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John Idzik: A Reign of Error

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Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

John Idzik is out as Jets general manager after only two seasons. Many can cite chapter and verse the personnel mistakes he made that contributed to the disastrous 4-12 campaign in 2014. There are bigger things at play here, though. A second year general manager typically does not get bounced just for blowing one offseason. Even if his early returns in the Draft look extremely unpromising, two years are too few to pass final judgment on prospects.

There are many deeper issues that played into Idzik's early demise. I'd like to look at a few.

Getting Played by the Market

Yes, part of the problem in the 2014 offseason was Idzik's failure to address certain key positions. There were bigger picture implications, though.

Take the cornerback position. By any measure, the plan the Jets used was a failure. Maybe we didn't know Dimitri Patterson would go AWOL during the preseason, but any plan revolving around Patterson both staying healthy and playing well was probably doomed for failure. In a pro career that started in 2005, Patterson had never done both for any extended stretch.

Patterson was the lone signing from perhaps the deepest group of cornerbacks in free agency the NFL has ever seen. Names like Revis, Talib, Davis, Rodgers-Cromartie, (Regular) Cromartie, Verner, Flowers, and others were available at various points during the offseason.

The issues in the secondary and the failure to address the team's needs were obvious in 2014, but this was not only a short term issue. The failure of last offseason also will likely have a longer term effect on the Jets.

There was a school of thought that the Jets were avoiding the market because the team wasn't going to contend either way in 2014. Excess cap space can be rolled over to future seasons. The problem with this thinking at cornerback is the market changes every year.

Economics 101 teaches us that when supply is high, prices are low. The market in future years was never going to have the same supply as it did in the 2014 offseason. There will be less quality corners on the market. This means they will be more difficult to obtain, and even if the Jets do, they will likely be paying more for them. Even if we add in some cap casualties, there will be a much lower quality at cornerback this offseason.

Even a one year contract like Cromartie or Flowers signed would have potentially had long-term advantages. It would have given the Jets an exclusive window to negotiate with these players and perhaps lock them into lower prices prior to hitting the market in exchange for guaranteed money.

If you would like another example, take a look at the Percy Harvin trade. Back in March the Saints put Darren Sproles on the trade block. They eventually sent him to Philadelphia for a fifth round pick.

Are Harvin's and Sproles' skillsets an exact one to one match? No. Is there a relatively large degree of overlap in their functions? They both have value making big plays in the return game and as offensive weapons who thrive getting the ball in space with the ball in their hands. The Jets did not make a move for Sproles only to deal for Harvin seven months later.

Let's look at the prices.

Cost 2013 2014 Draft pick Two year cost
Sproles $2.0 million $4.0 million 5th round $6 million+5th round pick (32 games)
Harvin $6.5 million (9 games) $10.5 million 4th round $17 million+4th round (25 games)

If the Jets cut Harvin tomorrow, they would have paid more for a little over half a season of him than the Eagles will pay for two years of Sproles.

Even if Harvin is better, he isn't three times better. Idzik sat out when he had a chance for Sproles and ended up paying way more for less of Harvin. That is money that cannot be used to upgrade other parts of the roster. I understand this is a slippery slope, but a big part of being an effective general manager is spotting bargains and exploiting the market to find favorable deals. Idzik showed no ability to do this, and that is the kind of thing that puts teams into a desperate cap situation. A player who provides slightly less value at a significantly lower cost is the guy a general manager needs to get. He can use the excess money to more than make up for the difference.

I could come up with other examples, but I'll spare you. Let's just say it's easy to see how dangerous it would have been allowing a general manager to continue for the long-term when he has displayed such a poor feel for the market.

Conflicting Plan

Here is what John Idzik said in March defending his relative inactivity in March.

"We’re always aiming to win, but we’re in a very competitive league. What I’m trying to build here is sustainable success. We’re not going to put a finger in a dike to try to do something for a short-term gain if we feel like it’s going to hurt us in the long term."

This was his defense as player after player went off the board, many who could have filled roles of great need for the Jets, many who signed reasonable contracts with other teams.

On October 17, the Jets were 1-6. The season was over. Word then broke that the Jets had traded for Percy Harvin. Harvin is a big name. He can be an asset for an offense. He also has one of the worst contracts in the NFL. The Jets were buyers in the trade market, surrendering a Draft pick after they were already out of the race.

Here's the kicker. Harvin would make $6.5 million to play for the Jets over the final nine games. In the NFL, teams are allowed to roll over unused salary cap space to the next season. That $6.5 million would be money lost for future years when it could do some good all to dress Harvin for nine meaningless games.

