The Blueprint for a Perfect Offseason for the New York Jets
At 4-7, the Jets already have a lot of their fans looking forward to the offseason schedule.
Playoff hopes are slim, and fans can always find some hope in the promise of a high-draft pick or free agent signing reversing a team's fortunes in the offseason.
This is a pivotal offseason for the Jets, a time to reflect and strategize as to whether they are ready to win now, or if they need to commit to taking a season or two to rebuild in order to become a legitimate AFC contender.
Before the Jets can focus on available unrestricted free agents, the Jets need to make several key decisions about current personnel.
Once they've done that, they can look to the draft to fill the holes that have been left behind, but they must change their approach when evaluating college players.
There are a lot of considerations to be made, and with the current trajectory of the team, the coaches and front office should have plenty of time to stew over them.
Commit to Winning Now or Rebuilding
Coming off back-to-back AFC Championships entering last season, hopes were high for Gang Green. One 8-8 season later and a 4-7 start to this year seem to indicate the Jets may have to be willing to commit to a small rebuild in the next season or two to return to championship contention in the AFC.
While the team's playoff chances are slim, the next five games are crucial to the sentiment of the team entering the offseason. If the Jets finish above .500, the decision to continue to try and "win now" will be significantly easier.
Conversely, if Gang Green is unable to turn the season around, it will be far more tempting to consider making radical changes with the expectation that they will lead to a better team in a few seasons. Additionally, a rough 2012 campaign would result in a better draft pick, providing the tools for a substantial roster overhaul.
End the Quarterback Controversy
The Jets can not be successful with the ongoing prospect of a quarterback change looming in the locker room and in the minds of fans.
By season's end, the Jets front office should definitively know whether or not Mark Sanchez is "the guy" moving forward.
Sanchez's development hasn't progressed quite as far as the Jets might have liked, but he has had to deal with offensive line issues and a decimated receiving corps throughout this season. Now that TE Dustin Keller and Stephen Hill are back to stay, the Jets' final five games should be an opportunity for Sanchez to state his case to remain the starter.
If that's what the Jets decide, they need to trade Tim Tebow. His contribution in his current role on the team is too small to justify the humongous distraction his presence creates.
Alternatively, if Sanchez finishes the season poorly, it may be Tebow's turn to take the reigns. Either way, the Jets need to have a clear starter come next year's preseason, and they would be better off choosing a player who won't cause a controversy.
Re-Sign Key Offensive Players
With current contract statuses, nine Jets starters will become unrestricted free agents once the season is over.
On offense, this includes Shonn Greene, Dustin Keller, Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson.
These are some big names and huge needs the Jets need to address. Dustin Keller has been Mark Sanchez's favorite receiver. This season, the Jets are 3-4 with Keller in the lineup and 1-3 without him. Three of Sanchez's four-lowest individual game quarterback ratings came in games Keller was inactive.
Beyond Keller, the team needs to re-sign RB Shonn Greene. Greene has only gone over 100 yards in a game once this season, but he is on pace for a second consecutive 1,000-yard season and should end with a higher touchdown total than last year.
To make Greene's job easier, Gang Green needs to also shore up the offensive line by re-signing Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore.
Additionally, kicker Nick Folk is a free agent come season's end.
Make Decisions About Defensive Free Agents
On the other side of the ball, Yeremiah Bell, Mike DeVito, LaRon Landry and Bryan Thomas all have expiring contracts.
Yeremiah Bell and Laron Landry have both proven to be excellent offseason acquisitions, especially considering the injury to Darrelle Revis. Both were signed to one-year contracts this past offseason, making it unclear how interested the Jets are in retaining their services. Landry and Bell are second and third, respectively, for the team lead in combined tackles, and are tied with LB David Harris for most individual tackles. Landry has also forced four fumbles.
Mike DeVito is the kind of player fans love. He worked his way up from special teams stud to bona fide NFL starter over the course of several seasons and is an anchor for the team's defense.
The Jets may ultimately decide not to re-sign Bryan Thomas. Although he has been a staple of the defense for the last decade and is the longest-tenured member of the Jets, he is 33 and has missed significant time over the past two seasons. His contract expiring may mark the end for the inconsistent aging linebacker.
Avoid Project Players in the Draft
As James Walker noted in his post-draft coverage for ESPN, the Jets took chances with their first two selections in this past draft.
The Jets opted to take a risk in the first round on Quinton Coples, a DE with all the measurables one could hope for but was also riddled with work ethic concerns.
In drafting Coples. the Jets passed on DE Chandler Jones. Compare the two so far in the 2012 season.
Coples: 20 tackles, 15 solo, 2.0 sacks
Jones: 34 tackles, 18 solo, 6.0 sacks
In the second round, they traded up four picks to draft Stephen Hill, a 6'4" wide receiver who ran a 4.36 40-yard dash. The problem for him is described in his NFL.com draft profile:
...will be hurt by the fact that he ran a very basic route tree at Georgia Tech, and teams won't be able to utilize him for much more than go routes at this point in his career.
Hill's rookie campaign has been a series of ups and downs. His two-touchdown debut against Buffalo showed early promise, but he has looked like a raw talent rookie more often than not this season. He's had costly drops, most notably the one in the Jets' first matchup against the Patriots, and he hasn't been able to contribute the way that a win-now team needs its rookies to deliver.
In this year's draft, the Jets need to target players that can come in and contribute immediately rather than project players that may take several years to develop.