Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NFL Offseason Preview -- New York Jets

Look! It's the 2011 New York Jets!
Though the Super Bowl is over and games don’t begin until next fall, the NFL season never truly ends. In many ways, the “game” that goes on in between the games is just as important, if not more so, than what happens on the field. Here, in the offseason, is where the course of all 32 NFL franchises is determined. To highlight the importance of this period, and to take a peek at what each team is facing, I’ll be embarking on an ambitious series in which I briefly preview each team’s offseason. We’ll examine the major questions each team faces, what type of cap room they have, who they should be targeting in the draft, etc. My goal is to complete this prior to the start of free agency (March 13)…..which will likely not happen. Oh well.

We continue the previews with a team that was apparently supposed to make the Super Bowl last year (and the year before), the New York Jets. In case you missed them, here are links to each of our past previews:

*Cap figures are taken from South Florida Sun-Sentinel.  Estimated cap is $124 million.*

New York Jets

2011 Record:  8-8
PPG For: 23.6 (13th)
PPG Against:  22.7 (20th)
2012 Cap Number:  $128,092,733
Draft Position:  #16 Overall Pick

Hey, at least when Rex Ryan opened his big mouth in 2009 and 2010, the Jets somewhat backed up his idiotic statements by making the AFC Championship game. Never mind that they needed to back door their way into the playoffs…we’ll play like everyone else and pretend that never happened. People like me have been befuddled by the Jets recent playoff success, as the talent level just didn’t seem to measure up with the final result. Well, the other shoe finally dropped last year, and thank goodness for that! The defense, which has been quietly eroding up front for a couple seasons, stopped being dominant, leaving the offense to pick up the slack. Given that Mark Sanchez is still the QB, I’m sure you can figure out the result. Look, Jets fans, I fully admit that I reveled in your failure. Can you blame me? Your coach is the most arrogant piece of garbage in the NFL, and of course I’m going to be invested in his ultimate demise! Don’t blame me, blame him!

The Good: 

While the defense no doubt needs some retooling, it’s not like a total rebuild is in order. Darrelle Revis is still the best cornerback in the game, and arguably the best overall defensive player in the game. He’ll be just 27 at the start of next season, as will Antonio Cromartie. Throw in the developing Kyle Wilson, and the Jets still have one of the most talented groups of cover corners in the league. And if Muhammad Wilkerson can build on a solid rookie season, the Jets will have foundational pieces on the line and at linebacker (David Harris). If they can upgrade at safety and find one extra pass rusher, the defense could very well go back to its usual dominating self.

The Bad:

Mark Sanchez. Mark Sanchez. Mark Sanchez. Mark Sanchez. Mark Sanchez. (Getting the picture?)

Look, I hated Sanchez when he was drafted, I hated him during his rookie year, I hated him in his second season, and I hated him last year. I HAAAAAATE Mark Sanchez, and I’m just as invested in his ultimate failure as I am in Rex Ryan’s. You can call me a hater if you want – and, by the way, that would be completely true – but there should be no remaining doubt that Sanchez is just plain bad. For the third straight season, Sanchez completed far less than 60% of his passes. For the third year, Sanchez averaged far less than 7.0 Y/A. For the third straight year, Sanchez couldn’t get his QB Rating above 80. And for the third straight year, Sanchez struggled mightily with turnovers. More on this later.

Key Free Agents:  WR Plaxico Burress, S Jim Leonhard, LB Aaron Maybin (RFA), S Brodney Pool, DT Sione Pouha, LB Bryan Thomas, RB LaDainian Tomlinson

3 Key Questions:

#1 – Is it time to give up on Mark Sanchez?

YES, YES, YES!!! A thousand times, yes! Sanchez has been given three full years to develop into something more than a guy who’s barely better than Tarvaris Jackson, and it just hasn’t happened. The Jets tried to turn more of the offense over to him this year, and look how that turned out! Out of the playoffs, and no wins against teams with winning records. Bad. Perhaps even more damning is that Sanchez couldn’t even be effective when the Jets were trying to protect him with overly conservative play calling. Sorry, Colin Cowherd, Sanchez is just bad.

