.
Then again, it has to be noted that anyone who thought things would be easy this year with a 21-year-old first-year quarterback and a team still in the early stages of a rebuilding project, badly needed to reset their expectations. The euphoria of the season-opening, 48-17 win in Detroit left everyone giddy. Even inside the building, people were believing in these Jets a little too much.
Remember, the quarterback has now started three NFL games -- all in an 11-day span. The Jets have no edge rusher, no No. 1 receiver, a shaky offensive line. Vince Lombardi and Bill Parcells couldn't get together and take this group on a Super Bowl run.
That's why the real question, as Johnson noted, is about immediate wins and losses. It's about what's right for the future. The Jets are riding an emotional wave after landing Darnold in the draft. They spent a ton of money last offseason and will have a ton to spend next offseason too. They have been aggressive in their personnel decisions -- something Johnson vowed will continue, adding that in the near future "Maybe expectations should ramp up here."
But who shall lead them when they do? A few more games like the one on Thursday night and it might not be Bowles. Johnson surely will lean on Maccagnan to help make that decision at the end of the year (and remember, Maccagnan didn't hire Bowles). But he obviously has his own strong take. He made it clear he believed the Jets, at 5-11, were "a team to be reckoned with last year … (and) I think we will be this year, too. Maybe moreso."
They definitely were in the opener against the Lions. They weren't really in their home-opening loss to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday and they definitely weren't on Thursday night when they became the second team in the NFL to lose to the Browns in the last 38 games dating all the way back to 2015.
It's early, of course. A win next week and the Jets are 2-2 and the bandwagon will start filling up again. Then again, next week the Jets are in Jacksonville facing one of the best teams in the AFC. After that, the schedule does them no favors with home games against the Broncos, Colts and Vikings before they go on the road to face the Bears.
So it certainly could get worse, and that would be bad news for Bowles, even if the ink is still drying on his contract extension. Because as much as this year is -- and should be -- all about the evolution of Darnold, it's also about Bowles. No matter what happens, the Jets are convinced they have the right quarterback now.
They just need to decide if they're equally as confident they have the right coach.