Once again the Jets are considering taking a quarterback of the future in the NFL Draft. Over the past decade, this has been a recurring theme. It did not have to be, however. Twelve years ago the team owned the top pick in the Draft and appeared to be in prime position to land a potential franchise quarterback. Then Peyton Manning shockingly decided to return to Tennessee for his senior year. The following is a look at how history may have panned out had Manning not made that fateful decison. Today's focus will be 2000.
2000 was a transitional season for the Jets. Bill Parcells moved upstairs to serve solely as general manager. Bill Belichick took over as head coach. The club suffered a blow at the hands of the hated Patriots soon after 1999 concluded. New England hired Al Groh, who was slated for a promotion from linebackers coach to Belichick's defensive coordinator. Although his attempts to land Belichick failed, Robert Kraft wanted to go back to the Parcells tree to bring discipline back to his franchise after three disappointing seasons under Pete Carroll. Defensive line coach Romeo Crennel took Groh's spot as defensive coordinator, while offensive coordinator Charlie Weis stayed on in the same role.
Right before the NFL Draft that year, Gang Green was at the center of a hot trade rumor. Keyshawn Johnson wanted a new contract. Tampa Bay reportedly offered a pair of first round picks in an attempt to bring life to its dormant passing game, but the Jets and Johnson reached a new deal to keep Peyton Manning's favorite target in New York. The Jets gave up a little more than they wanted, and Johnson took a little less than what he wanted to stay with a winner. Tampa Bay ended up taking Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington near the end of the first round to address its passing woes. The Jets took a quarterback of their own in that Draft. After Vinny Testaverde's season ending injury in 1999, the team decided it needed to groom a new backup. In the sixth round, the team took Tom Brady from the University of Michigan on Belichick's advice. While short on physical talent, the new coach loved Brady's attitude and work ethic and felt he could develop a player. Testaverde would stay on as the backup for one more year with Brady set to take over as the primary backup in 2001.
The season began with great expectations. New York started 4-0. This winning streak was capped by a rout of the Bucs in Tampa in which Keyshawn torched the team that wanted him so badly for 8 catches, 150 yards, and 2 touchdowns. After the game, Johnson taunted his opponent saying, "No wonder they wanted me. They may have gone to the NFC Championship Game last year, but they're a team of flashlights. They burn out. I'm a star. I'll shine forever."
Things quickly went downhill from that point. Manning suffered through the worst season of his career, inexplicably throwing 23 interceptions in his fourth year. The Jets collapsed down the stretch, losing three straight to end the season, including an ugly loss at the eventual champion, Baltimore, to finish 9-7 and miss the Playoffs by one game. Fans were irate, calling for the heads of both the new head coach and the former Super Bowl MVP quarterback. Amid the turmoil, Parcells stepped down to quell rumors he would push Belichick aside and return to the sideline. In the process he handed full control over to Belichick, a move which made fans apprehensive. Belichick was a failure in Cleveland and responsible for an epic collapse even though Parcells left him Super Bowl talent. Things looked grim.
It at least could have been worse. After a 5-11 season, Groh abruptly quit as New England's head coach after the year, leaving the Pats in turmoil and searching for a third coach in the span of a year. Jilted by Parcells, Belichick, and now Groh, Robert Kraft decided he would never deal with a coach from the Parcells tree again.