Everything in the Rex Ryan regime was coming up roses two years ago. The team had just made it to its second consecutive AFC championship game, and one could argue that if the Jets had gotten one more possession, they would have beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers and made it to the Super Bowl in quarterback Mark Sanchez's second season. Expectations were sky high entering the 2011 season, and the Jets responded with mediocrity. Now, in 2012, with the offense going even further downhill and the defense missing its best player for the rest of the season, it's time to think about dynamiting this team to establish a new strategy to create a winning team.
Head Coach/General Manager
Rex Ryan was an amazing shot in the arm for the Jets franchise after the malaise of the Eric Mangini era. He made the team look like a player's heaven on Hard Knocks in 2010 and appeared to be placing the team among the AFC's elite. Now, his loose culture has resulted in the erosion of week-to-week execution and discipline and has left the team without a strong football culture. It's time to move on.
Team owner Woody Johnson should look no further than Cincinnati for his replacement. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has put Andy Dalton in a position to succeed from Day 1 and maximized the production from his limited skill set.
General Manager Mike Tannenbaum has to go. There have been way too many missteps in free agency and the draft for him to survive any longer. The Jets should emulate the Seahawks' ability to enhance an aggressive defense and find quality players in and outside of the draft. Director of College Scouting Scott Fitterer might be a name to look into to fill Tannenbaum's job.
The ugly part of Mark Sanchez's contract kicks in next year, with 8.25 million dollars due in 2013. The Jets have seen how far they can get with Sanchez, and the answer to that question seems to be less every year. A clean break at the quarterback position is crucial, and that includes not toying with Tim Tebow as a starter. Tebow's style of play is not a viable long-term solution.
Good quarterbacks almost never make it to free agency, and they're not available via trade either. The only option is the draft. The Jets should be in the top 10-12 next year, and the track record of quarterbacks taken that high in the last two drafts is mostly good, with only Blaine Gabbert a clear bust out of seven quarterbacks taken that high.
Jets fans may not want to see another USC quarterback with limited arm strength and athleticism, but Matt Barkley appears to be more mentally tough than Sanchez, and he has a longer track record of success. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith would be a dream pick with his destiny looking more and more like that of a No. 1 overall pick each week.
No position typifies the shortcomings of the Jets organization to identify and address problem areas more than running back. After satisfying running back coach Anthony Lynn's wishes to get Shonn Greene at the top of the third round in 2009, the Jets have stuck with him while it has been obvious for at least two years that he is barely adequate as a backup-quality running back.
The Jets have passed up opportunities to take running backs in the top 100 of the draft, and they have not invested in the position via free agency. Luckily for them, starting quality backs can routinely be found in the second round of the draft, and that's the position their 2013 second-round pick should be reserved for in April.
With Santonio Holmes due 7.5 million dollars guaranteed and 2012 second-round pick Stephen Hill developing, this position isn't as bad as it looks right now. Still, Holmes is likely gone after 2013, and Hill is a boom/bust prospect. The Jets can look to the template the Steelers created to restock at the position, ironically, mostly as a reaction to dealing Holmes to the Jets.
The Steelers focused on speed (Mike Wallace), toughness (Antonio Brown) and quickness (Emmanuel Sanders) to build a quality wide receiver corps without a flagship big receiver. The Jets have Jeremy Kerley developing nicely as a slot receiver, so a pick of a technically sound receiver who can develop into a No. 2 receiver like West Virginia's Stedman Bailey or Texas A&M's Ryan Swope in the mid-rounds is all that's necessary here.
The Jets still have two-fifths of their line locked down for the long haul, which is more than most teams can say. Even though the offensive line is thought of as a weakness, it is actually a strength in the big picture. Right tackle is the important position to address right away. Sebastian Vollmer might be available to be stolen away from the rival Patriots in free agency, and Rashad Butler will be available after he was lost for the season with a triceps injury. Butler was set up to start at right tackle for the Houston Texans before the injury.
Even if the Jets have to resort to the draft to fill the hole, they should be heartened by the Arizona Cardinals landing instant starter Bobby Massie in the fourth round in April. Right tackle is a position with less stringent size and athleticism standards than left tackle, so there are more avenues to find one via the draft and free agency.
The Jets must get more pressure on the quarterback. They have an important element taken care of with their last two first-round picks being spent on defensive ends that can play the pass and the run in Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples. Now, they have to find that electric edge rusher to make the whole thing go.
The 2013 draft will feature a plethora of elite options like Georgia's Jarvis Jones and LSU's Barkevious Mingo, but the Jets' first-round pick has to be earmarked for a quarterback. If no quarterback worthy of their first pick is on the board, an edge rusher should be the fallback plan. Even if they can't find a good edge rusher in the draft, Cliff Avril should be available in free agency if they want to break the bank, and San Diego's Antwan Barnes will be a bargain option as a specialist on the open market.
The Jets have to re-sign Darrelle Revis, even if it means making him the highest paid defensive player in NFL history. His torn ACL actually presents an opportunity for the organization to show their commitment to Revis and faith in him to get all the way back to pre-injury form, and possibly at a discount while Revis is rehabbing.
Safety is a problem position, but good two-way safeties are seeing their draft value inflate quickly. With the needs at quarterback, running back and edge rusher, the Jets can't afford to take an early-round prospect, but they can follow the lead of the San Francisco 49ers and reclaim safeties like Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner when the rest of the NFL ignores them in free agency. If the New York Giants don't retain Kenny Phillips, he could be a good target as an instant fix.
The Jets' situation isn't as desperate as it looks, and the number of recent success stories fixing the positions that are their biggest deficiencies is encouraging. The Jets have quality in the trenches and at cornerback. If they can establish a consistent running game and strong quarterback play as well as find that one pass rusher to unlock the potential of having two shutdown corners, the team could be playing again in January very soon.