New York Jets: 8 Things That Must Change in 2013

Philip SchawillieContributor IIIDecember 10, 2012

New York Jets: 8 Things That Must Change in 2013

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    New York Jets' management, coaches and players are enduring a tumultuous 2012 season. Injuries, sub-par performance and questionable leadership have turned a Super Bowl contender into a playoff pretender.

    As the Jets attempt to salvage their dignity in the last games of the year, it's time to think ahead. What must they do to show the fans they've learned from this year's mistakes? More importantly, what must they do to be competitive in 2013?

    The steps the Jets must take lie in the following areas:

    • Finance: The Jets need more cap room to sign draft picks and free agents.
    • Public Relations: The Jets must restructure their relationships with the media and repair their relationship with fans.
    • Personnel: The Jets must upgrade their player evaluation and recruitment process to put better talent on the field.
    • Performance: The Jets must recognize and build upon their strengths and maximize roster productivity.

    The following slides make more specific recommendations.

Free Up Salary Cap Space

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    The New York Jets cannot address personnel issues without cleaning up payroll.

    According to, the Jets' projected 2013 salary cap value is $141.9 million. Unfortunately, the NFL's estimated 2013 salary cap limit is $121 million. Add the Jets' estimated unused capacity or rollover from 2012 and the team's adjusted cap limit is $125.9 million. (To show you how widely projections vary, ProTalk estimates the rollover figure to be $7.9 million as of November 20.)

    With a $4.9 million rollover, the Jets must free $16 million in cap room to comply with the NFL CBA.

    They'll need to free another $3 million to $6 million to set up a "rookie cap" for signing draft picks and undrafted free agents.

    Then, they'll need even more room to re-sign 2013 free agents like running back Shonn Greene, kicker Nick Folk and tight end Dustin Keller. Estimate at least $5 million to $10 million.

    Total relief needed is between $24 million and $32 million. We haven't even discussed signing outside free agents.

    Where will the Jets find cap relief between $24 million and $32 million?

    Here, for example, is an easy way. They could cut almost $33 million by releasing four players: tackle Jason Smith, linebacker Calvin Pace, linebacker David Harris and linebacker Bart Scott.

    That means giving up three starting linebackers and a second-string tackle. Hopefully they'd get some draft picks in return.

    Second-string tackle, Jason Smith, has the highest cap number of the four: $12 million. That seems excessive for a second-stringer. What's more, 2013 is the last year of his contract, so restructuring without an extension accomplishes nothing. The Jets should try to get something for him. However, they may find few buyers, so outright release would at least free $12 million in cap room.

    Calvin Pace also cannot restructure his deal without an extension. His departure adds $8.56 million of cap room.

    Losing Smith and Pace would restore $20.56 million of cap space. That would return the Jets to CBA compliance and provide a rookie cap of $4.56 million.

    Scott and Harris have two years remaining on their deals, so restructuring is possible.

    Scott, for example, could cut his 2013 salary from $6.9 million to $1 million and take the $5.9 million difference as a proratable bonus. That would reduce his drain on the 2013 cap from $8.65 million to $5.7 million, saving $2.95 million.

    Of the four, Harris would be the most significant loss as he is the team's leading tackler.

    Harris could cut his 2013 salary from $10.9 million to $6.9 million and take the $4 million difference as a proratable bonus. That would reduce his drain on the 2013 cap from $13 million to $11 million, saving $2 million.

    The restructurings add another $4.95 million in cap room to establish the maximum rookie cap and leave just over $3.5 million for free agent signings. The cost: $4.95 million applied towards 2014's cap even if Scott and Harris leave the team.

    This is not the only scenario. The blog offers alternatives in the post "A Look at the Jets Salary Cap Problems." 

    See how easy it is?

    If you want to concoct your own scenarios, check out Football 101, "Explaining Salary Cap Dead Money" from Steelers Depot and Davis Hsu's July 16 and July 17 articles on salary cap rollover from the Field Gulls Seahawks community. These articles explain the terminology you'll need to understand to interpret the data. 

    Suffice it to say that the Jets' bean counters have their work cut out for them. We, on the other hand, can move to another fun topic: repairing public relations.

Rework Relations with Media and Fans

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    Rex Ryan may be the most quotable member of the Jets since Joe Namath guaranteed a Super Bowl victory. He has been an outspoken advocate for his team.

    Sometimes reporters and fans question his brashness. However, at least to me, his outspoken ways accomplish two things:

    • He gets headlines in a town that another team dominates.
    • He shoulders the burden of media relations, freeing his players to concentrate on football.

    That model isn't working in 2012. Instead, players increasingly mount the media soapbox and imitate Ryan's outspoken approach.

    They neglect, however, the supportive part.

    Instead, both players and fans have been targets. Tim Tebow received anonymous criticism in the New York Daily News. Bart Scott questioned fans' athleticism, saying those who criticized loudest were probably "picked last in dodge ball all through high school."

    This must end now.

    The Jets need a media policy that puts their best foot forward. They need to regain the respect of both media and fans.

