This is an open letter to my fellow Jets fans that are falling apart nearly as badly as the 8-8 Jets did in December.
In sports, and maybe life, its so easy to forget your past. Of course, as a Jets fan, we generally encourage our brethren to put the past behind us because it isn't really the type of history that weaves in and out of NFL lore. We arent the Packers, 49ers or Steelers.
But we arent the Same Old Jets, either.....
A few years ago, the Jets did something that no one likes to talk about, because it was unpopular and proved to be a waste of a year. The Jets dumped home grown Chad Pennington for future hall of famer Brett Favre. This was a failed experiment, as evidenced by the amazing start and terrible finish the 2008 season brought us. But the experiment didnt fail us, we failed it..
Favre went on in 2009 to have a career year for the Vikings. He literally dragged his dead, mangled body through the playoffs and ultimately was put down. But which Jets fan can honestly say that they werent feeling a bit of SOJ watching Favre week in and week out, putting up numbers we were expecting to see in 2009. Did that year belong to the Jets? Were we owed one year of unlimited excitment which the Vikings stole from us?
I say yes. And we got it ourselves, without Favre. First, we dumped Mangini, whose personality never fit with the loud and somewhat blue collar Jets fans. We wound up with Rex Ryan, and like it or not, he is the textbook definition of a Jet. Not because he popularized that phrase, but because he is a big, brash, players coach. He is a perfect fit for us and us for him and there is no other marriage for Rex but the Jets, no other market I can think of that he could fit as well as NY.
Next, we had a very exciting draft, moving up big time for Sanchez, and Greene, and Slauson, all 3 are starters. We had the fewest picks in 2009 (3) whereas the Patriots had 12. You might argue that this is to a fault, because of our eagerness to trade up and get impactful players. But we werent drafting for depth, we had immediate holes to fill - we knew Favre was going to retire (again) and we knew we had contract issues with Thomas Jones and several aging OL (Faneca and Woody)
2009 was a sucessful year for a first year QB and a first year coach. Many people expected the Jets to go 4-12, and our defense looked terrible in preseason, but of course, we were given a year of redemption. The Jets competed and through a lot of luck and hard work they made the playoffs but ultimately lost to the Colts in the AFC championship game after our 2ndary was picked apart like a thanksgiving turkey.
2010 was a tough year. We were limited severely by the "Final 4" rule, forcing the improvement of our team to come via trade and draft. And what to trade when you have nothing that others want? - draft picks. So again, trading youth for talent, the Jets added some CB depth.
The Jets had 4 picks, and picked up Wilson (who is coming on as a dependable Nickleback), Ducasse (a project we couldnt afford), Conner (a bruiser and a Rex favorite, no doubt) and Joe McKnight (a dangerous man to hand the ball in open space) to replace a departed Leon Washington.
Again, 3 of the 4 picks are impactful players. McKnight is the go-to on kick returns and lead the league in averages, Wilson is the "starting" nickle and has shown that he could some day soon supplant Cromartie for the #2 spot, and Connor - a luxury pick since we had bigger needs, but wise given we had an aging Tony Richardson upon retirement. Ducasse gave us depth on the OL, but realistically, this seems to be a pretty bad pick, and one that should be highlighted in 2012 - improve or waive.
Along with a list of big name signings and trades, such as LT, Cromartie, Taylor, Holmes, the Jets seemed poised to go all the way in 2010. And again, they had a few games that came down to the wire and we saw flashes of brilliance from Sanchez. And we made it all the way to our second AFC championship game in 2 years, only to come out flat against the Steelers. Despite a strong 2nd half, the hole was too deep and we were sent home early.
And enter 2011. Again, constrained by the "Final 4" rules, the Jets acquired 0 free agents, and lost 5+. In addition to losing Brad Smith, Ihedibo, Braylon Edwards, Ellis, Coleman and Weatherford, we also lost/cut Damien Woody, Jason Taylor, Kris Jenkins, all 3 veterans and probowlers in their days (and Clemens who just created another gap at QB but I doubt was missed). I'm sure I'm forgetting a few others.
So, the magical 2011 draft is supposed to fill these 8 holes plus the holes from years past, and somehow we are destined to make the Super Bowl. I could tell you right from the start this year was going to be a tough year. We lost QB, OL, WR, DL, DE, LB, CB, S, P - basically a person from every major position group but RB. 2 on special teams, 2 WRs, May I remind you we only even started with 7 picks.
