In the NFL, there are two ways in which a team can add talent: either it can value both talent and character with high regard and find the best players in the draft (the hard way), or it can take chances on players that have more natural talent but have character flaws that give them a "boom or bust" element (the shortcut).
Santonio Holmes is a perfect example of a "shortcut." For the measly cost of a fifth-round pick, the Jets got themselves one of the most naturally talented receivers in the game, who can turn Mark Sanchez's average slant throws into big-time gains with his electrifying ability after the catch.
In other words, Holmes is the perfect go-to receiver between the numbers that can line up just about anywhere.
However, the Jets were able to get him for a fifth-round pick for a reason: After violating the league's substance abuse policy, Holmes was suspended four games in 2010. The Steelers saw this behavior as a reflection of a distracted player, and in true Steeler fashion, cut ties with him as soon as they could.
When an organization as fundamentally solid as the Steelers gets rid of a player of Holmes' ability for a late-round pick, there is usually a pretty good reason for doing so.
After one relatively successful season in 2010 with the Jets, the Jets handed Holmes a big fat $45 million contract. The deal is front-loaded with big-time guarantees (which the Jets have committed to paying Holmes by not cutting him after last year).
Since the investment, Holmes has not only seen a drop-off in production on the field (almost 100 fewer yards in 2011), but he has been exposed as the root of the Jets' locker room issues at the end of last year. After claiming to be a changed man, he complained about too many reps in OTAs, causing further ruin to his already-damaged image.
While a talented receiver, is Holmes simply not worth the trouble anymore?
It is easy to simply claim that the Jets should follow suit with the Steelers and cut loose every man that does not fall in line, starting with Holmes. However, just because the Steelers were able to move along just fine without Holmes does not mean that the Jets should follow suit and expect similar results.
It is important to remember the Steelers have two things to fall back on the Jets do not: For one ,they have an established, franchise quarterback that is among the best in the NFL. As long as Ben Roethlisberger is around, he is going to keep the Steelers in contention, even if he does not have elite talent at receiver.
The Jets, on the other hand, have a regressing quarterback that needs to be in the perfect situation to succeed. Sanchez does not elevate the players around him like other, more elite quarterbacks do. Without receivers who can get consistent separation and turn hitch routes into 40-yard gains, the Jets' passing game is doomed.
It is also important to remember that this is a huge year for Mark Sanchez, which almost goes without saying at this point. As tough as it may be to work with Santonio at times, there is no doubt that he is a better quarterback when a happy Holmes is lined up.
The Steelers also have unusual depth at wide receiver, making problem children like Holmes easy to cut. With Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown on the roster, getting rid of Holmes was not only a smart move; it was a no-brainer. Because of their ability to replace elite wide receivers with relative ease, they can play hardball with their receivers in contract negotiations (see: Wallace, Mike).
The Jets, on the other hand, are completely deprived at wide receiver. While most of the blame is put on Mark Sanchez for failing to score in the Jets' preseason opener (as well as a terrible performance by the offensive line), the receiving corps was not able to do anything without Holmes in the lineup. They struggled to gain separation and help out a distressed Sanchez.
Is Holmes worth the trouble?
The bottom line is, the Jets simply need Holmes too much to cut ties with him. Can he be a weird guy and potentially cause another locker room issue? Yes, but that is a chance the Jets are going to have to take.
In addition, while Holmes may have been the root cause of the Jets' internal troubles last year, Rex Ryan did nothing to rectify the situation. In fact, Ryan has admitted that he did not "have a pulse of the team" and has vowed to take a more hand-on approach this season.
So far, Ryan is following through on his promise, making his team run "gassers" for continuing to fight in training camp after he demanded that the fights stopped.
Therefore, as risky of a player Holmes is, the Jets are not only too far invested in Holmes to give up on him now. The Jets took a shortcut to getting better as a team and are paying the price now for it. The onus is on them to rectify the situation, not back down from the problem now.