Jets' GM deserves another at-bat, but must raise batting average

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Coach Todd Bowles is a goner. His fate was sealed a few weeks ago with a season-wrecking, franchise-altering, six-game losing streak. The big question hovering over the New York Jets involves general manager Mike Maccagnan, who was hired the same day as Bowles: Jan. 13, 2015.

If the fan base had a say, the masses would be calling him "Mike Mac-can-him." Sorry, folks: The right call is to keep Maccagnan -- assuming the organization maintains its current power structure.

The sense around the organization is that Maccagnan likely will return, but ownership needs to state its intentions quickly because his unresolved role could be an impediment in the looming search for a coach.

While Maccagnan deserves a fair share of blame for this rotten season, it's important to focus on the big picture when evaluating a GM. Every GM blows picks and squanders free-agent money, and we all know Maccagnan's hit/miss percentage isn't flattering, but performance shouldn't be graded on a move-by-move basis. It's all about the whole. You can't judge a house by one or two rooms.

Really, the GM has three primary responsibilities: Find a good coach. Find a good quarterback. Create a winning plan.

Let's review Maccagnan's performance in each area:

The coach. Maccagnan gets an incomplete because he didn't hire Bowles. They were paired together in an arranged marriage because owner Woody Johnson went the eHarmony route, hiring a pair of consultants/matchmakers (Charley Casserly and Hall of Fame executive Ron Wolf) to find a new coach and new GM. Maccagnan had no previous relationship with Bowles, and there's always risk when you try to marry a couple of strangers in the football business. If Maccagnan survives, he should have the opportunity to hire his own guy.

The quarterback. When Maccagnan took the job, his No. 1 challenge was to secure a long-term answer at quarterback. For three years, he wandered through the woods, searching. He cycled through retreads (Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown) and took an ill-advised flier on a hopeless project (Christian Hackenberg) before finally winding up with Sam Darnold.

Mission accomplished.

It took a bold and brilliant trade, moving up in the draft, but Maccagnan appears to have succeeded where so many of his predecessors failed. Sure, he got lucky on draft day, as Darnold fell to the third pick, but give him credit for solidifying the most important position. CEO Christopher Johnson loved the aggressiveness and publicly lauded Maccagnan for his pre-draft maneuvering, which bodes well for the GM's job security.

The plan. This is where it gets complicated.

After coming up short with a win-now plan in 2015, and way short in 2016, Maccagnan reinvented the team by tearing apart the roster. On paper, the results have been terrible -- a 9-22 record over the past two seasons -- but the question that must be asked is this:

Are the Jets better now than at the end of the 2016 season?

I think the answer is yes, in large part thanks to Darnold, who gives them a puncher's chance. In recent weeks, other young players have displayed promise -- namely wide receiver Robby Anderson, running back Elijah McGuire, rookie tight end Chris Herndon and linebacker Jordan Jenkins. Safety Jamal Adams has been a force all season. The next tier includes defensive end Leonard Williams, safety Marcus Maye and linebacker Darron Lee. Yes, all three have underperformed for various reasons -- in Maye's case, injuries -- but each player still has upside.

So, yes, Maccagnan has assembled some pieces. His past two first-round picks yielded the pillars of the team -- Adams and Darnold.

"It's awesome," Darnold said of the young core on offense. "It's good to know our future is bright here. I'm very confident in that, and I'm very excited about it."

Are the Jets behind schedule? No question. There's not enough talent in the building, because Maccagnan has drafted only one Pro Bowl player (Adams), and 10 of his 28 picks, including five of six picks from the 2015 draft, no longer are on the roster. He wasted big money on Darrelle Revis and Muhammad Wilkerson (maybe Trumaine Johnson, too), and he bungled the Fitzpatrick negotiations in 2016.

Again, let's think big picture. Maccagnan hatched a three-year plan after the 2016 debacle, and he should get a chance to see it through. He cleared the salary cap to infinity and beyond, to quote Buzz Lightyear. With more than $100 million in projected space for 2019, he should be able to add more building blocks around Darnold, whose development is paramount to the franchise.

Maccagnan has evolved as a GM. A couple of years ago, he adjusted his free-agent philosophy, deciding to focus on younger players at the end of their rookie contracts. Smart move. He needs to do a better job in the middle rounds of the draft, which might require making changes on the scouting staff. The closest thing the Jets have to a midround gem is Herndon, but there should be more than one after four drafts.

There are people in the building who would like Maccagnan to change his leadership style. Some say he's too obsessed with watching film and evaluating players instead of being a CEO type of presence who galvanizes the organization. Some say he spends too much time sweating the small stuff. For instance: He's been known to blow a gasket when inside injury information is reported by the media.

Ultimately, the job comes down to finding players and building a winner. Maccagnan's not there yet -- not even close -- but he has done enough to keep trying.