The evidence is hard to refute. They jettisoned almost every recognizable veteran they had. They didn't add any significant free agents. The veteran quarterback they added is a 38-year-old journeyman. The Jets were 5-11 last season, and it's hard to argue this year won't be worse.
So yes, it sure does look like the Jets are "tanking" this season, with their eyes on the top of next year's quarterback-rich draft. They're not, of course. Tanking is almost impossible to do effectively, especially in the NFL. But they are doing a bit of scorched-Earth rebuilding and know they are in for a long, losing season.
There'll be a lot of short-term pain. And intentional or not, for the long run that's not so bad.
The Jets' big goal, after all, is not to compete for the playoffs this season -- an admission they're not likely to be willing to make when they open camp in Florham Park, N.J., next Friday. The goal, as GM Mike Maccagnan put it in March, "has always been to build a team that can be competitive for the playoffs on a yearly basis."
They tried the one-year fix a year ago when they were coming off a 10-6 season. They stuck with older and, in some cases, declining veterans on their flawed roster to see if they could hold a near-contender together. Obviously that didn't work out so well.
So they blew it up, almost completely, and decided to start from scratch.
Now granted, there's a fine line between what the Jets are doing and "tanking." And in some ways the line won't crystalize until they take the field. It's hard to imagine, in a dangerous and competitive game, that the Jets wouldn't at least be trying to win. They also want the young players they're building around to experience success. It won't help any of them to experience an ugly, one-or-two-win year.
And there are risks to "tanking" too. For one, what would they be doing it for? At the moment the world is focused on USC quarterback Sam Darnold as the next great NFL quarterback prospect and next year's No. 1 pick. But he's a 20-year-old kid and a year is a long time. Long before next April he could suffer an injury, play his way out of the top spot, or even decide to return to USC for his junior year.
There's also the possibility that the Jets could tank their way to a 1-15 record and watch another team beat them to the No. 1 pick by going 0-16. And wouldn't that be just like the Jets?
Still, Maccagnan and the Jets know what's coming. They see the roster they have as promising, but untested and filled with holes they don't expect to fill until next year's free agency (where the Jets could have $80 million in salary cap space) and next spring's draft. They see this year as an experiment to see which players will prove they have a future, which ones will develop quickly, and which ones need more time.
And, of course, it will include their biggest -- and most long-running -- experiment as they continue their search for a franchise quarterback. Last year they used a second-round pick on Christian Hackenberg, who didn't take a single snap last season. Their 38-year-old journeyman, Josh McCown, is here only as a placeholder until Hackenberg is ready to make his debut. One way or another, the Jets will get a long enough look at him this season to decide whether he's the future, or whether they need to move on.
So it's much more complicated than a straight "tank". Ideally, Hackenberg becomes a star, the young receivers (Quincy Enunwa, Charone Peake, Robby Anderson, and rookies Chad Hansen and ArDarius Stewart) take off, the young linemen come together, and the new safeties (Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, their first- and second-round picks) quickly form the backbone of a much-improved secondary. Even if it all works perfectly the Jets probably won't be playoff-ready. But with all that cap room and likely a Top 10-15 pick in next year's draft, they suddenly might be closer than anyone ever imagined.
More likely, though, there will be growing pains -- lots and lots of growing pains. In that case, the Jets will be right back in the Top 5 of next year's draft. And considering many scouts believe there could be four or five franchise quarterbacks worthy of first-round picks next year, that won't be a terrible place to be.
So yes, the Jets fully understand that short-term pain is coming and their hope is that it will lead to gains in the long term. But starting next Saturday, when they take the field for their first practice of training camp, the Jets won't be in tank mode. They'll be playing to win.
They're just not likely to be good enough to do much of that. And for the long run, that's not so bad.