This became particularly difficult to understand particularly because one of the primary defenses of Idzik's free agency strategy was the excess cap space. The theory went that since the Jets couldn't win a championship in 2014, they should save as much money as they could for the future.

Somehow Golden Tate eating up $3.1 million or Brandon Flowers eating up $3 million would have damaged the team's future, but paying Harvin $6.5 million for half a season of work with the team out of the race wouldn't.

This also goes in to how bad Harvin's contract is. He has exactly one 1,000 yard season from scrimmage and is set to make $10.5 million next season. He's paid like a top ten player yet he isn't close to being a top ten guy at his position. This isn't to say he's a bad player. He's a good player and quite useful. It's just difficult to square the evaluations Idzik made on value.

It's one thing to have a bad plan. The contradictions between the way Idzik handled free agency and the Harvin trade painted the impression of a guy who was simply making it up as he went along. That's a big problem for a general manager.

Antonio Cromartie

One of the biggest questions from 2013 was how much Antonio Cromartie's poor play was due to a hip injury and how much was due to his abilities declining.

Only one team had the medical reports. Only one team was able to watch Cromartie up close. There was little doubt Cromartie would be cut. His contract had become exorbitant. The question was whether the Jets would bring him back at a reduced rate.

Ultimately the team did not make an effort to bring back Cromartie. The veteran cornerback left for Arizona, signing a deal for about a million more than the Jets gave Dimitri Patterson.

The result? Cromartie wasn't spectacular in the desert, but he did post a solid 1.20 receiving yards allowed per cover snap. He clearly is more accomplished than any cornerback the Jets played on a regular basis and was appreciably more effective.

This missed evaluation questions the very competency of the front office. How with as much information as any team in the league did the Jets get this wrong?

The greater sin might have been not getting somebody better than both Cromartie and the guys the Jets went with, but if going for a discount player was in the cards, why not the player who has a track record of success in this defense whose skillset matches it perfectly?

Did Cromartie want to return? The following was posted on his verified Twitter account by his wife the day he signed with Arizona.

"It's amazing how you can be so loyal to someone and they can be so disloyal to you. But you live and you learn."


Poor Negotiating

Idzik might have avoided the devastating contracts that did in Mike Tannenbaum, but he wasn't a particularly effective negotiator.

This was from the Chris Ivory trade negotiations. The Saints reportedly wanted a fourth round pick. The Jets reportedly offered a sixth round pick originally. Idzik didn't even get the Saints to meet him at a middle ground. The Jets gave up a fourth. This isn't to say the Ivory trade was bad. It was a good deal. Even if this was relatively minor, every little advantage counts in the NFL. The difference between a fourth round pick and a fifth round pick can be the difference between landing a good player and not. Negotiations like this leave something to be desired.

This became a theme. When Darrelle Revis was traded, Idzik was unable to get Tampa Bay to guarantee a third round pick to go with the first rounder. The pick was a conditional pick based on Revis being on the roster. Mark Dominik was entering a make or break year. Are we really to believe he was going to let a deal he was desperate to make fall apart over making a third round pick guaranteed? Instead Idzik structured the deal in a way that incentivized the Bucs to cut him. Would Tampa Bay have cut Revis to save $16 million in cap space anyway when they were switching to a zone system? Probably, but the incentive the conditional pick added certainly made the decision easier.

Look at the deal Nick Folk got. The Jets used their franchise tag on him last year. Then they signed him to a long-term deal. Folk was set to make around $3.5 million in 2014 had he played under the tag. When you sign a tagged player to a long-term deal, it is standard practice to at least make the cap hit in the first year lower. That is part of the trade off. In exchange for the player getting more security, he gives the team more cap space. What was Folk's 2014 cap hit? After forsaking the franchise tag, his cap hit in year one was $3.6 million. This deal defeated the purpose of extending a player under the franchise tag.

Breno Giacomini has the 10th highest contract in the league at right tackle out of 62 according to Over the Cap. This for 41 pressures allowed and 8 penalties.

Dimitri Patterson was a journeyman who had played 16 games once since 2005. He had played for six teams and started 20 games. Idzik guaranteed him $1 million. Patterson walked away from that money after never playing a snap for the Jets, and it counted against the cap. Even if we didn't know Patterson would go AWOL, his track record strongly suggests a cap cut was not out of the question based purely on performance.

You might say none of these had a major impact. I might even agree with you. What this does show, however, is a pattern of poor negotiations. Eventually general managers do make major decisions, and negotiating skill is really important. A bad negotiator can really set a franchise back, and there was plenty of reason to question Idzik's negotiating skill going forward.

Geno Smith

I don't blame John Idzik for taking Geno Smith where he did. He didn't draft Geno in the top ten. The second round was a good spot to roll the dice. Drafting quarterbacks is an inexact science. The Jets were in desperate need of a quarterback. Another year of Mark Sanchez was a non-starter.