    I propose the following changes:

    1. Define media privileges for each organizational role.
      1. Owner. Woody Johnson defines the overall strategic direction of the team. He should address the business concerns of the Jets, such as issues of location, ways to improve financial position and improvement of community relations.
      2. General Manager. Mike Tannenbaum should address matters related to acquiring football personnel through the draft, free agent signings and trades.
      3. Head Coach. Rex Ryan can discuss matters related to practice, game preparation, player evaluation and postgame assessment. He can involve his assistants in these discussions as appropriate.
      4. Players should adhere to the rule, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say it." The only critical remarks they make in public should concern their own play and their desire to improve it.
    2. There's no need to air dirty laundry in public. Any critiques one player makes about another should be done behind closed doors with no media present.
    3. Remember who pays the bills. Don't criticize fans for having an opinion. At least it means they still care.
    4. Punish leaks severely. If this doesn't break any laws or CBA provisions, here's how I would discourage leaks:
      1. Should a leak occur, give its source 48 hours to come forward.
      2. After 48 hours have passed without finding the source, impose heavy fines on every possible suspect. If the story attributes the leak to a "player" or "coach," fine players or coaches. If the story does not identify a group, fines could extend throughout the organization. Continue the fines until the leak's source is found.
      3. If the guilty party is found within a month, refund everyone else's fines. If a month passes without finding a source, the fines stop but all collected money is forfeit.
      4. Additional punishment depends on the severity of the leak and the length of the investigation. Minimally, the offender forfeits his or her fine.
      5. None of these provisions apply to instances involving reporting illegal actions under whistleblower protection laws.
    5. It's not just performance on the field that counts. Players and coaches who disregard these policies do so at their peril come contract renegotiation time.

    This policy may sound draconian. But if it restores harmony in the locker room and good feelings between players and fans, it will be worth it.

Reduce Rex's Role in Personnel Selection

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    On December 9, WFAN's Mike Francesa had an interesting observation during the local portion of his Football Sunday show. He compared the number of impact players on the Jets obtained while Eric Mangini coached with the number of impact players obtained under Rex Ryan. Ryan came up short.

    Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, linebacker David Harris, center Nick Mangold and tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson were all obtained under Mangini. Of those signed under Ryan, Francesa cited only defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson as a player of similar quality.

    Francesa feels that the Jets' decline is directly traceable to a decline in the player evaluation process since Ryan replaced Mangini.

    The questions are: Who evaluates talent, and who has the final say in player selection?

    Most observers feel that Ryan has the ultimate say in who gets a contract offer. If that's so, it's wrong. Ryan and the other Jets' coaches must have input into player selection, as they are in the best position to identify personnel needs. But they must not have ultimate veto power.

    According to the Jets' media guide, Mike Tannenbaum has been general manager since 2006, when Terry Bradway stepped down to focus on player personnel and the draft. Both men remain with the team. Both men worked with both Mangini and Ryan.

    It's time to test Tannenbaum's and Bradway's talent evaluation skills.

    Woody Johnson should state as a matter of organizational policy that the general manager, with input from football personnel, is ultimately responsible for evaluation, recruitment and signing of players.

    If that means renegotiating Ryan's contract, so be it. His way hasn't worked. Let those associated with more successful player recruitment assume full responsibility. If talent does not improve, Johnson will have no choice but to conduct a thorough housecleaning on the field and in the front office.

    But first he should give the folks who succeeded before a shot at repeating history.

Replace Special Teams Coach Mike Westhoff

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    Special teams are vital in establishing field position. Unfortunately, this year's New York Jets' special teams have not distinguished themselves. Instead, they have displayed lapses in judgment that have hindered victory and hastened defeat. Take the following examples:

    1. Against the Rams, Tim Tebow attempted to execute a fake punt even though the defense was configured to stop it. He should have let the ball go through to punter Robert Malone.
    2. The following week in Foxborough, Joe McKnight twice tried to run back a kickoff from deep in the end zone. The first time, he fumbled and the Patriots recovered for a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, McKnight tried a return under almost identical circumstances and was stopped short of the 20-yard line.
    3. Against Arizona, the punt return unit gave up 40 yards on a fake punt, the Cardinals' longest gain of the day. Later, Kyle Wilson's blocking penalty cost the Jets and Mark Sanchez 10 yards in field position on Sanchez's last possession of the day.

    Something is wrong with the special teams' mental preparation. When these errors happen so often, lack of communication between coach and players is a likely explanation. Unless the special teams show dramatic improvement over the last part of the season, the man responsible for their performance must go.

    If Andy Reid leaves Philadelphia as almost everyone expects, Bobby April might be available. April masterminded years of top-flight Buffalo Bills' special teams even as the rest of the team declined. His track record combined with experience competing in the AFC East makes him more than worthy of consideration.

Trade or Release Tim Tebow

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    Tim Tebow has endured this season with the patience of Job. Let Tim Tebow go.

    He led the Denver Broncos to the 2011 playoffs and beat the Steelers in the first round. He had a right to expect a more significant role with the Jets during 2012.

