A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Ready, set, Joe: Jets general manager Joe Douglas sat in the press box Thursday night, watching his current team get dismantled by his first team 42-21. Douglas, seated alongside front-office lieutenants Rex Hogan and Chad Alexander, maintained a poker face throughout the game, but it had to be jarring. Reality stings.
For Douglas, who grew up as a scout in the Baltimore Ravens' organization and learned at the side of former GM Ozzie Newsome, it was a punch-in-the-face reminder that the job he accepted in June is bigger than he might have imagined. It's a good thing Douglas got a six-year contract.
The Ravens are the best team in the AFC. The Jets (5-9) are one of the worst teams. The Ravens have a Class of '18 quarterback (Lamar Jackson) who is rewriting the record book. The Jets have a Class of '18 quarterback (Sam Darnold) who shows tantalizing promise but still experiences normal growing pains. The Ravens have a Super Bowl-winning coach in John Harbaugh. The Jets have Adam Gase, whose career record is 28-34.
This offseason, Douglas needs to be an extraordinary Joe as he attempts to clean up the mess he inherited. Two thoughts about the offseason as we sit here on Dec. 15:
There will be a head-spinning amount of roster turnover. I'm predicting 50%, which is huge even by today's standards.
The Jets will have a good amount of practical salary-cap space, but not crazy space like last the past league year.
The league announced last week the 2020 cap could top $200 million. The projected range is $196.8 million to $201.2 million, up from $188 million.
The Jets have $62 million in space, per overthecap.com -- a number that will rise to at least $81 million once Douglas gets done with veteran cuts. The projected amount is deceiving, though, because the Jets will have 40 players under contract and will have to pay significant dollars to re-sign wide receiver Robby Anderson and linebacker Jordan Jenkins and perhaps extend safety Jamal Adams.
Douglas needs to spend judiciously. Doling out top-of-the-market contracts isn't the answer, as the Jets prove every year.
In terms of potential cuts, guard Brian Winters ($7.3 million savings), wide receiver Quincy Enunwa ($2.4 million), cornerback Trumaine Johnson ($3 million) and linebacker Avery Williamson ($6.5 million) are among the big-name candidates.
Most of the roster is replacement level. The Jets have the quarterback, a terrific safety in Adams (if they don't trade him) and a few other solid pieces. If it weren't for Darnold, the Jets would be in the same boat as the Miami Dolphins (3-10), a tanking-level team. That's scary.
In my opinion, only 19 players are virtual guarantees to make it to training camp.
*You can add Adams if you don't think he will be traded.
On special teams: Thomas Hennessy, the long-snapper.
Douglas spent 15 years in the Ravens' organization, starting at the bottom wrung of the ladder. He witnessed firsthand the importance of patience, continuity and conviction, traits that have been foreign at One Jets Drive. The good news is he has a blank canvas and can create his own picture. If you're a Jets fan, you can only hope he's not drawing with crayons.
2. The awkward stage: Darnold is in a tough phase of his development. The honeymoon is over because he has completed nearly two full seasons, yet he's still not a seasoned quarterback (24 career starts). He's a tweener, and that can cloud the picture when measuring performance against expectations.
Yes, Darnold is still prone to one or two critical mistakes per game, but let's not forget: He doesn't have a true WR1 and he's playing behind a backup offensive line. Despite the challenges, he shows each week he has the talent and instincts to play the position at a high level.
He has to improve his decision-making, a bugaboo that has followed him since his last season at USC. Maybe that's who he is, a gunslinger-type passer, but there's still enough upside to believe in his future. It's on Douglas and Gase to maximize his potential by putting the right pieces around him and coaching him up the right way (in other words, not screwing him up).
"I'm really confident that he's going to be a really good player," Gase said.
3. Slump of the half-century: The Jets have done a lot of losing in their star-crossed history, but never quite like this over an extended period. Wrap your brain around these factoids:
At 5-9, this is their fourth straight losing season -- a first for them in the Super Bowl era (since 1966).
Their next loss will make it four straight years with double-digit losses -- a franchise first.
This is their ninth straight season out of the playoffs -- the second-longest drought in franchise history. They did it 11 straight years from 1970 to 1980, long before free agency brought parity to the sport.
Hard times, indeed.
4. Need for speed: If the Jets decide to keep Le'Veon Bell in 2020, they need to add a complementary running back with outside speed. Otherwise, the running game will continue to be predictable.
Bell is a very good between-the-tackles runner, as he showed Thursday night against a stout defensive front. He rushed for a season-high 87 yards -- and they were hard-to-get yards through the belly of the defense. In fact, the Jets ran only twice outside the tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. By contrast, they had seven such runs the previous week with Bilal Powell in the lineup. (Bell was out with the flu.)
All told, the Jets have rushed 44 times outside the tackles. The only team with fewer attempts is the New York Giants (43). The point is, the Jets need a runner who can threaten the edges. That would make life easier for a lot of people, including Bell.
5. Silver lining playbook: Because of injuries, the Jets have used a franchise-record 71 players -- second only to the Dolphins (74) this season, according to NFL stats. It's never a good thing when a team uses that many players, but Gase tried to find a positive in it.
"I think the fact that we've played a lot of guys is really great, especially for our personnel department," he said. "They have a really good idea of who are guys that are going to have a possibility of having a future, if there are certain guys that have eliminated themselves, what guys to re-sign."
Kind of sounds like the preseason.
6. Did you know? Robby Anderson became the fifth NFL player since 1970 to reach 3,000 receiving yards in his first four seasons after entering the league as an undrafted free agent. He's keeping good company:
7. Fan boys: Gase had no reaction when asked about a handful of players lining up after the game to get an autographed jersey from Jackson, an odd scene that went viral on social media. Anderson, Bell and James Burgess Jr., a former college teammate of Jackson, were the players spotted on video who clamored around the Ravens' quarterback.
"That's really something I really don't care about because it doesn't affect winning or losing or anything like that, so I don't waste my time with it," Gase said. "If that's what guys want to do, that's what they want to do."
Players swap jerseys all the time, but this was atypical because of the number of players involved. I can tell you this: It didn't go unnoticed in the locker room.
8. The last word: "We actually have five wins. I want to say the past two years, we've had maybe four (actually five and four). It's a transition year. It's not an excuse or anything. It's obviously not our goal, it's not our mission. But we have to keep trying to fight." -- Anderson on whether he sees any light at the end of the tunnel after four straight losing seasons.