FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When it comes to protecting his draft picks, New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas reminds me of Ben Stiller's character in the movie "Meet the Parents" -- specifically, the airplane scene in which Greg Focker snaps at a flight attendant who wants him to check his luggage.
"If you can get it from my kung-fu grip, then you can come and have it, OK?" he says, clutching the bag intensely against his chest.
Douglas has made 15 player trades in two-plus years on the job, not once parting with anything higher than a sixth-round selection. Yeah, he's had a vice-like grip on those picks.
Is this the year that it changes?
"If the right opportunity presents itself in the trade market," he said last week at the scouting combine, "we're ready to strike."
Sources say Douglas appears more willing than ever to make a bold trade, perhaps because he's under more pressure to win. He certainly has dropped plenty of hints since the end of the season, mentioning the team's deep draft portfolio (nine picks, including five in the first three rounds) and financial flexibility.
In other words, the Jets have the ammo to pull off a big deal. Whether they do it depends on how they view themselves.
The Jets are a tweener team, stuck somewhere between starting over and being "one piece away." They're actually closer to the former, coming off a 4-13 season, but there's no law that says a stage-two rebuilding team can't import a quality veteran. Player and position are the keys.
If they can acquire a player who helps second-year quarterback Zach Wilson -- paging wide receivers -- it absolutely makes sense to do a deal. Wilson's development is priority No. 1 for the organization, which has hitched its future to the former BYU star, whose rookie year (55.6 completion percentage, nine passing TDs in 13 starts) was underwhelming. This is why it's paying close attention to the receiver market.
A blue-chip receiver can make a huge difference. In 2020, the Buffalo Bills acquired Stefon Diggs in a blockbuster trade, sending their 2020 first-round pick and three Day 3 choices to the Minnesota Vikings. Diggs responded with an All-Pro season, helping to elevate quarterback Josh Allen and leading the Bills to the AFC Championship Game.
But those 2020 Bills, coming off a 10-6 season and wild-card appearance, were in a far better place than the '22 Jets. For the Bills, Diggs was that one player.
With four picks in the top 38, the Jets could find a top-shelf receiver in the draft, perhaps Garrett Wilson or Chris Olave from Ohio State, Treylon Burks from Arkansas or Drake London from USC. But there's a learning curve with a rookie and Wilson needs the help now, which makes the veteran market so intriguing for the Jets.
Coach Robert Saleh called it a "fine balance." You can find instant impact from the draft, but Saleh says 2021 rookie stars such as Ja'Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle were anomalies for the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins, respectively. Normally, it takes two or three years for a receiver to hit his full stride, he said.
"Then you look at what the Rams did, purchasing developed players already, but those guys come with a premium," Saleh said. "Buffalo did it with Stefon Diggs. You buy it at a premium, but are you at that point where you can make that jump because of the amount of things we have to get done as an organization to be able to put ourselves in those positions where it’s one or two players away? So there’s a balance."
Saleh raises a valid point -- clearly, the Jets are more than one or two players away -- but, again, it goes back to the quarterback. If Douglas finds a trade that can help accelerate Wilson's development, do it. It's called protecting your biggest investment.
Several veteran receivers are rumored to be on the trading block, including Amari Cooper (Dallas Cowboys), Robby Anderson (Carolina Panthers) and Jarvis Landry (Cleveland Browns). Each one is coming off a down year, but they're all under 30 with proven track records.
Cooper is expected to be released, which would mean no trade compensation but a big contract. Calvin Ridley (Atlanta Falcons) would've been an intriguing option, but he was suspended for at least the 2022 season for betting on games in 2021, the NFL announced Monday.
For Douglas, it comes down to a cost-value judgment if an opportunity arises.
There are mitigating factors when it comes to evaluating receivers, so don't get caught up in the stats. In 2015, former Jets GM Mike Maccagnan bought low on receiver Brandon Marshall, who had a subpar 2014. They got him for a fifth-round pick from the Chicago Bears, and Marshall responded with 109 catches and 1,502 yards, both franchise records.
Non-receivers reportedly available in trades are Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and New York Giants cornerback James Bradberry. Both are need positions for the Jets, but it's buyer beware because they can address those areas in the draft for a lot less money.
The Jets will be a fascinating team to watch over the next few weeks because their moves -- and non-moves -- will say a lot about how they view themselves and how much heat Douglas is feeling to get it turned around.
"We're going to get this team better," he said, "any avenue we can."