Anyway, the 2011 draft comes and goes, and yet again, the Patriots draft 9, 6 in the first 3 rounds.
We did, however, manage 6 picks, and they included a repalcement for Jenkins on the DL (Kendrick Ellis), a replacement for Shaun Ellis at DE (Wilkerson, who looks to be a winner), a replacement for Brad Smith at WR/KR (Kerley), and 3 questionable picks in Scotty McKnight, Greg McElroy, and Bilal Powell. McElroy fits in as a psudo replacement for the departed Clemens, and McKnight supposedly as a replacement for Edwards (as a favor to Sanchez) and Powell, assumed to be the heir apparent to the #3 RB spot once LT decides to retire.
We left a lot of holes on the team. Scotty McKnight is gone and instead we went with ex-con Plaxico, who was a giant question mark entering the season. And the one thing Rex used to help the past 2 years' worth of rag-tag personalities bond (the summer in Cortland) was cancelled due to the lockout. Bad blood was already brewing in the locker room as Mason, Plaxico, and Holmes all had to compete for passes on a run first offense.
All in all, 2011 was supposed to be the incremental jump to the SB according to Fans and the press, but from the outside looking in, only a few could see that we had more holes vacant than filled, and that it would take a major improvement from our rookies and young guys to make up for the loss in vereteran experience and skill.
I wont recap the 2011 season but to say that the injury to Mangold or Leonhard, or Thomas wasnt the reason we missed the playoffs - but instead a very valuable "teachable moment". We learned we have no depth in the following positions:
OL - no one was around after an injury to Turner and Mangold. 5 guys on the line, and 1 backup?
LB - Bryan Thomas goes down and who steps up? We get Maybin from the trash heap.
CB - luckily there werent any major injuries to our CB but you want Strickland in as your Nickle?
S - Leonhard goes down a second time, and we give up 40+ points a second time. A trend?
No to mention the gaps previosly discussed.
Look, I am just tired of all the Tanenbaum bashing I read here. YES WE HAVE HOLES. YES WE NEED YOUNG TALENT. Were we wrong in 2010 to trade away picks for the future? No. 2010 was our year. But we've been hampered for 2 years where we could not actively participate in free agency. Meanwhile, the Patriots, who have not been impacted, have had dozen of draft picks over the same time period because 1. they could trade talent away for picks, and sign new talent. 2. can have the worst D in football and still make the playoffs cause their O scores 30+ points every Sunday. The patriots have bait we dont, and that is Tom Brady. His name draws players from across the league to that team. They dont always work out (ie Moss, Ochocinco, Haynesworth), but they are never far from pulling in talented veterans, where the Jets couldnt (due to the final 4 rules) and couldnt prior to 2010 (we hadnt been to the AFC since the 90s).
So yes, YOU ARE WRONG about the Jets. This isn't an organization in disarray. This is an organization that was held back for 2 years due to the final 4 rules and the only team in the NFL that had the restriction twice. The Colts and the Steelers were the other 2 teams in the AFC impacted by the rule, but neither had it both in 2010 and 2011. (NFC were the Saints, Vikings, Green Bay and Bears, again none had it 2x).
Is there infighting? Yes. Do we get a lot of press? Hell yes - we are NY, and there are lots of newspapers in NYC, NJ, etc. that have to fill their sports sections with quotes from players, and nothing sells better than a train wreck, real or imaginary. Daily News, Post, Newsday, WSJ, Star Ledger, ESPN NY, radio stations, all interviewing, all digging dirt. But these arent major problems. Players are traded, cut, or leave on their own all the time because of personality conflicts. Like I said, look at the Patriots parting ways with a number of big name players in 2011.
Want to see an organization in disarray? The Colts went from Playoffs to the worst team in football with an injury to their QB. The entire organization is riding on that either Peyton's fused vertebrae are good to go in 2012 or that Andrew Luck is not Ryan Leaf. What is the success rate of 1st round QBs? Under 50% for sure. (By the way, if the Colts do return to form, they get to play a last place schedule in 2012). Is Luck the real deal? That is irrelevant. The relevant part is that the entire Colts team lived and died with Manning, and no matter how good Luck is, I doubt anyone can ever command an offense on the field like Peyton does.
