The Jets roster will be reshaped this week with free-agent signings and departures. General manager Joe Douglas will be a busy man as he tries to fill the holes on a team that has not had a winning season in five years.
But the player who could have the most effect on the Jets’ fortunes is a player Douglas won’t be involved with. He won’t talk to his agent about him. He won’t put the full-court press on him.
No, the Jets will be spectators in the Tom Brady sweepstakes, like everybody else, but maybe with a bit more interest than the average person.
Brady has tormented the Jets for the past 19 years. Jets linebacker Mo Lewis got Brady’s career started when he blasted Drew Bledsoe along the sideline in the Jets-Patriots game on Sept. 23, 2001. Brady came off the bench and a dynasty was born. He completed just five passes for 46 yards in that 10-3 Jets win, but that would be one of the only times the Jets would get the better of him.
Brady is 30-8 in his career against the Jets. He has only beaten the Bills more. The Jets have not beaten Brady since 2015.
For most of the past two decades, it has felt like the Jets were playing for second place in the AFC East. Their only hope of making the playoffs was a wild-card berth. It has felt like a division title was a pipe dream, their last one coming in 2002, Brady’s first full year as a starter.
But if the 43-year-old leaves New England this week, as many are projecting, there will be a new hope for the Jets. Yes, Bill Belichick will still be the Patriots’ coach, but will the Patriots have to begin a rebuild without Brady? They have an aging roster that needs an injection of youth. Their lack of offensive talent was apparent last year, especially in the loss to the Titans in the playoffs. Who would replace Brady? Would they go with Jarett Stidham, who Jets fans saw briefly last year before he threw a pick-six to Jamal Adams and was benched?
The Jets have been waiting for the Patriots’ demise for the past decade. For a moment, it felt like Rex Ryan’s Jets had closed the gap after they beat the Patriots in the 2010 playoffs. But the Patriot train got back on track and has rolled over the Jets since then, only losing two games to Gang Green.
The Patriots have won 11 straight AFC East crowns and 16 out of the past 17, the only exception coming in 2008 when Brady was hurt and they still went 11-5 but missed the playoffs.
The question now is whether the Jets are in position to win the division if this is the end of Brady and the Patriots’ run.
The Bills were clearly ahead of the Jets in 2019, but it is not that wide of a gap. The Jets believe they have the quarterback to lead them in Sam Darnold. While the fans have their doubts about Adam Gase, ownership believes in Gase and Douglas as their leadership team.
The roster needs plenty of repairs, but Douglas’ scouting eye is a main reason he was hired last June.
“One of the other three teams has to go take it,” Gase said last month. “I think right now they’ve won the division so many times in a row. Coach Belichick has done a great job and his staff. One of us has to do a good job of outplaying those guys for a full season. It hasn’t been an easy thing to do.”
The Jets roster won’t be fixed overnight, but if Brady departs New England, it will give the Jets hope they have not had in a long time. The AFC East won’t be the impossible dream.
The Jets may see Brady in 2020 anyway. The Chargers and 49ers have both been speculated as landing spots for Brady and are on the Jets’ schedule. But it won’t be the same as seeing Brady in red, white and blue. It won’t be the same as walking into Gillette Stadium, trying to beat him.
The Jets will be watching the Brady sweepstakes closely. Brady could give the Jets their biggest win in free agency this week.