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Opinion: Amid unfair NFL landscape, Jets make right call by unloading GM Mike Maccagnan  3 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

Admittedly, the optics aren't great. But given that the New York Jets obviously soured on Mike Maccagnan four years into his tenure, Wednesday was the right time to part ways with their general manager.

Sure, Maccagnan just drafted highly regarded Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams — just weeks after landing star running back Le'Veon Bell and Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley in free agency. In a fair world, "Macc" would have gotten requisite time to see if his latest decisions paid off.

But the NFL is anything but fair. And skeptics will say Williams fell into Maccagnan's lap at the No. 3 spot, and that the GM was essentially bidding against himself for the services of Bell (now the second-best paid back in the league after Todd Gurley, who's nearly three years younger) and Mosley (now easily the top-compensated inside linebacker).

The Jets are also clearly ready to turn the page from a 30,000-foot view, new chairman Christopher Johnson ready for his team to finally #TakeFlight (the club's nifty new hashtag) in their spanking new "Gotham Green" uniforms after years of being grounded as also-rans.

On the NFL's cyclic timeline, the draft serves as the de facto Super Bowl for personnel executives like Maccagnan and their scouts. The process starts anew in the summer when college football cranks up and the evaluation of the next draft's players begins.

Last year, Oakland endured a rocky and controversial season as prodigal coach Jon Gruden ascended to the top of the organizational chart and began shedding once-presumed building blocks like Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, players drafted by (lame duck as it turned out) general manager Reggie McKenzie years before his shotgun marriage to Gruden.

The Raiders should have filed for divorce from McKenzie, as good a job as he'd done resurrecting the franchise following a series of regrettable transactions by owner Al Davis before his death in 2011, far sooner than Dec. 10. After all, Gruden's philosophical differences regarding roster construction quickly became evident.

Worse, when new GM Mike Mayock was hired on New Year's Eve, he was forced to rely on the reports of McKenzie's scouts, who'd already scoured the college football landscape, rather than a hand-picked crew of his own to execute his vision, which aligns with Gruden's. (And you wonder why Mayock sent what was essentially McKenzie's staff home prior to April's draft, worried about leaks and unsure whom he could trust.)

Factor in that both Maccagnan, whose contract was supposed to run through next year, and new Jets coach Adam Gase had both attempted to debunk rumors of apparent friction that had already formed between them — even Gase, who will fill Maccagnan's shoes on an interim basis until a replacement is hired, admitted recently that the duo had disagreements during free agency, and that he hated the process — it became fairly obvious that a clean break was probably in the organization's best interests.

And it's not like Maccagnan has a stellar track record to fall back on.

Sure, he immediately made the Jets competitive in 2015 — their 10-6 record remains their best since 2011, though a loss to the Bills in the regular-season finale knocked them from the playoff picture. But bringing in aging veterans like quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and receiver Brandon Marshall (both had career years in 2015) and reacquiring fading corner Darrelle Revis was no way to build something that was going to challenge the Patriots in the long run — and those moves ultimately backfired, patchwork fixes when an overhaul was required.

And, yes, Maccagnan correctly picked Leonard Williams (2015), Jamal Adams (2017) and, presumably, Sam Darnold (2018) and Quinnen Williams (2019) with top-six draft choices. But any informed draft observer almost surely would have done the same when those highly regarded players "fell."

Meanwhile, the Jets have gotten very little production from Maccagnan's other selections, notably linebacker Darron Lee (a first-rounder in 2016) and quarterback Christian Hackenberg, a player foolishly taken in Round 2 three years ago who never took a regular-season snap in the NFL and even washed out of the now-defunct AAF. Prior to Darnold, who appears to be the real deal, Maccagnan's inability to address his team's most critical position — Fitzpatrick bombed after holding the team hostage in free agency in 2016 but was at least better than Hackenberg, Bryce Petty and Josh McCown — is the main reason New York has gone 14-34 collectively over the past three seasons and is constantly sitting near the top of the draft board.

In today's NFL, four years is plenty of time to execute a rebuild. And when you hire a strong-minded fellow like Gase, who is charged with installing his own offensive philosophy and (more importantly) developing Darnold into the passing star this team's fans have been awaiting since Joe Namath was taking the snaps, it doesn't make sense to pair him with a decision maker who apparently isn't in lockstep.

Now more than 50 years removed from their only Super Bowl appearance and victory, better the Jets jettison a failed holdover rather than hope he and an unfamiliar co-pilot can finally get this thing off the runway.

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