    The thing is, I thought there was a place for Tebow.

    I thought one of the reasons behind the Jets' offensive decline in 2011 had been Brad Smith's departure.

    Smith had provided an added dimension to the Jets' offense by running their Wildcat formation. His ability to run and pass from the Wildcat made it a change of pace from the standard pro set while not challenging Mark Sanchez's role as starting quarterback.

    I thought Tim Tebow's job was to revive that formation. He's not a conventional pocket passer. However, he has enough of an arm to be a running or passing threat from the Wildcat.

    Problem was, the Jets didn't give the idea more than lip service.

    They'd run Tebow on the field for one or two pedestrian running plays, then leave him to stand on the sidelines. He didn't get the freedom to improvise and make plays that had served him so well in Denver.

    Worse, his position on the depth chart as the backup quarterback kept Greg McElroy inactive for most of the season. Tebow had to crack two ribs for McElroy to get a shot against the Cardinals. McElroy's reward for winning that game was more inactivity. Tebow was reactivated against Jacksonville.

    It's not fair to either Tebow or McElroy for things to continue this way.

    Sanchez will be around for at least one more year. McElroy is a more logical backup because he operates comfortably from a standard pro set.

    Tebow needs an offense that takes advantage of his strengths while minimizing his weaknesses. He won't get that with the Jets.

    In other words, to satisfy both Tebow's and the Jets' best interests, Tebow must go.

    Hopefully the Jets get a couple of draft picks for him. Regardless, his departure would free $1.055 million in cap room.

Drop the Wildcat

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    Tony Sparano did not get good use out of either Tim Tebow or the Wildcat formation. If Tebow goes, the Wildcat should go too.

    Tebow has netted a total offense of 121 yards in 36 plays for an average of about 3.4 yards per touch. In retrospect, that's not bad. However, that production hardly justifies the controversy that Tebow's presence causes, combined with Greg McElroy's forced inactivity.

    Both Mark Sanchez and McElroy work from the standard pro set. That's the offensive formation the Jets should stress.

    This is especially true if the Jets don't make significant progress freeing cap room. They will have enough trouble retaining capable personnel for one formation, much less two.

Build on What Works: Emphasize the Run

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    Watching the Jets play over the last four weeks has convinced me that they must run to set up the pass.

    They remind me of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. That's the team that won Super Bowl XXXV with Trent Dilfer playing quarterback.

    That Ravens team relied on the Ray Lewis-led defense to set up a short field for the offense. They didn't expect Dilfer to generate long scoring drives. They expected him to take the field position his defense and special teams gave him, avoid mistakes and produce just enough points to win.

    It sounds like the blueprint for recent Jets' victories over the Rams, Cardinals and Jaguars.

    The Jets rushed for 467 yards and passed for 414 yards. Running plays dominated their most effective drives. Many of these drives were around 60 yards. Special teams and defense provided short fields.

    In contrast, the Jets ran for 119 yards and passed for 301 yards in their Thanksgiving night loss to New England.

    The Jets are nowhere near as good as the 2000 Ravens. This team is not going to the Super Bowl.

    However, the formula for success is there. The challenge is to apply it against the NFL's elite.

Work with the Talent You Have

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    Many commentators and Jets' fans want a sweeping franchise overhaul.

    You'll hear calls for drafting a new quarterback, upgrading via the draft and free agent signings, even replacing the coaching staff and front office.

    That's not likely to happen in 2013.

    The Jets can't sign big-ticket draft picks or free agents without freeing up significant cap space, as discussed in previous slides. Instead, look for them to stockpile lower-round picks and rely on their talent evaluation process to find talent where others do not.

    As for the coaching staff, Rex Ryan has one more year on his contract. If the Jets finish 8-8 or 9-7, he will most likely return.

    So the Jets may have to make do with the nucleus they have.

    Hopefully, they'll find a way to retain free agents like running back Shonn Greene, kicker Nick Folk and tight end Dustin Keller. Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes should be over their injuries.

    However, Mark Sanchez isn't likely to get any big-name talent to target. That doesn't mean the passing game can't improve.

    In the absence of overwhelming talent, coaching needs to assert itself. Rex Ryan and his staff must instill a work ethic that addresses the lack of precision and timing that plagues the offense.

    Think about how often you've seen and heard about receivers dropping passes and running bad patterns. Interceptions aren't always the quarterback's fault; they're often a team effort.

    Poor protection is a contributing factor. Bad timing between quarterback and receiver is another. Receivers going to the wrong spot on the field is a third. These things must stop. 

    Players need to dedicate themselves to individual improvement. That means mastering the elements of each play through hundreds of repetitions. Hall of Famer Jerry Rice spent hundreds of hours running pass patterns. The Jets should learn from his example. 

    It also wouldn't hurt if Sanchez had the same receiving corps all season. But injuries are part of the game. Successful teams and players adjust.

    In short, 2013 is going to be a challenging year. The Jets aren't in a fiscal position to buy themselves into contention. They'll have to rely on organizational guile to maximize the productivity of every part of the team.