During the second half of Sunday’s 24-0 Jets loss to the Dolphins, television cameras caught general manager Joe Douglas, sitting alone in the press box, in several candid states of uncomfortable body language.
One shot showed him with a look of utter bewilderment that was well apparent through the dark face covering with a Jets logo he was wearing.
Another showed him with his head buried in his hands.
A third camera shot showed Douglas staring down at his cell phone, his fingers tapping away.
We can’t be certain whether or not that was the moment Douglas was executing the trade of Jets veteran defensive lineman Steve McLendon, a deal that was announced shortly after the Jets’ sixth consecutive loss this season without a win, or whether he was texting his wife or playing a video game to distract himself from his team’s disgusting display of football.
Either way, Douglas and the Jets traded McLendon, their longest-tenured veteran and — more importantly — a heart-and-soul figure inside their locker room.
At its core, the deal was made because McLendon, at age 34, in his 11th NFL season (fifth with the Jets) and playing on a one-year contract, was not going to be back with the team in 2021 and this was an opportunity to acquire another draft pick.
Douglas, as we’ve come to know, likes to accumulate draft picks like young boys with toy trucks in that he can never have enough of them.
This deal actually netted the Jets only a slight draft-pick upgrade as they sent a 2023 seventh-round pick to Tampa Bay along with McLendon for the Buccaneers’ 2022 sixth-rounder.
Of more significance, the trade delivered a depressing message to the team’s locker room that the white flag on the 2020 season is being raised.
Make no mistake, though: That flag was on its way up the pole before McLendon was dealt.
Cutting running back Le’Veon Bell last week was part of that, though Bell tweaking head coach Adam Gase on Twitter accelerated his departure. So, too, did the petulant actions of safety Jamal Adams, who whined his way out of Dodge and was traded before the season began for a couple Seattle first-round picks.
The bottom line, though, is the Jets, the NFL’s only winless team and one that began the season deficient on talent in the first place, has jettisoned some of the best talent it had in the locker room.
In McLendon, they traded away one of the few veteran leaders whose voice holds the most weight inside their locker room. Obviously, Douglas is taking the it’s-going-to-get-worse-before-it-gets-better approach.
“It’s something that evolved over the weekend,’’ Gase said Monday of the trade. “We talked with [McLendon] and got it done. It’s an opportunity for him to go compete at a place that’s challenging to get in the playoffs. I know it wasn’t an ideal situation for him leaving this group [because] he’s put so much into this team. He was a great leader for us.’’
When it was suggested to Gase that this gives the perception the Jets are in “fire sale’’ mode, he stumbled through an answer, saying, “That’s not … to me it was a different deal. It was something that came up. After talking to Steve and those guys working things out, we just felt like this was the right thing to do.’’
In the current COVID-19 age with NFL protocols, reporters are not permitted inside the locker room or to have any face-to-face access to players. So, it’s difficult to gauge the mood inside the Jets room.
But I guarantee, knowing the weight McLendon’s voice and leadership carried with his teammates, there are some noses bent out of joint in that locker room right now, some players bewildered by the move.
The three players who were made available by the team Monday — quarterback Joe Flacco, cornerback Pierre Desir and guard Greg Van Roten — are all in their first year with the team, so they had little time with McLendon and their reactions were more tempered than some who’ve been with him for a few years.
So, what Adams is doing in Seattle and Bell is doing in Kansas City, McLendon gets to do in Tampa — join a winning team (the Bucs are 4-2) with a chance to go to the playoffs and contend for a Super Bowl while his former team wallows in yet another rebuild in a countless series of them over the years.
Good for McLendon, who according to a Fox Sports report, drove straight from Miami to Tampa after the Jets loss on Sunday to begin his next chapter while his now former team remains stuck in neutral, re-reading Chapter One.
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