By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
After watching Mike Maccagnan operate the past few months, one does get the feeling that the Jets’ season might finally extend into January.
That’s certainly a tough thing to say, especially as the Jets prepare to kick off the season against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the first of five 2015 playoff teams they’ll face in the first six games, along with last year’s thorn in their side, the Rex Ryan-led Buffalo Bills.
But if ridding a team of bad karma has anything to do with winning, Maccagnan has taken the Jets a huge step forward. Thanks in equal parts to injuries and judgment, the general manager has all but cleared out the stench of the ill-fated John Idzik era.
With the slicing of Jace Amaro, a second-round tight end who never did work out, the banishing of third-round cornerback Dexter McDougle to the practice squad, and the release of seventh-round linebacker Trevor Reilly, Maccagnan has reduced Idzik’s 12-player draft of 2014 to an intimate survivor group of three on the big club roster.
And if you place those folks — first-round safety Calvin Pryor, fourth-round offensive lineman Dakota Dozier, and sixth-round receiver Quincy Enunwa — next to 2013 survivors Geno Smith, Sheldon Richardson, and Brian Winters, the group increases to just six of Idzik’s 19 picks over his two-year reign.
Unfortunately, Bryce Petty’s injured shoulder makes it all but impossible to pare that roster subset even more by unloading Smith, the stinkiest of Idzik’s picks, with physically and metaphorically busted first-round cornerback Dee Milliner coming in a close second. But, let’s face it, if Ryan Fitzpatrick goes down, the season probably goes down with him, anyway. After all, the next best option to the consistently inconsistent Smith is this year’s developmental project Christian Hackenberg.
Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles are obviously hopeful that Petty will get back in due time to at least give the Jets another option if it comes to replacing Fitzpatrick. It’s why they decided to keep him active, thereby luxuriating a roster that really can’t afford such things with four quarterbacks.
Dubious football wisdom aside, however, what can’t be doubted is the change in atmosphere Maccagnan’s purge has created. Of course, the seven (out of seven) picks that made the roster this year, led by first-round linebacker Darron Lee, will have to show something immediately. And last year’s draft talent like first-round defensive end Leonard Williams and third-round linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin will have to rise to the next level. But the atmosphere surrounding the newer, younger players has helped change the what-ifs of 2015 to the why-nots of 2016.
The Jets have plenty of veterans to lead the way. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. O-line anchor Nick Mangold and new left tackle Ryan Clady. New running back Matt Forte and old face Bilal Powell.
On defense, Mo Wilkerson, Darrelle Revis, Buster Skrine, David Harris, Pryor, and Marcus Gilchrist.
They must all lead if the Jets are to get out of that opening six-game stretch in position to make a playoff run. But Maccagnan’s exorcism of Idzik’s two-year draft fiasco has at least helped to create a good feeling around the Jets heading into Sunday’s opener.
Karma may not win games. Certainly, the Jets will depend on a potentially monster defense and what should turn out as a solid offense to take them where they want to go.
But don’t downplay it, either. Purging the mistakes of the recent past can do wonders for a team.
Maccagnan will soon find out if ridding the Jets of Idzik’s spirits will raise their own.
Please follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino