There are plenty of thoughts on how Mike Tannenbaum got the Jets to the sorry shape they are in. He completely botched the 2011 and 2012 offseasons, sure. He gave out elite contracts to players who are not elite, absolutely. He trades Draft picks too frequently, perhaps. I think these all play into one bigger problem. Any of these could have been avoided had Tannenbaum not completely blown three consecutive Drafts from 2008 to 2010. The Jets came out of these years with marginal at best talent.
The Draft is the best way to add talent at value prices. Many say it takes a few years for the impact of a given Draft to be felt. For example, the successes of 2006 and 2007 were felt in 2009 and 2010. The last two years, the Jets have suffered because of the failed Drafts of 2008, 2009, and 2010.
Despite the stories of players from late rounds who make it, NFL teams usually get it right. Most impact players go in the first and second round. Let's take a look at the players the Jets got in those rounds. In 2008, they netted Vernon Gholston and Dustin Keller. In 2009, they packaged their first and second round picks to get Mark Sanchez. In 2010, Kyle Wilson and Vladimir Ducasse were the picks.
They had six picks and turned them into five players. Two of these players have become average starters at best. Keller and Wilson can play at an adequate level. That's great if we are talking about the third round. There were impact players to be had. The Jets did not get them. Keller and Wilson are also successes by the standards set by those Drafts. Mark Sanchez, Vernon Gholston, and Vladimir Ducasse have all proven to be busts. Sanchez has had moments, but he's been a bottom tier quarterback. Gholston and Ducasse have produced little if not nothing for this team. It's not like the Jets made up for it by selecting talent later in the Draft. Only three spare parts picked in those years remain on the team, Shonn Greene, Matt Slauson, and Joe McKnight. Even if you add in players acquired in trades for picks, things don't look much better. It got the Jets an average year of Brett Favre, a year and three quarters of Braylon Edwards, a year and a quarter of Kris Jenkins, and Santonio Holmes, which might be a net negative since that trade resulted in a contract that has become an albatross. You just need to get more from the Draft.
Think about how different things are with this team had those picks panned out. Right tackle wouldn't be the problem it is if Ducasse produced like he was supposed to. Calvin Pace's contract wouldn't have been an issue with Gholston being a star. Antonio Cromartie has been excellent, but the Jets could have saved money had Wilson developed into the similar shutdown corner he was supposed to be. Let's not even talk about the difference Sanchez playing like an actual franchise quarterback would have made. Imagine the Jets having an elite passing game to go with the defense and run game they had their first two years. Surely they would have been able to get by with less talent overall if Sanchez had developed properly.
Maybe that's a development issue, but think of what the Jets missed out on. Think about the Jets getting Ryan Clady and Ray Rice in 2008. How about Clay Matthews and Mike Wallace in 2009? Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Spikes in 2010. Maybe asking them to hit on all of those is too much. Imagine they got three of those six players. This is a different team. We are likely calling the Jets a good team that maximizes its cap space. It would have been a very attractive destination for Peyton Manning last year. You might argue that you can always look back with hindsight at the players the team passed, but that misses the point. It's the front office's job to figure out who is going to be great. If we are going to praise them for getting Darrelle Revis and Nick Mangold, they deserve to be criticized for passing on elite talent three straight years.
Don't just focus on the picks traded away. The bigger issue was the players actually picked during a three year stretch that helped sink this franchise.