Today quarterback Brett Favre will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is worth noting the substantial role he has played in Jets history over the last three decades both directly and indirectly.
The story began when Favre was a draft prospect in 1991. At this point, the Jets loved him, particularly personnel director Ron Wolf. Rich Cimini wrote a great article a year ago describing Wolf’s obsession with Favre, and the unhappy ending for the Jets.
In fact, they made Favre the No. 1 player on their draft board -- much higher than most teams rated him.
The Jets, picking seventh in Round 2, made a deal to jump up two spots, ahead of the Atlanta Falcons, who were known to covet Favre. The plan was to swap places with the Arizona Cardinals and select Favre with the 33rd overall choice.
"Dick thought he had a deal with Arizona," Wolf said. "Fortunately for me and unfortunately for the Jets, when he called Arizona to finish the deal, they backed out because a player they wanted was still there [defensive end Mike Jones]."
The Jets lacked a first round pick that year so trading up in the second round was the only option for the team to land the quarterback. Once this deal fell through, the Falcons picked Favre.
Wolf mentions how this was fortunate for him because one year later he became general manager of the Packers. Favre had fallen out of favor in Atlanta, and Wolf was able to trade a first round pick to bring the quarterback to Green Bay, where he had a Hall of Fame career. The Jets ended up drafting quarterback Browning Nagle instead. Nagle lasted three disastrous seasons.
Seventeen years later, the Jets were still stuck looking for a franchise quarterback. Meanwhile, Favre was looking to engineer a way to get to the Vikings or the Bears. He had retired during the 2007-08 offseason but decided to come out of retirement for training camp. The Packers didn’t want him, deciding to go forward with Aaron Rodgers. It might be difficult to imagine now, but this was a very gutsy decision by Green Bay. The Packers were coming off a season where they fell a game short of the Super Bowl, and Rodgers had zero career starts. Favre was a living legend and enormously popular in Green Bay.
If Green Bay didn’t want Favre, he wanted to make them pay by going to a division rival. Since he was under contract, the Packers could stop that from happening.
The Jets were in need of a quarterback at this time. Chad Pennington was coming off a bad season, and Kellen Clemens was the uninspiring guy of the future. Mike Tannenbaum operated under the radar and made a trade to bring Favre to the Jets for the 2008 season.
Things started out very well. The Jets started 8-3 and had won road games against New England and previously undefeated Tennessee. Unfortunately, Favre’s 39 year old body started to betray him. He suffered a serious shoulder injury that led to a deterioration in his play down the stretch. The Jets lost four of their last five to miss the Playoffs. Favre retired again. The Jets drafted Mark Sanchez and released Favre, clearing the way for Favre to get what he really wanted. He came out of retirement once again and signed with the Vikings.
When you look at it, Favre had quite an impact on Jets history, albeit not from decisions he made. Had the Jets landed Favre in 1991, history would have been different. Maybe the Jets would have had the period of sustained excellence the Packers got. Maybe Bruce Coslet would have been a successful coach. Maybe there is no Same Old Jets era with Pete Carroll or Rich Kotite. Then again, maybe there is no Parcells.
Of course, Favre was a pretty wild guy in his younger days. Maybe he needed the structure Mike Holmgren and Green Bay provided. Perhaps he would have flamed out had he stuck with the Jets.
It is easier to see the impact of the 2008 stint. Eric Mangini lost his job after the team’s collapse, which brought on the Rex Ryan/Mark Sanchez era. Mangini probably keeps his job if Favre wasn’t around to raise the team’s expectations.
Is it fair to say that Mangini was a victim of Favre then? This is the popular opinion. It isn’t the correct one, though. There were substantial issues with the way Mangini was coaching his team. The defensive philosophy was a disaster. And on offense, once Favre was compromised, Mangini did not make Brian Schottenheimer rely more heavily on the run game. This was the exact same offensive line that would help the Jets ground and pound their way to the AFC Championship Game a year later. The coaching staff wouldn’t lean on it. Favre probably did the Jets a service in this area by helping expedite Mangini’s removal from the organization. Mangini certainly hasn’t done anything since he left to suggest his dismissal was a mistake.
Favre’s second retirement is another event that changed history. Imagine for a second that he sticks around for 2009. The Jets might have won the Super Bowl. The team with the number one run game AND number one defense in the league only went 9-7 in no small part due to rookie Mark Sanchez’s growing pains. With Favre under center in place of Sanchez, does that team suddenly improve to a division winner with a bye and an easier path to the Super Bowl? It’s a strong possibility.
Despite only playing one season with the team, Brett Favre has been a very consequential figure in the last three decades of Jets history. I think we all wish the timing had been better.