Jets first-year general manager Mike Maccagnan has received the Pro Football Writers Association's prestigious Executive of the Year award.
Maccagnan was recognized by the PFWA for coming to the Jets organization in January, joining forces with first-year head coach Todd Bowles, and setting the table for the Jets' 10-6 season, their first winning record in five years and a record that marked a six-win improvement over the previous season.
"I don't know that I went into the season with an idea of a certain number of wins or losses that was going to be a benchmark because you really don't know what happens with injuries and stuff like that," Maccagnan said at his final news conference of the season. "But we were happy with the progress we've made."
Maccagnan hit the ground running after spending the previous 15 seasons in college scouting for the Houston Texans. His first two major moves of the unrestricted free agency signing period were blockbusters as he signed All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis to return to the team that drafted him in 2007 and traded with Chicago for wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Revis, who had 19 interceptions in his first tour of duty with the Jets, came back to wide acclaim from Jets Nation to add five more picks to his pro résumé and solidify a secondary that was instrumental in helping the Green & White pick up momentum throughout the season.
On the offensive side, Maccagnan's first transaction on the first day of free agency was sending a fifth-round draft choice to the Bears for Marshall and a seventh-round choice. Marshall went on to shatter or tie many team single-season receiving records, including most receptions (109), yardage (1,502) and touchdowns (14). Marshall was named to the Pro Bowl roster and was voted by his teammates as Curtis Martin Team MVP.
There was much more in free agency. The Jets traded for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, whom Maccagnan knew from their one year together with the Texans. Fitzpatrick assumed the starting QB role in August and went on to set a number of personal and franchise bests, among them 31 touchdown passes.
Also on offense, Maccagnan and his front office team added James Carpenter, who started all 16 games at left guard. On defense he brought back Antonio Cromartie to reteam with Revis as starting cornerbacks, added 16-game starter Marcus Gilchrist at safety, and brought in versatile nickelback Buster Skrine.
Among the Jets' own free agents that he re-signed, LB David Harris produced his usual team-leading 100-tackles-plus season and RB Bilal Powell provided offensive pop in the second half of the season.
But as the GM has noted, "I think the draft is the key to building a team that is competitive and can sustain it over time." Turning to the 2015 draft next, he and his college team brought in major talents with the sixth overall selection of defensive end Leonard Williams and third-round linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin as well as adding WR Devin Smith, QB Bryce Petty, G Jarvis Harrison and DT Deon Simon.
The team that Maccagnan and Bowles assembled showed remarkable promise throughout the season. The Jets got off to a 4-1 start, then survived a 1-4 drought to go on a five-game winning streak — their longest since 2010 — that put them on the door of the playoffs before their season-ending loss at Buffalo.
"I think in a perfect world, you're hoping to be a team that competes for the playoffs. We came one game short and that was disappointing," Maccagnan said. "We put a competitive team on the field for the most part. I felt we made progress. I thought at the end of the season we came together as a team. We were doing some nice things and statistically we did some good things."
Many of those team numbers gave the Jets and their fans great hope for the future. The offense's No. 10 ranking was the Jets' first top-10 ranking since 1998, while the defense ranked fourth overall, its best finish in five years, and the run defense came in at No. 2, the Green & White's highest finish since checking in also at No. 2 way back in 1970.
"Working with Mike, we just hit it off early on," Bowles said. "We've been on the same page as far as the way we see things, the way we understand players and understand the business, with each of us not having an ego, willing to help each other, all those things were important to me."
"I felt good that we maybe started to come closer to being a team that could go in there and compete for a playoff spot every year," said Maccagnan, the first Jets executive to win this award since the PFWA began presenting it in 1993.