INDIANAPOLIS -- The job was always a little bigger than it seemed when Mike Maccagnan took over two years ago. He and Todd Bowles made it look easy in 2015. They went 10-6, came within a whisker of the playoffs and it looked like the Jets might be able to rebuild on the fly.
But that veteran-heavy team was really an overachiever, and the success turned out to be a mirage that was unsustainable, leaving the Jets exactly where they should have been when Maccagnan arrived. They are beginning to clean house, to start over, and to build a new program from scratch.
And while that may bring some pain in the short-term, Maccagnan is doing exactly the right thing.
"Like a lot of teams do with the salary cap when players become older you have to make a lot of tough decisions," Maccagnan said at the NFL scouting combine on Friday night. "Coming off last season we spent the first part of the offseason kind of looking at ourselves, and really analyzing our players and making the determination that hey, if we want to move this roster forward there are some tough decisions to make.
"If anything we're trying to reallocate resources. In a perfect world you can just keep every player you want as long as you want, but the salary cap really makes you look at each player in terms of production and compensation. And unfortunately you have to make tough decisions to move this team forward."
Of course Maccagnan didn't use, nor did he want to hear the word "rebuilding." And of course he and Bowles both insist the goal is to win in 2017. Nothing is impossible in sports, especially in an NFL filled with mediocre playoff contenders. But the reality is the Jets have a long way to go.
Maccagnan obviously knows it. He even rattled off a long list of things his team needs, beginning with the mother of all needs - a franchise quarterback. His list included a left tackle, a tight end, pass-rush help and lots of help in the secondary. The Jets need so much that Maccagnan even joked "It's going to be a very depressing laundry list."
It shouldn't be depressing, though, because this is the right thing to do. The loss of long-time Jets like center Nick Mangold and cornerback Darrelle Revis and big names like receiver Brandon Marshall might tug at the heart strings, and the departure of other name players (like tackle Ryan Clady and kicker Nick Folk) may leave the appearance of big holes. But a look beyond the marquee value shows them all to be older, mostly injured, very expensive players.
The Jets went 5-11 and finished in last place with them. Isn't it time to try something else?
Of course it is. And remember, these aren't just salary dumps by a cheap franchise. For all the criticism levelled at Jets owner Woody Johnson, nobody can accuse him of being cheap with his team. He has always authorized his football people to spend the money they deem necessary to be competitive. And with $34 million in cap room to spend in free agency, that's not going to change.
"Some of the moves we made will hopefully free up resources and salary cap space and money to go add pieces and parts to help make us a better team," Maccagnan said. "We're not doing this to try to make ourselves a worse team. We're doing everything possible to make us competitive going forward."
How successful will he be? That remains to be seen, especially since -- despite what the Giants did last offseason -- history suggests that free agency is a terrible way to build a team. The long-term success will depend on the success of Maccagnan's draft picks -- the ones he's already made and the ones he'll make this spring.
So far, at least, the GM likes what he's seen from the young players he already has.
"I know we've made quite a few moves this offseason, but a lot of it's predicated on the fact that we feel good about the younger players," he said. "And then the money we freed up, hopefully we'll be able to help ourselves in different areas."
If the arrow continues to point up, even if the climb is slow, the franchise will be so much better in the long run. Yes, it will require patience from the owner and fans. Johnson needs to keep the pressure off Bowles and Maccagnan for at least a couple of seasons. It's going to take time to truly evaluate the results of their plan.
And fans are going to need to be patient too -- which understandably is a lot to ask of Jets fans who have been waiting 48 years since their last Super Bowl appearance. Owners have often underestimated the New York fans' capacity to endure a rebuilding process. It actually can be exciting and re-energizing as long as the progress is obvious and that arrow is continually pointing up.
So no, it doesn't look good for the Jets at the moment. It looks like they're having a fire-sale, stripping their franchise down to its core. But the old core clearly wasn't working, and trying to patch it together was never going to work.
"Both Todd and I have the same mindset," Maccagnan said. "We want to be able to build this team - and we said this from Day 1 - to be able to go out there and be consistently competitive for the playoffs. Our goal has always been that. Going into this season we're going to do everything in our power to be as competitive as possible."
To get there, Maccagnan is doing what he probably should've done two years ago. It's the right way to do it, so everyone needs to be patient. It's only fair to give him time to make it work.