It is obvious to most that the 2012 New York Jets are on a road to failure. This nosedive is a continuation from last season. The question remains, how long will this decline last, and how can the team recover?
When Rex Ryan rolled into town, he brought a few players and changed the mentality of an already good football team. Mangini isn't the motivator or the defensive guru that Ryan is, but he had put together a formidable team. Ryan took that team to 2 back to back AFC championships and it looked like the Jets were poised to contend for a long time. To first figure out when we will recover, we must look at where we went wrong.
Mishandling of veteran talent - The Jets have made some puzzling calls in recent years when dealing with veterans. The release of Alan Faneca immediatly comes to mind. The line Ryan inherited was strong and reliable. It lead to a steady run game and a servicable passing environment for Mark Sanchez. Faneca was aging but not over the hill based on his performance. The run game was further damaged with the departures of Thomas Jones and Tony Richardson. They were brutal veterans who still had something left in the tank. While Richardson had much less left than Jones, nothing leads me to beleive that if the tandem would be performing below that of Greene and Conner. Then there is the case of Kerry Rhodes. He was a talented ballhawking safety who was portrayed as a diva. Since his departure the Jets have become woeful against tight ends in the middle and have been left looking for...a talented ballhawking safety. The Jets have also had a revolving door at the wide receiver position that is no fault but their own. Tell me that you wouldn't feel much better about our receiving corps if Braylon Edwards and Jericho Cotchery were still here.
The Jets obviously let some talent walk out the door, but lets now look at the talent they let decay on the field. As much as I love Bart Scott, he is on the downhill. His style of attacking the line is an aging style in the NFL. His grit and swagger no longer compensate for his inability to keep up with the speed of the game. He wasn't Ray Lewis in Baltimore, and he still isn't Ray Lewis in New York. I love you, Bart, but its true. Now lets turn to Bryan Thomas. Thomas has been a long tenured Jet, but he only does one thing well. He seals the edge on rush plays, but his ability to attack the passer is pedestrian at best. He was coming back from a major off season surgery, and has had trouble staying on the field this season. You can't tell me he was a better candidate to keep than Faneca.
The problem behind all of these moves, essentially, is bad talent scouting. The Jets believed players such as Eric Smith, Wayne Hunter, Matt Slauson, Vlad Ducasse, Shonn Greene, and John Conner would be able to step up. None of these players have stepped into their starting role at a capacity that would be accepted as "starting caliber" by most teams. We can only assume that the same people who predicted that these people would step up, predicted that Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas, Calvin Pace, and would remain playing at a level they played to in their prime.
Building through the draft - The Jets got some gems in the draft in the distant past. Revis, Harris, Mangold, and Keller are some examples of players who came in during the distant past. They are also a group of players who make a good core for a team to build upon. Lets now look at those who haven't made it so well.
Vernon Gholston - one of the biggest busts in NFL history
Dustin Keller - solid receiving weapon, starting caliber TE
Dwight Lowery - situational player with potential - no longer on team
Erik Ainge - drug problem, never developed
Marcus Henry - no longer on team, never developed
Nate Garner - no longer on team, never developed
Mark Sanchez - drafted to be a franchise QB, has underperformed
Shonn Greene - showed potential as a backup RB, unable to handle role of starting RB
Matt Slauson - starting guard, but not top talent, is helped by playing next to Mangold
Kyle Wilson - has potential but has been slow to develop and has still not grown out of the slot corner role
Vlad Ducasse - unable to crack the starting lineup, has the measurables but no technique
Joe McKnight - great return man, capable receiver and scat back, but is under-used
John Conner - plays angry and messy, more of a liability than a playmaker
Mo Wilkerson - looks to be developing into a starting caliber DE
Kenrick Ellis - slow to develop still 50/50 as to if he will ever develop
Bilal Powell - awful rookie season, seemes servicable as a 3rd down back
Jeremy Kerley - wiley slot receiver who should be productive for years to come
Greg McElroy - 3rd string QB
Scotty McKnight - practice squad dropout
I am going to skip the 2012 draft class, as it is far too soon to make any sort of call on their abilities.
So we are mishandling veterans, and either under-developing young players or drafting duds. Could it get worse? Yes. The Jets are also tied into some awful contracts. While Revis demands and deserves astronomical numbers, there are players who were given contracts by us that I don't feel would have been matched in the open market. The Sanchez extension is fresh on everyones mind, but lets not forget overpaying for Antonio Cromartie. After we shunned him in free agency, we gave him more than a fair deal to entice him back. Lets also look at David Harris. While he is a very solid player, and a core player to our team, he isn't an impact player and is being paid like one. We are also very close to being at cap capacity, yet we are woefully under talented at many positions. We also are woefully under talented at backup positions. Which is why injuries have played such a large part in the decay of our level of play in recent years. Look at the Jim Leonhard injuries, the Nick Mangold injurt, and the Bryan Thomas injury. So not only has talent been mismanaged, but also money. For a player friendly coach like Ryan, who some predicted players would take a pay cut to play for, the opposite seems true.
The sad truth is, this is not an easy fix. A few riviting speaches by Rex and an us against the world mentality won't do it this time. This problem could take years to fix, and the problem is who to point a finger at? Is it the GM or the scouts? is it Rex or is it pressure from Woody to sell tickets? Strap yourselves in, Jets fans, as if we weren't already the laughingstock of the league, this is still going to be a bumpy ride.