By Ernie Palladino
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Unless Woody Johnson changes his mind Monday, it appears Todd Bowles will not pay the price for a season gone dreadfully wrong from the beginning.
If local media reports are correct, Bowles will return for the third year of the four-year deal he signed in 2015, when he succeeded Rex Ryan. The fact that he will last a year longer than the just-fired Ryan did in Buffalo will prove only that Johnson is showing slightly more patience than the Pegulas have in defining themselves as one of the NFL’s three worst ownership groups, right along with the Jets and Browns.
Whatever reason Johnson will throw out there for retaining Bowles is irrelevant. It won’t work. The Jets will continue to flounder, not just because head coaching seems to fit Bowles like a 40-large on a 4-foot-11 man, but because general manager Mike Maccagnan will have failed him yet again.
Regardless of organizational and motivational ability, coaches need talented players to succeed, and the Jets don’t have enough of them right now. So the best thing Johnson can do outside of completely changing the current GM/head coach combination is to hand Maccagnan an edict much like John Mara gave Jerry Reese last season on the day he fired Tom Coughlin.
He basically told Reese, “You’ve got one more year. Fix the roster or you’re gone.”
Mara did his part by green-lighting the $200 million Reese flung around as he rebuilt the defense with Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison, and Keenan Robinson. Without those guys, the playoff-bound Giants might well have found themselves in the same 6-10 mess as Coughlin did last year.
Maybe worse, considering how the offense slid so far this year.
Johnson needs to give Maccagnan the same sort of edict with the same financial freedom.
Problem is, even that won’t do it. The bulk of the 4-11 Jets’ problems this year came at the quarterback position. For all practical purposes, the free agent market won’t have much to offer, as any team with a quality starter and half a brain has that quarterback locked up for the long term. And Ryan Fitzpatrick proved what happens with journeyman stopgaps.
The Jets probably don’t have enough trade material to get an incumbent starter, either. Sheldon Richardson and the Louis Vuitton-priced baggage that comes with him makes him unattractive trade bait. And they’re pretty much stuck with Mo Wilkerson, who turned the first year of his five-year, $86 million contract into a playing vacation.
Those circumstances will leave the Jets only with the hope that Bryce Petty will blossom into an effective quarterback next year. Judging by his injury-shortened audition this year, that’s a big wish. Even bigger is the one that predicts Christian Hackenberg’s burgeoning stardom after a red-shirt rookie season.
Starting over in the draft will likely ensure another season of losing while the next dice roll develops.
It’s against that backdrop that Johnson will probably opt to keep Bowles in place. Changing coaches now won’t alter that ugly landscape. So, rather than force a rookie or substandard veteran quarterback on a new coach, let Bowles take the hit. He’s got two years left on his contract, anyway. Given how Johnson hates to spend on coaching, he might as well get one more year out of Bowles before the next rebuild.
Bowles has looked more like Richie Kotite than Bill Parcells in every aspect of coaching. But until a solution at quarterback comes around, even a resurrected Vince Lombardi couldn’t fix this mess.
So it will be Bowles by default.
Unless Johnson changes his mind by Monday.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino