The Jets were expected to be one of the worst offenses in the NFL last season - maybe one of the worst in NFL history. But under first-year offensive coordinator John Morton they did more offensively than anyone imagined.
In the end, though, everyone around the Jets seemed to think it wasn't nearly enough.
So Morton was fired by the Jets on Wednesday in a move that had been in the works for several weeks, according to a source. Head coach Todd Bowles had been at odds over the team's offensive philosophy for most of the last half of the season, the source said, and he had been considering the move since late in the year.
Almost certainly the decision will meet with the approval of many of Bowles' other assistants and players. According to one veteran offensive player, there was universal frustration in the locker room with Morton's play-calling - both specific sequences and his general offensive philosophy. A source also confirmed a report that Morton clashed with other assistant coaches over the same issues.
Under Morton's guidance the Jets had the 28th-ranked offense in the NFL (305.2 yards per game) and they were 24th in scoring (18.6). Those aren't good numbers, obviously, but the preseason expectations for the Jets were comically low given what was viewed as a startling lack of talent on the offensive side. And there was some initial excitement when the Jets started 3-2 and veteran Josh McCown got off to a hot start in what became a career year in Morton's scheme.
But according to a Jets player, as the year went on there was an increase in the internal grumbling about the direction of the offense. Among the gripes, the player said, were not utilizing speedy receiver Robby Anderson enough on deep routes (Anderson caught 63 passes for 941 yards and seven touchdowns), not involving the tight ends enough in the passing game (though Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught 50 passes for 357 yards and three touchdowns) and too often abandoning the run.
That last part bubbled over in a 25-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in late October, when veteran running back Matt Forte blasted Morton publicly after finishing the game with only four carries for seven yards.
"Definitely surprised by that," Forte said. "I felt like we only ran the ball maybe 20 times. That should've been at least one person getting 20 carries with the way the weather was. I thought we were going to grind them out on the ground, but it turned out not to be that way.
"Everybody knows that was the game plan and that's what we wanted to do. I don't have to get on a headset and tell somebody how to do their job."
Things didn't get much better after that, as players began picking apart specific sequences - particularly in the red zone where the Jets started to struggle and the play calls often seemed to make no sense, a player said.
With the Jets heading into an offseason where they likely will try and find a new quarterback and have nearly $100 million in cap room to bolster their offense, it actually might be the perfect time to make a switch, even though Morton's replacement will be the Jets' sixth offensive coordinator in the last eight years - and third in four years under Bowles. There may be enough new players next season that it will feel like starting over anyway.
It's probably better to start over in a scheme the players like.
The most likely replacement is quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, according to a source, but it's not clear if he wants the job. Three other outside candidates have been mentioned in reports: Todd Haley, who was just let go as the Steelers offensive coordinator; John DeFilippo, the Eagles current quarterbacks coach; and Brian Callahan, the Lions quarterbacks coach.
Bowles and Haley worked together in Dallas in 2005-06 under Bill Parcells.
As for Morton, who came from New Orleans to replace the retiring Chan Gailey after the miserable 2016 season, he had been in the running to join Jon Gruden's staff in Oakland, but did not get that offensive coordinator job. The Jets had given him permission to look into that possibility, which is likely why they waited 2 ½ weeks to let him go.