Maintaining Morale is key for Robert Saleh as Season Winds Down
By Nick Ferraro
Frustration is still the theme of the 2023 season for Robert Saleh and the New York Jets. From the opening series of the year and the injury to Aaron Rodgers to the sack/fumble that ended the Jets hopes for winning on Sunday against the Falcons, the frustration continues to mount. One of the concerns for the remainder of the season is how the team deals with an increasingly discouraging year.
For a team that has been consistently challenged to put up double digits on offense, losing their remaining five games is a very real possibility. If the Jets were to drop each of their remaining games, it would mean the team will have lost ten straight games to finish the year. That scenario was unthinkable as the Jets approached opening night.
The drop off from the expectations for this season to the reality of what this year has become is a source of exasperation and potential resentment. The micro challenges of preparing each day and playing each Sunday are, of course, important, but they pale in comparison to the bigger picture. The Jets will almost certainly end up with one of the league’s ten worst records landing them again in the top of the draft. This team, however, is not far away from being a serious contender for a conference title. One of the starkest threats to the Jets making that ascent into contention in 2024 is unraveling as a team in 2023.
Thus far the team has seemed to manage the end of their playoff aspirations in excellent form. There are, however, cracks in the team’s mettle. The drama around Allen Lazard and the rumors of Zach Wilson’s reluctance to again take the field are concerning. The disparity between the abilities of the Jet’s defense and the team’s offense can also be a source of friction. Losing breeds discontentment. Everyone has been saying the right things publicly. What they are saying in private to one another and what is in their hearts can bleed through the last five games into the offseason.
The lasting impact of frayed interpersonal relationships, distrust, and resentment toward teammates and coaches needs to be on the minds of the players and coaches. Robert Saleh and company must display the best of their character and drive their positive influence down through the team. The respected leaders among the players must display through their actions and their words that they are in lock step with the coaching staff. The front office needs to use the tools at their disposal to remove players who they identify as having the potential to poison the team’s focus or breed contempt among the group.
The remaining weeks of this season represent a true test of leadership. In many ways it will be easier to be a Carolina Panther than to be a New York Jet these next five weeks. There were no expectations in Carolina. There is little drop off from what type of season the Panthers presumed they would have to the reality of being a Panther in 2023. The chasm between the season the Jets expected to have and the season they are experiencing can and will destroy the team if it is allowed to do so.
Coach Saleh and the leaders on this team must step up. Their character and their attention to team chemistry needs to be tangible and present each day for the remaining five weeks. The talented young core of this group needs to be led. They need to see how veterans approach their work and coaches manage these remaining games. If this team is left rudderless, the players will drift into isolation. A disconnectedness will permeate the locker room. Team chemistry will dissolve, and players will seek a means to find other places to play or lose their passion for playing.
These negative effects will have an unwanted impact beyond the last game into the offseason and on into the 2024 season. There is no way to win games on the 2024 schedule yet, but there is a way to lose them. The Jet’s leaders must recognize this risk and take steps to avoid it. Casey Stengel once said, “the key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided”. There is certainly humor in his words, but the message is true. The only people who need to be around the New York Jets are those who believe in the New York Jets.