Now that the offseason is upon us, the New York Jets have considerable work ahead of themselves if they hope to return to contention. The "Keys to the Offseason" will be a series of posts, with the first one focusing on one of the club's main weaknesses: a lack of discipline. For the first key, you're going to have to jump!
Law and Order
While there were many problems on the field, the season's ultimate downfall was caused by a lack of discipline and a lack of leadership. Gang Green lost tons of talent last summer, but I'd wager that the aging Tony Richardson was missed the most. T-Rich was a professional in every sense of the word, a role model for the younger players to emulate. In 2009 and 2010, he was joined by other veterans, including Shaun Ellis and Thomas Jones. With last season's departure of Richardson and Ellis (and Jones the year prior), a serious void was created. Who were the leaders this season? Was it captain Santonio Holmes, who quit on his teammates when they needed him most? Was it Mark Sanchez, whose performance and authority was questioned by his #1 receiver? Maybe Nick Mangold or D'Brickashaw Ferguson, who both prefer to lead by example, rather than by rhetoric? All of these players are talented and dynamic, but none took charge of the team when the crap hit the fan. Instead, LaDainian Tomlinson found himself as the lone leader of a clubhouse that had turned into a zoo. When reports surfaced of Holmes' confrontation in the huddle, I was pleased that one of his teammates had the courage to call out the enigmatic receiver. I hoped that it was one of the cornerstones (perhaps Mangold or 'Brick) finally stepping up, but was disappointed to hear that the brave player was none other than the "Human Turnstile" Wayne Hunter, who had played like a terrified matador all season long. The 2012 Jets will certainly need an infusion of talent to realize their Super Bowl aspirations, but no amount of talent could help unless the overall atmosphere changes. This can materialize in three simple steps:
- Changes need to start from the top of the organization. Owner Woody Johnson and General Manager Mike Tannenbaum have to set the tone: when a player gets out of line, he needs to get disciplined by the team's management. Bart Scott's substantial fine for his inappropriate behavior was a departure from the lax approach of the Jets organization, but its a good start (baby steps) to what will hopefully develop into a more disciplined culture.
- Rex Ryan is next on the pecking order, and it is clear that his players-first philosophy was abused this season. Being a coach is much like being a parent; it is great to be your child's best friend, as long as they continue to respect you as an elder. Towards the end of the year, Rex's failure to discipline the malcontents made it seem like his amiability was being taken advantage of by his players, and that is simply unacceptable. Judging by the vagueness of Ryan's recent comments to the press, I fear that he may be Holmes' biggest enabler. Punishing Tone has to be one of Rex's keys to the offseason, and will be crucial in re-asserting his credibility to the rest of the team.
- On the field, it would be optimal if Mark Sanchez or Nick Mangold could develop into leadership roles. Sanchez seems to want it, but hasn't been able to take charge just yet:
"(Sanchez is) always trying to be nice, he wants the leadership, but he’s not willing to take it, and as a quarterback, this is your league, this is your game. You gotta take it."
-Kris Jenkins, former Jets DL
Until one of the young cornerstones of the franchise grows into the role, veterans need to be brought in to stabilize the clubhouse. London Fletcher is coming off another incredible season (even leading the league in tackles), and is a free agent. Despite his advanced age of thirty six years, he plays with the hunger of a much younger man. His talents should still be attractive to the Jets as a potential replacement to Bart Scott, but it is his leadership and classiness that should seal the deal. Fletcher won a Super Bowl in his second professional season, but hasn't experienced much postseason success since then. If he wants one last chance at a second ring (and who doesn't?), a 2-year deal with the Jets could be an option to consider for the 14 year vet. Signing a high character guy will become more urgent If LaDainian Tomlinson retires. Joe McKnight is a capable backup and can replace LT's production on the field, but the Jets will need to work long and hard to find a player to fill Tomlinson's place in the locker room. Signing Fletcher would be a great start.
Despite their many shortcomings, the Jets had plenty of talent on the field in 2011. Greg McElroy has alluded to a poisonous atmosphere in the locker room, and I believe that this lack of chemistry is the main reason for the Jets' failed season. If they don't establish "law and order" in the organization, the Jets will never be able to succeed. A new attitude and culture needs to be brought in, and accomplishing this will be one of the most critical aspects to Gang Green's offseason. Tune in next week for the second edition of "Keys to the Offseason".