Rex Ryan's comments have been unwittingly ironic over the past few weeks.
Every time the media asks him whether he's going to make a change at quarterback, he answers, "If it's just one guy, that's an easy thing to do."
Turns out, it is more than one guy, but most of it is because of one guy; and while it's an easy change to make, it's not likely.
The "one guy" Rex is referring to is quarterback Mark Sanchez. The one guy I'm referring to is general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
The Jets have struggled creating depth and building through the draft, qualities which all good teams need in the free agency era. He also lacks the foresight necessary to negotiate team-friendly contracts, as we are now beginning to see with a slew of bad deals pinching the Jets' pocketbook this upcoming offseason.
Tannenbaum's resumé over the years isn't awful: the Jets have been to the playoffs three times in six years and have had just one season below .500. Despite that, though, they've been little better than mediocre. Their 55-52 record (.514 winning percentage) since '06 puts them at 15th in the NFL.
It's hard to be above average in the NFL, but does that make mediocrity acceptable? The 14 teams in front of the Jets since '06 include the Patriots, Ravens, Packers, Colts, Steelers, Chargers, Saints, Giants, Falcons, Bears, Cowboys, Eagles, Titans and Texans. A few of those teams do not have a good quarterback, but even fewer of those teams have significant problems with their front office as the Jets do.
Just for a little added perspective, since '06:
- eight of those 14 teams have had a change at head coach
- seven of the 14 teams have had a change at quarterback
- six of the 14 teams have changed their general manager
They mortgaged not just the financial future of the franchise but also put the depth of the roster at a huge risk. For days, they had ignored Antonio Cromartie, who was also in pursuit of a contract. He had opportunities to sign elsewhere, and could have if he desired.
They also ignored utility player Brad Smith, who was the quarterback in their Wildcat and Pistol formations, and also their dynamic special teams player.
They've found a solid returner to replace Smith in Joe McKnight, but have been less successful in filling the Wildcat role with Tim Tebow.
The Jets will get out from underneath the contracts for Scott and Pace this year, but they remain handcuffed by several other raw deals. According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Jets are on the hook for:
- $4.75 million for Antonio Cromartie
- $7.5 million for Santonio Holmes
- $8.25 million for Mark Sanchez
- $9.75 million for David Harris
That's $30.25 million on four players, only one of whom is even in the top 10 at his position (Cromartie), but that's not all. Also, according to NYJetsCap.com, Jason Smith is due a $12 million roster bonus, and Eric Smith is due a $3 million roster bonus.
The Jets are in line to be over $20 million above the salary cap in 2013.
Of course, they have some big contracts coming off the books next year, but they have a lot of players that will need to be signed, and not a lot of money to do it with.
Those bad contracts wouldn't be half as bad if the Jets were even half as competent at scouting talent in the draft, and developing that talent.
In fact, over the years, the Jets have failed to find talent anywhere but the first round.
Despite his track record, the direction things have gone recently—the Jets are 4-10 in their past 14 games—is a direct result of recent contractual and developmental negligence. That should make Tannenbaum one of the fall guys, but it probably won't.
An unnamed GM told Pro Football Weekly that Tannenbaum is probably going to be safe:
I don’t think [Tannenbaum] is in any danger. He has a good rapport with the owner. He hired a strong staff and is a good listener. When you lose a [Darrelle] Revis, it’s not easy to overcome. You can’t replace guys like that. [Tannenbaum] has had some big misses in the draft, but overall, he’s done a very good job. I think Woody will cut him some slack.
Another unnamed NFL executive and former GM (presumably a different one than the one quoted above) told TurnOnTheJets.com almost the same thing:
"The GM has the owner convinced that he isn't at fault. He will play the [Darrelle] Revis and [Santonio] Holmes injury card and plus he can play the blame Rex game. He is brilliant at that."
Could there be another fall guy? Could Rex Ryan be that guy, as suggested by the second source?
That depends. Would any team in the NFL trade their roster for the one the Jets have assembled? On the other hand, how many teams would trade their head coach for Rex Ryan? Considering nearly half the league's coaches are on the hot seat, the answer to the second question is probably much greater than the answer to the first question.
Why not Sanchez? After all, great NFL quarterbacks overcome adversity and remain great.
Sanchez is not a great quarterback. He has limitations. That's not news to anyone—except, it seems, Tannenbaum.
The adversity Sanchez has faced has been considerably greater than that which even the great quarterbacks face. Specifically, that is a direct result of Tannenbaum's unwillingness to surround him with talent over the past couple of years.
Just when it seemed Sanchez had hit a growth spurt in 2010, the Jets fed him a steady diet of junk food and caffeine, stunting his growth.
An offense which consisted of Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Jerricho Cotchery, Dustin Keller, Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson, was slowly depleted.
The 2010 offense was far from elite, but it looks like the Greatest Show on Turf compared to what we've seen over the past two years.
Yet the Jets have expected growth from their quarterback while things have crumbled around him?
That is the kind of backwards thinking that landed the Jets in this spot in the first place, and it's the kind of backwards thinking that should land Tannenbaum on the unemployment line, even if it probably won't.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained via team press releases.