No one ever said that building a Jets team to challenge in the AFC East and beyond would be easy -- few things in the NFL ever are. Now, with seven games remaining in the regular season, first-year head coach Robert Saleh is in position to assess where the "project" stands at Thanksgiving 2021 and where he sees it going.
"I've been through this [rebuild], it's my fifth one going from Houston, Jacksonville, Seattle, San Francisco," Saleh said. "This is exactly what it looks like and we're not the only ones. You look at Arizona [9-2], they're in Year 3 and doing a heck of a job.
"So, as I've said before, I respect the heck out of the urgency from the fans and the wanting to flip this thing, but in fairness, this is the first time this fanbase is actually experiencing something like this. Usually it's been a quick fix, followed by a scramble. This is an actual plan. I feel like [general manager] Joe [Douglas] is doing a phenomenal job with a really, really concise plan on how to build from the ground up and there's a lot of exciting pieces on this team that are hidden in these losses. But when you sit back and watch it from our perspective and the combination of veterans and youth, it's definitely going in the right direction and eventually, while frustrating today, is going to be awesome when this thing gets flipped."
Saleh, Douglas and their staff have pinned the future of the Green & White on building through the draft and flexibility to add suitable players in free agency. The Jets, at present, own two first-round picks in 2022, two in the second round and two in the fourth round among nine total selections. There has been obvious progress from the past two drafts from players like Bryce Hall, Ashtyn Davis, (both) Michael Carters, Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore, Brandin Echols and others.
That said, Jets fans are a passionate and impatient cohort, starved for a team that can win consistently.
"I started joking around with somebody that one year in New York is like dog years," Saleh said. "It is euphoria or disaster, there is no in between. We embrace the expectation. We want to win. Even now, we're trying to win football games and we're trying to teach this young group and these young men how to win these games.
"It's all about the process and trying to find the ways to get better and to get these scars, I call them scars in terms of game day experiences and all that, but it's going to get turned and there's so many promising pieces on this football team, offense, defense, special teams. To Joe's credit, he knows exactly where we need to get, exactly what we need to teach, and the players know exactly what we need to get better at and it's just something that we're looking to achieve over these next seven games. Just really focus on the process and let the chips fall where they may and hopefully it results in a lot of Ws."
Saleh's belief in the "process" has evolved through his experiences around the NFL -- watching, learning and distilling the knowledge gained from working with smart and committed people.
"I've been very fortunate in my NFL career," Saleh said. "This is the fifth team that we've attempted to rebuild. It felt like Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith in Houston provided a great example. I think they got it turned around. I know we never got to the Super Bowl, but Gary and Rick were there for a very long time, and they had a lot of growth over a really poor team and managed it all the way up to a team that was in contention.
"Go to Seattle after my stay in Houston, and John [Schneider] and Pete [Carroll] have been the model of building a roster that's capable of winning Super Bowls every year, fortunate to have won one when I was with them. Go to Jacksonville, thought we did everything right, we just couldn't get the offensive side right. But we built the defense that eventually went to the AFC championship. And then obviously, San Francisco with John [Lynch] and Kyle [Shanahan], the same formula, got us to a Super Bowl. They're starting to hum now, they're going to be a team that no one's going to want to play this year now that they're fully healthy.
"So, again, I'm very fortunate and so I know exactly, and I think I speak for Joe also, that this -- while fans are frustrated, which we greatly appreciate -- it's a model that we've been through several times, four times for me. And it's a model that looks like it's moving in a direction exactly the way we want. And this rookie class has been fantastic. Joe's first class has got a lot of pieces that are going to be fantastic for this group. And we've got a lot of draft capital and money for next year. So, this team's moving in the right direction, and I'm really excited about the flip that it's going to have. And I think Jets fans, for this, are going to be very happy."