The New York Jets need some help for their depleted receiving corps. Giving up a key piece of their future puzzle wasn’t the answer.
FLORHAM PARK, NEW JERSEY—The New York Jets are indirectly responsible for unleashing the wrath of Tom Brady upon the National Football League. A fateful September 2001 game in Foxboro featured a brutal Mo Lewis hit on Drew Bledsoe with the latter’s departure giving way to the backup quarterback from Michigan.
The Jets won the game. The Patriots won five (and potentially counting) Super Bowls.
At this point, it’s fair to draw similar comparisons to a hit Trent Cole, then of the Indianapolis Colts, laid down on Derek Carr on Christmas Eve 2016.
That hit, mere weeks before the Raiders were to begin their first playoff visit since 2003, broke Carr’s fibula, sidelining the Raiders’ franchise quarterback and his MVP-caliber season, one that finally signaled an end to the tailspin the team had been trapped in since their Super Bowl trip over a decade earlier.
Carr might not have been the only player the Raiders lost that day.
Less than two years after completing the 2016 season, the Raiders are in full rebuild mode.
Some cases, like Carr’s injury, were just cruel twists of fate. Other factors have been self-inflicted silliness, such as the poorly-handled Khalil Mack saga, culminating in his trade to Chicago, or the decision to hand former franchise hero Jon Gruden $100 million to come out of ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth to return to coaching after a decade.
Their current situation, wallowing at the depths of the AFC at 1-5, serves as a hearty “So long, suckers!” to the Oakland area, as they prepare to put on a show for Las Vegas when they arrive in 2020.
Fan favorites and key components from that 2016 squad have departed. Mack, Marquette King, David Amerson, Michael Crabtree, and Latavius Murray are all gone. More trades could follow, as Carr himself could a topic of discussion amongst general managers, but Monday’s transaction, the trading of receiver Amari Cooper, might be the biggest the biggest move yet.
The movement of Cooper, a college football champion turned Pro Bowler, a firm acknowledgment that the immediate future is a wash, while hope springs eternal in Vegas for the Raiders. But this trade is also telling of other teams, how desperate they can be to sacrifice their futures when a name-brand talent immediately becomes available.
Cooper was traded to the Dallas Cowboys, a team too proud to ever truly enter a rebuild, even if their streak of perpetual mediocrity shows no signs of ending. To that end, the Cowboys sent over a first-round draft selection, all for a receiver in the final end of his rookie deal, a player with no guarantee of being in Dallas beyond 2018.
It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that the addition of Cooper, in the final year of his 2015 rookie deal, makes the Cowboys a better team, at least in the short-term. Even after a heartbreaking loss in Week 7, one of the last-second variety against the Washington Redskins, the Cowboys sit only a game and a half out of the NFC East division title. Dak Prescott has perhaps his best big-play target since the departure of Dez Bryant, making it perfectly acceptable to believe the Cowboys can steal the East from either the Redskins or the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Bigger picture, however, no one is going to start penciling the Cowboys into the NFC slot for the Super Bowl after this trade. Dallas still likely doesn’t compare to the class of the conference, that honor more likely belonging to either Los Angeles or New Orleans, so to send over a crucial piece of franchise puzzle in exchange for a marginally better championship chance doesn’t seem wise.
The Cowboys’ mistake prevents the Jets from making one of their own.
Mathematically speaking, the Jets are in a similar boat to the Cowboys: they likewise suffered a brutal defeat on Sunday, the agony marked by one-sidedness in a 37-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, yet remain within striking distance of a playoff spot. At 3-4, the Jets are just two games behind the mighty New England Patriots for first in the division. and a single game behind the Cincinnati Bengals for the final AFC wild card.
Sunday’s loss to the Vikings showed that the touted quarterback savior Sam Darnold can’t keep the team afloat on his own quite yet. Receivers at a particular were at a premium for the Jets. Already without injured catchers Quincy Enunwa and Terrelle Pryor, the latter of whom was waived to open a roster spot, the Jets also briefly lost Robby Anderson to an injury in the second half. On the first play Anderson left the field, Darnold, left to deal with inexperienced receivers, threw an interception, one of three on the afternoon. With the loss, the Jets now fall to 0-4 when Darnold is forced to throw at least 30 passes.
It’s for the best, however, that the Jets didn’t go for instant gratification.
The Jets could’ve splurged for Cooper. Rumors have persisted that other squads were willing to give a second-round pick for him, and the Jets had no room to spare in that regard, their next second-round pick sent to Indianapolis to take Darnold. They’ve could’ve, like the Cowboys, sent over their primary selection in hopes of righting the ship immediately then taking a chance that he’d return in the offseason.
But to ensure the selection of Darnold will be a successful one, the Jets need to have every building block possible to build the next great NFL team. To trade away one of those assets would be misguided and arrogant, a vain attempt to gain instant rewards. Life in the NFL isn’t about quick-fix, get rich quick schemes. It’s a process, a long-play requiring patience and planning for the road ahead.
The idea of seeing green Amari Cooper jerseys at MetLife Stadium is tantalizing to the casual fan. Fantasy football players who happen to be Jets fans would have a field day. But there’s a reason they watch the games from the stands and couches. There’s no use in taking a risk for an extra win or two when the building blocks kept by not making the deal can increase the win total further.
Oakland is a team that has waived the white flag in this conflict, willing to try and fight another day. If the Cowboys reach the playoffs with Cooper in tow, they will have won the 2018 battle. By keeping their precious, limited assets, however, the Jets have set themselves up for a better chance to win the war.