For the first time in several years, the NFL's Annual Meeting and Woody Johnson, the chairman of the Jets, were back together in the same space -- in Florida on Monday.
Mr. Johnson, for a time, was an ocean away, serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. And for the past two years, the meetings were conducted on a limited and remote basis since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
At the Breakers in Palm Beach, Mr. Johnson was back and bullish on the direction of his Jets.
"I feel really, really good," Mr. Johnson said. "I feel optimistic. We've had a couple of horrible seasons. We won four games last year, we won two games the year before that. This is obviously not where we want to be. Now we're addressing that big time. I think you've seen what we've done in free agency. No trades, but an attempted trade, which was pretty dynamic and interesting. Now we're up to the draft. I haven't been here for five years. We've changed a lot of things thanks to my brother [Christopher Johnson, the team's vice chairman]. Onward and upward."
He emphasized the organization's new dynamism and focus on strengthening the existing foundation, and building the culture at One Jets Drive -- be it with free agents and young players from the past two drafts and next month's 2022 NFL Draft. That's when the Jets, at present, have nine selections overall, with four of the top 38 picks (two each in Round 1 and in Round 2).
"With what we did in free agency, any trade that may come up before the season and particularly the draft, we have to hit on them," Mr. Johnson said, referring to the signings from other teams of Laken Tomlinson, C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin, D.J. Reed, Jordan Whitehead and Jacob Martin. "We're very conscious of hitting on it and having the players that we need, particularly to develop the young quarterback. That's really mission No. 1 – getting him going, giving him the things that he needs around him for all 11. That's really big. And you want the defense to give him the ball. Special teams to do what they do. It's a group effort, but a lot of it is about the quarterback."
His focus, indeed the focus of the entire organization, is to provide "the young quarterback" Zach Wilson with dynamic players capable of changing a game in a flash. Part of that is solidifying the offensive line (enter Tomlinson) and the club's effort last week to acquire WR Tyreek Hill in a trade with Kansas City.
"After the injury [PCL strain that forced Wilson to miss four games] he never turned the ball over," Mr. Johnson said. "He was kind of sitting back and watching, I think he advanced as if he was playing. And there's more to come this year. He didn't have his receivers, a lot of things that could have been better weren't better. I think you'll see some good things out of Zach.
"The sky's the limit, you saw the arm talent. If we can protect him and get him some weapons the sky's the limit. The goal is to keep progressing. The line is looking better, give him more time a quarter of a second, give him some people to throw to. The game is throwing and catching. All those pieces we're putting together, high-character guys, and how they fit in the locker room is very, very important."
Mr. Johnson said he has been especially pleased and impressed with the working relationship between Douglas, Saleh and their staffs.
"Every year is a new year, you have that collective intelligence, the experience of all the coaches, the scouts, Joe and Robert," he said. "You have a synergy of people. Those two are absolutely on the same page, we haven't had that every year. This year we do, last year we did. Joe knows exactly what Robert needs at each position. I think we're going to be more accurate than in the past. We're all on the same page."
Asked if he can sense any frustration on the part of Jets fans, Mr. Johnson said: "I don't look at it as desperate. Jets fans are a unique group. The fans will share their ideas everyday and I read their ideas because I'm pretty active on social media. We're going to try and give them everything they want."
Mr. Johnson also confessed to an affinity to that other kind of football, the one played with a round ball, that is so, so popular in the U.K. As the U.S. ambassador to Britain for five years, Mr. Johnson said he got to indulge his passion for the Chelsea club in London (which he supported previously), while he also recently entered a bid to buy the fabled club.
"We're Chelsea fans, but I couldn't be when I was over there -- I needed to be diplomatic," he said. "It's a London team, and the concept of New York and London felt like something that could do well. I thought it would be an interesting endeavor for us. The idea was to bring the football of the U.K. and the U.S. together."