What can a new GM do?
I am going to spell what I think the new general manager (or Mike Tannenbaum if he stays) should do to begin righting the ship. I think given the current state of the roster, the salary cap, and the options available, this team needs two smart offseasons to be able to contend for anything significant. If this first offseason is handled correctly, however, it can put the Jets back on the upswing and back into the Playoff race next year. It can set the team up to fill the rest of its holes a year from now and potentially have a big 2014. Don't say that's too quick to expect a turnaround. The NFL lends itself to quick turnarounds. This offseason can be a success in five quick steps.
1. Lock up Darrelle Revis
This one is self-explanatory. Revis is a once in a generation talent. He makes everybody around him better and single-handedly eliminates some of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the league. The Jets
2. Find a real offensive coordinator
The current roster the Jets have does not make it a place for on the job training. The Jets need to find an offensive coordinator with a track record for building successful offenses, making players better, and making the whole greater than the sum of the parts. I don't agree with people saying a head coach needs to know both sides of the ball. Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy are wizards on one side of the ball. They've had success because they've found competent people to run things on the other side of the ball and at least get those units to be productive enough. Those teams are carried by their offenses, but their defenses at least good enough to not lose games. Rex Ryan needs to find somebody he can hand off the offense to and know he can get a representative unit.
3. Shed bad contracts
The Jets are not in a position where they are going to be able to fill all of their holes in one offseason because of the contracts they have and the salary cap position it puts them in. What they can do is shed the bad contracts this offseason so they will have the cap room to address their needs in a year. Getting rid of Mark Sanchez is going to be too prohibitive this year, but they can get Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, Sione Pouha, David Harris, Jason Smith, Eric Smith and Santonio Holmes off the books. Maybe even look to trade Antonio Cromartie, whose value will never be higher and has been inconsistent from year to year. Cutting many of these players would be addition by subtraction. In some cases like Holmes it will be short term hurt, but the team is not going to contend for a Super Bowl in 2013 anyway. It's best to take the hit now for long term cap space. In other cases like Harris and Jason Smith, they will ideally be able to bring them back at a cheaper rate. This is the time to get rid of big salaries for players who do not deserve them.
4. Build the offensive line into a dominant unit
The Jets have a lot of holes, but all holes are not created equally. It isn't even a case where you can look at linebacker, say the team has the worst players there and declare it the biggest hole. The defense isn't dominant right now. You can argue about how good it is. It is still a functional unit. The offense is not functional. You cannot win without a functional offense. An edge rusher can turn the defense into a very good or even great unit, but that does you no good without an offense capable of doing anything well. Next year, after the offense is functional again, we can worry about turning the defense into a dominant one. That can take the team to the next level. First we have to worry about the Jets becoming a decent team. That means focusing on the offense.
The best way to fix an offense is to find a franchise quarterback. Unlike last year when Peyton Manning was a free agent and Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were out there, 2013 looks to be an offseason without a franchise quarterback on the market. All of the Draft prospects appear to be developmental players, even those who might go in the first round.
The next best way is to build a dominant offensive line. When the Jets were a great running team from 2008 and 2010, it was because they had an offensive line that blew people off the ball and created gaping holes for the running back. The current Jets team can't do anything effectively on offense. With a punishing offensive line, they will be able to run the ball. That makes life a lot easier on the quarterback and opens things up in the passing game. When you can run it effectively, you can build off that. D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold are two-fifths of an excellent offensive line. Re-sign Brandon Moore, and you are 60% of the way there. With options in free agency limited, perhaps that means double dipping on a couple of road graters for left guard and right tackle early in the Draft. Use Austin Howard and Jason Smith as extra blockers in the jumbo set. Have an elite rushing offense keeping a Rex Ryan defense rested, and you have a team that will be a lot easier to watch and be a lot better on the field.
Building up the offensive line also prepares the team for when it can add that franchise quarterback. You want to put that guy into a good situation, which means having a good line in front of him. What the Jets cannot do is go into next season with a Ferguson-Slauson-Mangold-Ducasse-Howard line. I don't even want one from the Slauson, Ducasse, Howard group to be part of the starting lineup.
5. Find a competent veteran quarterback
Mark Sanchez is probably going to be back next year. Like it or not, that's just a reality. Maybe with a new coordinator who knows what he is doing and an excellent run game, he can start to turn his career around and do enough to keep this team successful. The Jets need to be prepared in case that doesn't happen, though. If Sanchez starts melting down again, they need to have somebody they can turn to for steady play to save their season.
In truth, people from the Matt Moore-Jason Campbell quarterback category probably wouldn't have had much success with this offense and the lack of surround talent. They might have not become turnover machines, though, and that might have made a big difference. Give them a good offensive line with an excellent run game, and they can be functional placeholders.
If the Jets do these things, they can change the perception of the franchise in a hurry. They can become a respected, Playoff team and position themselves to fill the rest of the holes that can make them truly dangerous, such as finding an edge rusher a year from now.
What is truly sad is how similar these necessary tasks are to what they were a year ago. This team's management wasted a year by not addressing these things last offseason. It is important to not make that mistake again.