I do blame Idzik heavily for his handling of Geno Smith, particularly in the past year. You can point to whatever you want. Geno's rookie year was not a good one. He completed under 56% of his passes and threw 12 touchdowns against 21 interceptions. Why did this happen? A big part was the lack of a supporting cast. Geno's struggles made it clear that if he was ever going to be successful, the Jets needed massive offensive upgrades. At least in year two, the Jets would need plenty of pieces to carry the bulk of the load.

The most important ingredient was the offensive line. Geno had the second lowest completion percentage in the league in 2013 under pressure. Even worse, he showed a tendency to hold onto the ball for too long. To have success, he would need a fortress in front of him.

The Jets had plenty of holes up front. Brian Winters was one of the worst guards in the league in 2013 as a rookie. At the very least, the Jets needed a proven insurance policy in case he proved not capable. That guy never came, and Winters struggled again in his second season.

Somehow the team squeezed an effective season out of Willie Colon in 2013, but he also ended a fourth consecutive year with a serious injury. For somebody like that on the wrong side of 30, the sensible response would have been, "My goodness we were lucky to get a season like that out of Colon. Now need a genuine answer." Colon was brought back with minimal competition.

At right tackle Austin Howard was a free agent. Breno Giacomini was brought in. He had a track record as a poor pass blocker. He was the opposite of what the Jets needed. The Giacomini signing probably gets off easy because it wasn't as glaringly bad as Idzik's work at cornerback. I gave you the contract and the relevant stats above, though. There isn't much of a way to call that a success story.

These guys were so ineffective that second year guard Oday Aboushi who wasn't very good looked effective by comparison after replacing Winters.

They also ended up giving big snaps to the likes of Greg Salas, Jeff Cumberland, and David Nelson early in the season while the team was still in mix. Having these kinds of receivers force the quarterback to carry the load. Again, Geno wasn't ready to do that. Eric Decker had to play hurt because of how little else Idzik added in the offseason, limiting his effectiveness. Bargain guys like Golden Tate and Emmanuel Sanders weren't brought in. By the time the Harvin trade was made at a much steeper price, it was too late.

The Jets might have sat out free agency because they weren't in win now mode. They were definitely in develop a quarterback now mode, or at least they should have been. This was a very important year in Geno Smith's development. The Jets claimed to be all in with Geno. At times they acted like it. They failed to create the conditions to make his success possible.

I can't tell you that Geno Smith would have had a good second year with a better supporting cast. What I can tell you is this. The only way he was going to have success was the Jets surrounding him with the kind of talent that could carry the load and make his job easy. Then maybe if he could handle the easy stuff, they could build on it, and Geno could take more of the load in year three and beyond. Now in a best case scenario, the Jets get Geno that help, and his third year he has success that allows him to take more of a load in his fourth year. This means Idzik's inaction wasted a season.

Given how important the quarterback position is in this league, it is difficult to trust a general manager who mismanages a young player to that degree.

Handling the Media

Maybe it is due to him working in a lot of small markets prior to coming to the Jets, but it seems clear that Idzik neither understood nor respected the power the media holds in this town. If you don't figure out a way to control the beat writers covering this team, they will destroy you.

It takes some doing for a general manager to be fired after only two seasons, but it is possible under certain circumstances. Here in New York, the media helps to dictate opinions. Idzik didn't create any positive relationships with the local writers, and they looked to finish him off the first chance they got. There was no benefit of the doubt for the offseason. There were seldom calls for patience.

There were, however, a number of defenses of Rex Ryan, a coach who hadn't posted a winning record in four seasons. That's because Rex was better at playing the media game. One particular beat writer started writing overwhelmingly sympathetic articles after Rex granted him an exclusive interview in the offseason. Idzik got no such treatment.

It isn't the end of the world if a beat writer gets a scoop on a transaction rather than finding it out on the team's Twitter page. It's very difficult to succeed without building some type of relationships with writers who will then defend your work to the fans.

No Vision

What this ultimately boils down to is that Idzik never sold any sort of vision for this franchise.

He didn't make any relationships with the media so they couldn't sell what he was doing.

He wasn't visible so the fans were left to guess. He could have done a weekly show on 98.7 FM with Bob Wischusen lobbing him softball questions. He could have done a weekly video segment with Eric Allen on the team's official site. At least then there would have been somebody making his case for him. At least then the beat writers could have trascribed what he said  for content some of the time instead of analyzing and ripping his work.

