EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Jets don't want to say the word, because they don't want to put too much pressure on themselves. But they know this is the year their rebuilding project is supposed to pay off. They've spent too much money and made too many high draft picks not to be a playoff team.
But if they're still really not sure that they're there yet, if they still feel like there's something missing, there's one really good way to push themselves over the top:
Make a blockbuster trade for Houston Texans edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney. And do it now.
Yes, it's easier said than done, but the 26-year-old pass-rushing beast is exactly what's missing from the Jets' playoff formula. They have the quarterback and the offensive weapons on one side, but not quite enough on the other side, no matter how good new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is. He's got a shaky secondary and a front seven missing a force on the edge.
New Jets GM Joe Douglas knows it too, which is why on Saturday night he called finding and edge rusher "a priority."
Well, that's probably true for most teams around the NFL, so don't expect a good one to pop up on the waiver wire next week. But Clowney, unhappy with the "franchise tag" and unable to reach a long-term deal with the Texans, seems like someone the Jets could pry loose.
And oh, by the way, NFL Network's Mike Lombardi, a former NFL GM, reported that Clowney likely will be traded in the next 24-48 hours.
If that's true, the Jets better find out what it would take to get Clowney traded to them.
Spoiler alert: It won't be cheap: It would almost certainly cost Douglas a future draft pick, possibly a high one, or maybe picks, even though Clowney is technically only a one-year rental. The Texans, according to reports, are interested in adding help along the offensive line and at wide receiver, though neither area is a place where the Jets are particularly deep.
Also, Clowney is due $15.9 million this season under the franchise tag, which is currently more than the Jets have available under the salary cap ($11.3 million). They'd have to do some cap gymnastics and either cut some expensive players or re-do a few existing contracts to create that space, which isn't impossible but not necessarily ideal.
And there's a risk. Clowney can't sign a long-term deal right now. The deadline for that was July 15. And technically the Jets can't even discuss a long-term extension with him until after the season is over, though presumably they could wink and nod and drop a few hints.
But even if it's just this one year, look at what they get: A premiere edge rusher who had 18 ½ sacks over the last two seasons. All summer long the Jets have been excited about the prospects of Leonard Williams now that rookie Quinnen Williams is playing next to him. But imagine how that excitement will rise if Clowney is rushing from behind him, too.
That certainly beats Jordan Jenkins, despite his promising seven sacks last season. And it beats Brandon Copeland, who now is suspended for four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. And that's really all the Jets have, unless they rally believe third-round pick Jachai Polite will have a dominant rookie season.
The truth is that edge rusher was probably the Jets' biggest hole heading into the offseason, and they completely whiffed on filling it during their free-agent spending spree.
Now they can make amends by getting a player they likely would've gone hard after if he had hit free agency back in March. Maybe the Texans won't trade him. Maybe they won't be able to work it out. But they have to try and try hard, because this is the one available player who can truly make a difference.
But would they do it? Would they give up future draft picks or whatever it takes to make a preseason blockbuster trade?
"If it was the right player and the right situation," Douglas said, "we'd consider it."
Well, Clowney is the right player and this is the right situation. They have a young quarterback in Sam Darnold who is coming of age, and they spent millions on players like running back Le'Veon Bell and linebacker C.J. Mosley. They aren't a rebuilding team anymore. They are rebuilt.
Clowney is the one player available who could immediately shove them up the next step and make them a true contender. If that's the prize, then it sure would seem to be worth any cost.