Insider notes on state of the Jets: Confidence in Joe Douglas dips, Saleh's methods questioned, organization finds scapegoat for media leaks

Insider notes on state of the Jets: Confidence in Joe Douglas dips, Robert Saleh
Insider notes on state of the Jets: Confidence in Joe Douglas dips, Robert Saleh's methods questioned

Welcome to year 15 of the New York Jets’ three-year rebuilding plan. The problems continue to pile up for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010 and turned in just a single winning season in that time. It’s a bad situation that’s unlikely to be solved simply by the return of one Aaron Rodgers.

Recent revelations informed the football world what everybody was aware of — Aaron Rodgers gets what he wants in the Jets organization, and general manager Joe Douglas is happy to take a back seat. Yet it’s not just Rodgers running roughshod over Douglas.

New York Jets Introduce Quarterback Aaron Rodgers
New York Jets Introduce Quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Latest on league opinion on Joe Douglas

For the longest time now, I’ve been told that Douglas doesn’t exert his power and is not the big dog in the organization that people expect him to be. Some have told me Douglas is, “too nice for his own good,” and doesn’t lay down the hammer when he needs to.

While it’s been written that Douglas takes his lead from Aaron Rodgers, which is a result of the general manager not forcing his will rather than an edict from above, many more believe he acquiesces to the wants of Robert Saleh too much.

They point to the 2023 draft when, after trading away picks to acquire Rodgers, the Jets selected Will McDonald with the 15th pick rather than choosing receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who went five slots later to the Seattle Seahawks, or making a move up for offensive tackle Broderick Jones, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers at pick 14 after they purposely traded ahead of the Jets.

McDonald, who has a bright future, did not fit the “win-now” mode the Jets are in, and few believed he was worth selecting in the middle of Round 1. The choice of McDonald had “Saleh pick” written all over it. One year later and the Jets still have a desperate need at offensive tackle with receiver not far behind on the list of priorities.

There have been other instances that made people shake their head.

I’m told that during exit interviews with players after the 2022 season, owner Woody Johnson decided to interject on several occasions. When Johnson chose to be part of the interview, Douglas was described as being a bystander, which is not the norm for most franchises.

There have been moments of glory for the general manager. The 2022 draft was transformational, with the likes of Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Jermaine Johnson and Breece Hall being harvested that year. Douglas has also hit on a few solid free-agent signings, including cornerback D.J. Reed and tight end Tyler Conklin as well as safety Jordan Whitehead.

Yet there have been more misses than hits. The only other draft pick who has been a consistent producer from the four classes Douglas has engineered is nickel back Michael Carter, a fifth-round pick in 2021. Alijah Vera-Tucker has played well when he’s on the field, but he has missed most of the past two seasons with injury. Mekhi Becton, Douglas’ first pick as general manager and the 11th pick of the 2021 draft, went in reverse last season and is not expected back next year.

For the most part, his free-agent signings have been disasters. Offensive guard Laken Tomlinson has never been effective and was kept around simply because the team needed warm bodies on the offensive line. Defensive end Carl Lawson, the first big free-agent signing by Douglas, tore his Achilles the summer after joining the Jets in 2021, has played in just 23 games and has just seven sacks on his ledger since.

New York Jets v Cleveland Browns
New York Jets v Cleveland Browns

Why Robert Saleh hasn't won too many admirers

Saleh, who took over as Jets head coach in 2021 and has yet to deliver a single season of .500 or better, is well-liked by the media for his soundbites. The same cannot be said for many of the players on his roster.

While it’s true that Saleh never lost the locker room despite being on the brink numerous times, several players and people in the organization tell me that, all too often, Saleh tells players what they want to hear rather than the truth. And the players know that Saleh is not being truthful with them. He then relies on assistant coaches to do the dirty work.

Saleh’s promise of player usage has been a big problem for many in the locker room, such as telling a player he’ll be used in a certain way or see a certain amount of playing time only for the player to find out from a position coach it was never true from the get-go.

And while many say, “This goes on in every franchise,” it tends to have a much more negative impact on a team whose head coach has never delivered a winning season.

The saga of Keith Carter

More than a year ago, when the Jets hired Keith Carter to be the offensive line coach, I reported on the reaction from coaches and NFL personnel in attendance at the Shrine Bowl. A reaction that ranged from disbelief to, “Same old Jets.”

Carter, who coached with Saleh in Seattle a decade earlier, is not highly considered in the league as a coach or his ability to relate to players, and it showed this season. In fact, for more than a year now, multiple people tell me outright that Carter is not only a poor offensive line coach, but he is not liked by many of the players he is coaching on the Jets.

The Jets offensive line, the weak link of the team entering the season, worsened as the year progressed. They did suffer a rash of injuries, yet no player exemplified the downward spiral of the unit better than Mekhi Becton.

Joe Douglas’ first pick as Jets general manager returned from almost a two-year absence and looked good early on. Yet he was getting routinely beaten by week 17, and Becton’s career with the Jets has since come to an end. Yet despite numerous reports that Carter would be axed in the offseason, the Jets chose to keep him on staff and fired running backs coach Taylor Embree, who’s had a lot of success with his unit the past three seasons.

Some believe retaining Carter was the result of a contractual issue. Others suspect keeping Carter was the Jets’ way of thumbing their noses at critics. No one believes it was due to the merit of his work in 2023.

Could Rex Hogan be a sign of franchise dysfunction?

Many were surprised to find out weeks ago that Douglas’ right-hand man, assistant general manager Rex Hogan, was let go by the Jets in what was called a mutual parting of the ways. According to reports, Hogan was the force behind the Jets drafting quarterback Zach Wilson, as he had people in the organization believing the BYU product was a higher-rated passer than Trevor Lawrence, the first pick of the 2021 draft.

People I spoke with were surprised Hogan lasted this long after the revelation became public. So why was he released heading into the offseason?

Multiple sources inside the league tell me the Jets believe Hogan was the source of media leaks that embarrassed the team last season. And there have been several leaks that began during the second half of the season, starting with Zach Wilson’s reluctance to be inserted back into the lineup, and went through the month of January.

What we're hearing on the Jets' owners

If Jets fans had their way, the Johnsons would sell the team, yet that’s not going to happen. But league sources admit the Johnsons have made several blunders at the top of the franchise, which is why the team continues to be in disarray. And most point to the hiring of Hymie Elhai as the club’s president.

It’s not that Elhai has made any major personnel decisions, though he was largely involved in the hiring of Joe Douglas and Robert Salah; rather that the Johnsons went the comfort route by hiring Elhai. Elhai, who’s been with the organization for almost a quarter-century, was elevated to the position of president from within after holding numerous positions with the Jets.

As one source told me,

“The Johnson’s hired their coffee boy. Rather than bringing in a football person from the outside who would make the difficult decisions or say what needed to be said, no matter how uncomfortable it may sound, they hired someone that would tell them what they wanted to hear.”

Yes, there’s anticipation over the return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but more than anything else, there’s a feeling from league insiders that the organization is setting fans up for another disappointment thanks in large part to the dysfunction in their building.

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Edited by Tony Pauline