Since we were left to guess what his vision was, we could only go with the evidence we had. That evidence is what we discussed above. He talked about finding value and building for the long haul, but there were plenty of cases where he overspent in both the short term and the long term. He talked about Geno Smith being the future but then he refused to do the necessary ground work to even make that a possibility.

Idzik needed to consistently articulate and argue for his vision. The NFL is a business. Teams shouldn't decide whether or not to sign a certain player based on GGN comments, but if the entire fanbase turns against a general manager, that general manager cannot survive. It will hurt business. Selling a vision is an important part of the job. Idzik never made much of an effort.

The one time all season he attempted, it was a complete disaster. His midseason press conference was poorly conceived. Instead of communicating in a friendly venue like a controlled environment with Wischusen or Allen, he stepped into the lion's den with a bunch of beat writers who were out to get him. Again, this is a different story had he fostered friendlier relationships with them and was liable to get some sort of benefit of the doubt. Instead he created bad relationships and stepped into their lair while they smelled blood. This is no way to sell a vision.

To further compound the problem, he began this press conference with a rambling 19 minute introduction that made Mike Tannenbaum's gym rats press conference sound like Winston Churchill's finest hour speech by comparision. Idzik effusively praised the work for everybody associated with the organization and cited numerous inane statistics to try and paint a picture that the team wasn't so bad. He didn't come off like a guy who was executing a plan. He came off like a guy in denial.

We heard plenty about Idzik's numbers background. I can't help but think this is where it was really on display. Idzik was a business guy. In the business world, it is possible for people who aren't effective at their job to make it look like they really are good. Many jobs don't have a definitive formula for determining success. Many factors go into performance reviews so a bad employee can craft a story through selective use of statistics and anecdotal evidence that he is really doing a good job.

That doesn't work as the general manager of an NFL team. There is only one way those guys get judged, the won-loss record. There is no way to talk one's way out of it.

Idzik didn't just fail to sell a vision to the fans. It sounds like he didn't even do it with his own people. There were regular stories of disenchantment within the organization. They didn't come from the usual suspects either. Adam Schefter was writing them.

At the end of the day, Idzik had nothing to hang his hat on. Do you remember the last time the Jets finished 4-12? It was Mike Tannenbaum's second season. While there was some frustration, there was nothing approaching the anger sent Idzik's way. Nobody was spending money on billboards trying to get Tannenbaum fired. Why?

There are many reasons. He handled some of the things we discussed above better. Mainly, he had displayed a vision and had something to hang his hat on. The team appeared to be heading in the right direction because his early Draft returns were excellent. Nick Mangold and David Harris looked like stars in the making. Darrelle Revis had a really strong second half to his rookie season (please note I said second half not final two games). D'Brickashaw Ferguson showed flashes. Furthermore, later picks like Eric Smith, Brad Smith, and Leon Washington were starting to emerge as role players. The team had a vision building around a growing young nucleus. This group grew and helped to take the Jets on deep postseason runs within a few years.

Idzik hasn't inspired anything. He has nothing to hang his hat on. It's tough to see many positive steps he has taken. Given the number of transactions a general manager makes, it would be almost impossible to have never made a single good decision in two seasons, but it is breathtaking how little positive Idzik contributed. How many players has he added that look like keepers? Sheldon Richardson? Chris Ivory? Eric Decker? Jace Amaro? Anybody else?

.............................................................................................

In closing, I would like to address the following groups of people.

To those who say good teams don't fire general managers after two seasons, I say this. Good teams admit mistakes and decisively move forward. They don't stick with bad hires just because they are afraid of perception. Seattle won the Super Bowl last season with Pete Carroll as its head coach. The head coach who preceded Carroll was fired after one year. Sometimes it is right to move on quickly before the guy in charge does real damage. Given the traits we have seen out of Idzik, I fear what might have come had he been given more time. In retrospect, I think a lot of teams wish they had fired ineffective general managers after two seasons rather than carry forward an extra year or two and lost that time.

To those who say Idzik wasn't given a fair chance because the process for hiring him wouldn't let him pick his coach, I say this. Given the poor judgment described above, there is no reason to believe Idzik would have made an effective hire. Also given the quality candidates the process drove away from considering the Jets, a better process would have likely resulted in somebody better than Idzik getting the job.

To those who want to lay all of the blame on Rex Ryan, I say this. Rex deserves a heaping share of the blame for the last four seasons. With that said, he was the coach for six years. The only time he went 4-12 was when he had a team filled with over two-thirds of the players hand picked by Idzik.

We are at the end of one of the worst tenures in Jets history. John Idzik will now take his place in Jets lore along with Rich Kotite, Lou Holtz, Paul Hackett, and others like them. It's breathtaking how he necessitated his own dismissal in such a short timeframe.