Joe Douglas and Jets must avoid the free-agency trap



Joe Douglas merely waded into the free agent waters a year ago, but this time he is the $80M Man, the lifeguard of his CJ woebegotten franchise at a time when all long-suffering Jets fans turn their lonely eyes to him to dive in headfirst with fists full of dollars and make a splash playing the Moneyball game like there is no tomorrow.

Such is the life when your team has not made the playoffs in 10 years.  When your 2-14 team hit yet another rock bottom under Adam Gase.

The eve of free agency elicits a frenzy among frothing fan bases everywhere, especially the ones who view it as a quick-fix cure-all for all that ails their team and can transform it from pretender to contender overnight.

So many holes to fill and so little time.

Visions of  Kenny Golladay in green-and-white, or JuJu Smith-Schuster, or Joe Thuney or Corey Linsley hang tantalizingly as low-hanging, high-cost fruit, and all green-and-white eyes will be on The $80M Man entrusted with the massive rebuilding and resurrection of the franchise.

The immediate gratification crowd is forever all for its general manager spending like a drunken sailor come hell or high free agent water.

I am here to caution:

Buyer beware.

Joe Douglas
Joe Douglas

These are too often shark-infested waters.

And no one should be more aware of this than the Ira From Staten Islands of this world.

I give you Trumaine Johnson.

I give you Le’Veon Bell.

I give you Neil O’Donnell.

I give you Pierre Desir.

I give you Darrelle Revis. Yes, Darrelle Revis.

ALL GAS NO BRAKE may work for new Jets HC Robert Saleh, but it shouldn’t be the $80M Man’s mantra here.

You better have common sense when you play Moneyball, otherwise you might be left with common cents.

Douglas, a graduate of the Ozzie Newsome School, believes in building through the draft, and he happens to own the second and 23rd picks this year and a pair of No. 1s next year. And a second and two thirds this year as well. The $80M Man’s philosophy — use free agent as a supplementary tool — is right on the money.

“If the opportunity and the value meet, that’s gonna be the point where we’re gonna be aggressive and get someone we feel good about helping this team not only on the field but with the culture inside the building,” Douglas said.

Now, this by no means means that Douglas should be as reluctant, or stingy, as former Jets GM John Idzik was when he kept his hands glued inside his pockets during 2014 free agency. 

Douglas has too many Titanic holes in his ship – WR, CB, Edge, OL for starters — not to target one higher-ticket free agent because pragmatism can only get you so far when you are so far down, but the best general managers are savvy, strategic, surgical and disciplined and can read the market well enough to know when to be patient and when to strike. 

Douglas’ abundance of draft capital mitigates any desperate need to try to buy his way out of his current mess. 

When Ravens GM Eric DeCosta succeeded Newsome two years ago, he described his philosophy this way:

“I think free agency can be a dicey proposition. I think some of the best values in free agency typically happen a little bit later. You’re not paying quite as much and you’re getting a really good player who may not have been as sexy for other teams, so the money comes down a bit and you get good players that way.”


Bill Parcells hit the mother lode in 1998 free agency when  he signed Curtis Martin to a six-year, $36M poison pill contract to leave the Patriots in exchange for first- and third-round draft picks and C Kevin Mawae to a five-year, $17M deal. The 1998 Jets advanced to the AFC Championship. Both are Hall of Famers.

Such a dream free agency bounty such is the exception rather than the rule.

Martin was 24 at the time. Mawae was 27. Landing high-character impact players in their prime is the challenge.

Johnson was 28 when then-GM Mike Maccagnan  he signed him for a five-year, $72M deal with $34M guaranteed to be the Jets’ next lockdown corner. He was injury-prone. He was benched for violating team rules and performance unbecoming a cornerback. He was mercifully gone after 17 games and 5 INTs.

I was in favor of Maccagnan signing Bell. I saw him as a security blanket for Sam Darnold and so did Jamal Adams, who recruited his fellow dog. Turned out Bell wasn’t the same player after sitting out the 2018 season in that contract dispute with the Steelers, and if Adam Gase was right about one thing it was this — a four-year, $52.5M deal with $35M guaranteed was excessive for a running back, even one with Bell’s pedigree. The scorecard: 17 starts, 863 rushing yards, three TDs, 69-500-one TD receiving.

O’Donnell wanted to stay with the Steelers but the Jets made him a five-year, $25M offer he could not refuse. The scorecard: 20 starts over two years, 21 TDs, 14 interceptions, one pulled calf muscle … in warmups.

At least Douglas played it safe last season with a one-year deal worth up to $5.5M for CB Pierre Desir, whose play had been trending south. The scorecard: eight starts, three INTs, a 110.3 passer rating against quarterbacks.

Maccagnan earned kudos when he brought Revis home with a five-year, $70M contract and $39M guaranteed. The scorecard: 29 starts, 6 INTs, an overweight shell of his old self.

Golladay, 27, would be a welcome No. 1 receiver for Zach Wilson, should he be the second overall pick. There are reservations about whether Smith-Schuster, 24, can be a true No. 1, but he is likely better than the draft options left for the 23rd pick after Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are off the board. Corey Davis, the former fifth pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, looks like a late bloomer but should be viewed as a No. 2. Thuney, 28, is a plug-and-play starter at guard. Linsley is an elite center.

The Eagles signed CB Nnamdi Asomugha to a five-year, $60M with $25M guaranteed before the 2011 season. Then-Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum was hot on the scent fantasizing about a Revis-Asomugha tandem. The so-called Dream Team finished 8-8 with Andy Reid. Asomugha, who was 30 when he signed, was released before the 2013 season. The scorecard: 31 starts, four INTs.

Moneyball now for Joe Douglas. He can’t afford it to be Moneybawl.


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