FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Christopher Johnson knew early in the season that his New York Jets were heading in the right direction.
As the acting owner/CEO, he wanted to see clear progress – with wins and losses not necessarily being an overriding factor in whether he’d stick with coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan moving forward.
”I did see that progress,” Johnson said Tuesday, two days after the Jets completed a second straight 5-11 season. ”It might not have shown up on the final scores, but within the locker room, on the practice field, out during the games, I did see progress.”
That’s what led Johnson to give Bowles and Maccagnan two-year contract extensions, keeping both with the team through the 2020 season.
”It seemed the right choice to me,” Johnson said of giving two extra years rather than just one. ”I like the idea of some stability and going from year to year just didn’t seem right.”
Johnson sensed a positive vibe around the team, something he attributed to Bowles, and liked how young players emerged on a roster that had been overhauled in the offseason. All the changes led to low expectations outside the facility, with some fans and media wondering how the Jets would even win a game.
Instead, New York got off to a 3-2 start as one of the NFL’s early season surprises. The Jets lost nine of their last 11, but the signs were there – as far as Johnson was concerned – that he has the right men in charge in leading the franchise back to respectability, and ultimately, the playoffs.
”I have no mandate,” Johnson said of his expectations for next season. ”Believe me, I want to get to the playoffs. I want to build a team with Mike and Todd that can compete for the playoffs every year. That can’t happen fast enough, but there is no mandate.”
Well, except, of course, the one he has in his sibling rivalry with brother Woody, who transferred control to Christopher before the season to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom.
”I was serious about that desire to get back to the Super Bowl before my brother gets back here,” Johnson said. ”I would love to have that happen, but there are no mandates. I think the fans are going to be happy with the way we move forward here.”
The Jets will have plenty of decisions to make over the next several months to prepare for next season:
QUARTERBACK QUESTIONS: The top priority for New York will be trying to find a signal caller for the future.
Josh McCown, who had a career season for the Jets before breaking his left hand, will be a free agent and turns 39 in July.
”I still think there’s good football left in Josh,” Maccagnan said. ”From an intangibles standpoint, he was outstanding. I would have no problem bringing him back.”
If he wants to return, that is. McCown might be ready to retire, but if not, will he be OK with serving as a backup to a rookie? The Jets have the No. 6 overall pick in the draft and could aim for one of the top QBs. New York could also choose to go with another veteran – Kirk Cousins or Drew Brees, perhaps – in free agency.
Christian Hackenberg remains a mystery, though. He hasn’t played a snap in the regular season despite being a second-round draft pick last year.
”The book on Christian is not closed,” Maccagnan said. But it appears unlikely he’ll be a franchise quarterback at this point.
FREE AGENCY: The Jets are expected to have somewhere between $90 million and $100 million in salary cap space, so they’ll have plenty of money to spend.
They also have lots of needs to fill, starting with quarterback. But offensive line, pass rusher, cornerback, running back and defensive line depth could all be on New York’s shopping list.
”I think we’ll be very active in free agency,” Maccagnan said, adding that the Jets are still doing evaluations of their own players.
IN-HOUSE OPTIONS: Among the Jets’ current players who are scheduled to be free agents are McCown, linebacker Demario Davis, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, cornerback Morris Claiborne, kicker Chandler Catanzaro and center Wesley Johnson.
”We’d never go all-in on something that would last us only a year or two,” Christopher Johnson said. ”We’ll be active in free agency, but it’s only going to be adding pieces that can be with us a good, long time. We’re in a very good position to do that.”
NO MO’ MO?: One player not expected back next season is defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who was inactive the last three games of the season and is due to make $16.75 million.
Wilkerson, the team’s first-round pick in 2011, has dealt with injuries and tardiness issues the past few years and has not approached the level of play that made him a Pro Bowl pick in 2015. Johnson paused for about 10 seconds before declining to comment when asked about Wilkerson’s situation – surely not a good sign.
SUPER DROUGHT: It has been 49 years since the Jets’ only Super Bowl appearance in 1969, a stunning Joe Namath-led victory over the Colts. New York has failed to make the playoffs in seven straight seasons, and Johnson understands fans’ impatience.
”I know we’ve given them a lot more pain than glory recently,” the owner said. ”It’s been a long time since we had proper glory. I think they understand I’m trying to set this team up for glory.”
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