Woody Johnson has returned from his civic service as the United States ambassador to the United Kingdom, and he likes the changes he’s seen from his professional football club.
Johnson was essentially an absentee owner for the last four years, turning over control of the New York Jets to his brother, Christopher, while he was gone. When Woody Johnson returned to his post, he found his team had hired a new coach in former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, and the franchise has since charted a new course with the trade of Sam Darnold and selection of BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the second overall pick.
After years of on-field ineptitude, Johnson is happy to hand the keys to Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas. The two have had a busy offseason remaking the Jets roster into a respectable one, and with Wilson now in the fold, New York is setting its sights much higher than its 2-14 finish to 2020.
“They’ve got a tremendous amount of leeway,” Johnson said Wednesday in his first football-related media session since he took up the role of ambassador in 2017, via ESPN. “I’m totally in sync with these guys. Chris [Johnson] made some unbelievable choices, and we’re lucky to get both of those gentlemen.
“I couldn’t be more excited. I’m very optimistic, generally, but I’m particularly optimistic now when I see what happens on the field (in practice).”
Reports out of Jets OTAs and minicamp have been sparkling, with local media members fawning over Mississippi receiver Elijah Moore, the Jets’ second-round pick in the 2021 draft who has consistently made highlight-reel plays in his first few days with the team. Saleh has done his part in building goodwill with the notoriously unforgiving New York media, and for the first time in what seems like years, optimism is flowing in Florham Park.
It’s long overdue for the Jets, who have lingered in the cellar of the AFC East and NFL at large in the last few years. The Darnold era fell flat, as New York failed to surround him with adequate talent and former coach Adam Gase’s tenure slowly melted into a pool of disappointment.
That’s history now, and it might as well be ancient to the Jets, who are keeping their eyes firmly trained forward with Wilson front and center and Saleh behind the wheel. Despite becoming synonymous with perennial struggle in the NFL from the end of the Todd Bowles era through Gase’s tenure, the Jets refuse to be defined by this reality from now on.
“We’ll do everything in our power to put a winning team on the field this year … the first game, second game, third game,” Johnson said. “Getting the right team in place, I think we’ve done an incredible job so far. But, yeah, we want to win. We’re in the win business. We didn’t sign up for this to lose.”
That’s all fine and dandy in June, but when October arrives, we’ll have a better idea of where these Jets truly stand. Are they ready for takeoff? They’re undoubtedly fueling up for a cross-country flight at this point. We’ll see this fall whether they’re able to consistently reach cruising speed.
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