The Peyton Manning rumor has been all the rage early in this offseason, and that would certainly be an interesting match. Again, the uncertainty surrounding his health makes it a very scary proposition, but the Jets simply can’t continue to spin their wheels like this and expect different results. Being as cap-strapped as they are, it’s going to be tough to bring in anybody of value, but you’d have to think they could make it work for someone like Manning. (Note: I’m not assuming Manning would WANT to play for the Jets. Maybe he’d prefer another destination. My statements are only in regards to the Jets potential interest in Manning, no matter how one-sided that may be.)

#2 – Are the Jets “guaranteed” to win the Super Bowl this year?

There was a point in time where I actually thought Rex Ryan’s brashness was a positive for the Jets. He brought a swagger to the team that seemed to actually elevate the level of play beyond where it was before, and I think it was a big reason for their surprise run in the 2009 playoffs. But the line between brash/confident and arrogant/out of control is paper thin, and there’s no doubt that Ryan has long since crossed that line. Even as the Jets were “backing up their talk” against New England a couple seasons ago, you could clearly see the seeds of disaster being sown. Well, those seeds went into full bloom last year. Santonio Holmes was a massive headache from day one, the effort level of the team was maddeningly inconsistent, dumb excuses were made for poor play, and sniping in the locker room reached an all time high. Once “unnamed teammates” threw Mark Sanchez under the bus, you knew for sure that Rex had lost his locker room…and the Bart Scott thing this offseason has put a nice punctuation mark on the whole thing. Thus far, the brashness has been toned down, but it’ll take more than a quiet period for Rex to reclaim that locker room and get this team back to where it was a couple years ago.

#3 – Does the team need to be rid of Santonio Holmes?

Holmes showed all kinds of immaturity last season, especially at the end of the year, and there has been some talk of jettisoning the talented but troubled wideout. Honestly, I don’t see it. The Jets just gave him a massive contract, so I imagine the cap hit would be enormous. Even more troubling is that Holmes, despite his problems, is probably the most talented player on the Jets offense. No matter who the QB is, it’ll be tough to move the ball without any talent around him. Just strip the “C” off Holmes, keep a close eye on him, and throw him the ball.
Draft Thoughts: 

Offensive Line – Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore aren’t exactly the best guards in the game, and an upgrade at one of those spots would fit in with the Jets inside running philosophy. David Decastro is the best guard available, but Cordy Glenn would also work if Decastro is gone.

Defensive Line – As I said, the Jets don’t have a ton of talent up front. Dontari Poe is a favorite of mine, and he could become a priority if Sione Pouha isn’t brought back.

Linebackers – The Jets need to improve their pass rush in the worst way, and I have OLB as one of the highest priorities for them. After Courtney Upshaw though, the crop is fairly limited. Melvin Ingram would be the most likely target, but he’s currently projected to go a few spots before the Jets. Unless Whitney Mercillus shows promise as an Aldon Smith type (which scouts say he does not) then the Jets might have to address this need elsewhere.

Safety – Jim Leonhard and Brodney Pool were pretty bad last year. If Dallas passes on Mark Barron, then he should probably be the pick.

Coach – Wait, you can’t draft coaches? Sorry, Jets fans!

(By the way, I don't know if he'll fall this far, but if Trent Richardson were to be available then I think he'd be a terrific pick. Shonn Greene had a nice season last year, but his durability is definitely in question. Also, the Jets will probably run the ball enough to keep both guys happy.)

Summary Thoughts:

Let’s just be honest about this; the Jets were bad last year. They had no quality wins and they were probably fortunate to finish with 8 wins. Sorry, but it’s the truth. And if Mark Sanchez is back for Year 4, then they’ll continue to be limited in how far they can go. With Sanchez, it’s reasonable to think they can win 9-10 games, and maybe pull out a playoff win or two in the crappy AFC. After all, the defense still has some big time talent, and the emergence of Shonn Greene could return the team to where it was in 2010. But that’s about as much as I can say, because this team is NOT winning the AFC with Mark Sanchez. Can’t happen, won’t happen.

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