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New York Jets notebook: thin line between tanking and rebuilding

The New York Jets swear they aren’t tanking, but judging by their offseason moves and on-field play in the first two weeks of the season, there’s no denying they’re at least in rebuilding mode.

The very definition of the word tanking means a team is openly trying to lose games with hopes of garnering a higher draft pick in the first round. The word can be deemed ugly, or it can also be embraced – like the path of the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers in recent seasons. The Jets (0-2), however, are defiant in not using that word, and would rather let their ardent and loyal — yet tortured — fanbase believe they’re actually trying to compete with the New England Patriots (1-1) for American Football Conference East Division supremacy.

Stand-in owner Christopher Johnson went in front of the media, Wednesday, and reiterated that the Jets “are definitely not tanking.” Johnson, officially the franchise’s Chief Executive Officer, is the younger brother of majority owner Woody Johnson, who is currently serving as the Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

The new acting owner said tanking isn’t in his vocabulary.

“It couldn’t be further from the truth. I want to win every game. Every player in that locker room wants to win. What you’re seeing are growing pains. I mean, these are young guys. There are some older guys on the team and some of them are doing an extraordinary job,” Johnson said in his first meeting with the press since taking over team operations on a full-time basis. “But I think you’re going to see this team get better and better and better. That’s what I’m looking for … we are definitely not tanking.”

Jets’ fans would like to take him at his word. But if it walks like a tank and talks like a tank…it very well could be a tank. The first two games could be proof positive of that, as after two games, Gang Green ranks 31st in point differential (minus-34), tied for 27th in turnover differential (minus-3), and 32nd in points per game allowed (33.0). That’s out of 32 National Football League teams.

And what’s most alarming is that a Todd Bowles-coached defense is dead last in stopping opponents from scoring.

Christopher Johnson insists that neither Bowles, nor his other boss, general manager Mike Maccagnan, is under fire for the team’s current malaise. Three seasons together, including one 10-win season in Bowles’s maiden voyage, isn’t enough time to gauge how either is doing on the job. Johnson noted it’d be difficult to relieve either of their duties after big brother gave the Code Red for the tanking – oops, the rebuild.

“Believe me, I like winning a lot more than losses, but that’s only part of the equation. The real way to judge this team and the people on it, including me, is ‘are we getting better?’ It’s not going to come down to games,” Johnson said, adding a win-loss record wouldn’t be the deciding factor. “It’s more about the play on the field. Are we getting better? Losses hurt deeply. I like wins a lot more. But it’s not going to be the sole or even a really important way for me to judge Mike and Todd.”

That means how Bowles develops young talent like defensive end Leonard Williams or their two prized rookie safeties, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, could ultimately decide his fate.

“My brother said, back early in the spring, to not judge the team on wins and losses but [rather] progression and I agree with that. I think it’s going to be obvious to all [that] this team is progressing. There are so many young guys who, just because they aren’t [famous] names, doesn’t mean they aren’t really talented,” reasoned Johnson. “We have a group of coaches, including Todd, who are really good at building those players up. I think you’re going to see a lot of progression. It’s going to be obvious.”

What’s also obvious is that the Jets won’t be contending for anything this season – other than the right to draft a quarterback high in next April’s draft.

Another obvious observation to note is that the new acting owner is a bit of a pie-in-the-sky dreamer. He joked that while he acknowledges a rebuild – not a tanking – he still hopes to be the reason why the Jets hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy someday, while Woody serves overseas.

“I’m not a patient man. I’m like any fan. I’ve been a fan of this team my whole life. Yeah, you can look long-term, but I want to see this team progressing every game. I’m not happy with losses, but I’m excited about the progression,” he said. “What I really want to see happen is for us to go to the Super Bowl, where I promised my brother I’d leave him two tickets at will call. Every little brother wants to show up his big brother.”

That’s a huge dream for the Jets, even if playing the John Madden Football video game in franchise mode, let alone real life.

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