What about closer to home - the AFC East: What about the Bills? They weren't much to talk about for the past decade, and finally looked like they got things together, only to totally melt down the second half of the year to a 6-10 finish. Aside from a win over Denver late in December, the previous Bills win was in Week 8. And what about the Fins? They also finished 6-10, fired their coach and also have no answer at QB. Both of our aformentioned AFC rivals have no identity and really their fans have little to celebrate in the Jets finishing 8-8.
The worst part about our 8-8 season was that there is infighting in the locker room. And those will be solved soon enough. New coaches solve this issue all the time on troubled teams where the talent wants to leave for greener pastures. But for the Jets, there are a ton of positives this 8-8 finish gives us:
1. New offense in 2012 courtesy of a completely redesigned offensive coaching staff.
2. Renewed focus on plugging holes using free agency. Weve been very good at this over the years and I am sure we can count on some creative solutins again in 2012 now that our hands arent tied.
3. A more focused draft. I think the problems, coated with 2 AFC Championship appearances, are finally visible to all and will require a more focused draft. Do we trade up this year? Maybe (see 3b) But I also wouldnt be surprised to see us trade down and go for higher number of picks if we get a few gems in FA.
3b. Compensatory Picks - we'll get a bunch which become trade bait to move up in the draft or pick up some much needed depth.
4. Fresh look at our problem makers to see if they are worth the trouble, OR, said differently, if they can get back on the bandwagon. I frankly agree with Santonio and think that both Schotty and Sanchez were the problem in 2011. Should the captain speak up and get benched? No. He handled it wrong, but his observations seemed right.
5. Sanchez do or die year. Year 3 wasnt very good for Sanchez. He was getting banged around due to a less than stellar OL, was petrified about making bad throws and was just mediocre hitting guys for YAC, and struggled all year to get on the same page with his WR. The good news? We'll probably see Plaxico go off to another team (He is a FA and I cant imagine he wants to come back) meaning youth like Kerley, who looked very good with Sanchez late in the year, may get more reps, and it means we'll be back out on the WR wire looking for some talent. Do we have it in Patrick Turner or some of the other practice squad regulars? Knowing Tanenbaum, I could see him persuing a WR early in the draft (he likes to get ahead of contract or waiving players by preemptvely drafting their replacements).
5b - Sanchez back to fundamentals - The coaches want to go and start over with Sanchez. Undo some of the bad habits he developed trying to say alive this year, and bring him back to the fundamentals the Jets saw in him back when they visited him in USC. We'll get an entire offseason to work on the new playbook, a ground and pound playbook written for a physical offense. I think he'll have a turnaround similar (but maybe not the same magnitude) as Brees did when he left Schotty and went to the Saints. Not because Sparano is good at developing QBs per se, but because in the NFL, sometimes just a change makes magic (see Tebow in Denver).
6. Special Teams = Not So Special. Despite having some talented kick returners, our special teams struggled putting 8 balls on the ground, missing a ton of field goals at the end of the season, and having spotty punts. Westhoff is still the best in the game, but I think thinning out the backups with so many people hitting IR impacts special teams assignments, not to mention the inability to easily replace P and K due to final 4 rules. Expect competition here and new blood for 2012. A resurgence for Westhoff is all but guaranteed - he wants to retire at the top of his game and this year was not it. We have both Kerley and McKnight. I dont care which one returns kicks, it is a win/win situation.
7. Defense - we added some youth and have the right mix of players in some spots, but need to upgrade our OLB and S positions badly. 2012 will round out the defense, you can bet on it. DL seems solid and CBs (or the first 3) are probably among the best top 3 in the league. We need a pass rush and help over the top and help with TEs.
Anyway, this is already a long book, but if you made it this far, I just want to say that dont be so down on the Jets and ignore the media because its their job to write "poop" about the team. Know what is in your heart. Our owner wants to win. Our front office puts together blockbuster deals and goes after talent in all forms. We HAVE been good at drafting, given our limited sample size. We have talent on the team (some of which need a little bit of time to cool down and some new coaches to refocus attention back onto the individual players instead of pointing fingers at each other). We have a good core of youth and a good core of veterans, and some holes to fill. We have free agency coming up and the draft and lots of picks and good reason to be hopeful for 2012. We might be the Jets, but at least we arent the bills or dophins!
I know you draft haters, Rex haters, Tanenbaum haters, Sanchez haters etc. are already writing your nasty comments. Go ahead, and bring em. I'll expose you for being the hack, gullible, media loving, know-nothings you are.