New York Jets: What All NFL Teams Can Learn from Their Disastrous 2012 Season
From Mark Sanchez running into Brandon Moore's butt on Thanksgiving to the Tim Tebow debacle to last Monday’s dreadful loss against the Tennessee Titans, the Jets have somehow managed to make themselves look more foolish than even the league's bottom-feeders.
The downfall of the Jets has been primarily on the offensive side of the ball. The running game has floundered, and Sanchez has withered into one of the league’s worst starting quarterbacks.
While the Jets defense has remained one of the better defenses in the league, it has not been able to account for the atrocity that is the team’s offense.
Like all failures, though, there are certain lessons that can be learned about team development by looking at the Jets as a case study.
In a recent article for Grantland, Bill Barnwell discussed how for the past five years, the Jets, led by general manager Mike Tannenbaum, have engaged in a win-now strategy based on acquiring a nucleus of experienced players via trades and free agency who could contribute right away. This strategy was employed instead of using a traditional rebuilding process through the draft.
Although this strategy has led the Jets to their current rough state, it did lead the team to the cusp of back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.
Following the Jets' 4-12 disastrous 2007 season, Tannenbaum and his staff decided it was best for the team to utilize this win-now strategy when assembling the 2008 squad. Despite their lackluster record, Tannenbaum still felt if the right moves were made, the team could completely skip the rebuilding process and become contenders immediately.
Relying on this philosophy over the next few years, the Jets signed the likes of Damien Woody, Alan Faneca, Kris Jenkins, Jim Leonhard, Calvin Pace and Bart Scott. To go along with this, Gang Green also traded for big names like Brett Favre, Braylon Edwards and Antonio Cromartie.
These moves brought excitement to the Jets at the time even though Tannenbaum was essentially selling out on the future to try and succeed in the present.
With each move, Tannenbaum jolted his team closer to winning a Super Bowl. At the same time, however, it pushed the team’s future into further peril. Each trade saw the Jets lose more and more draft picks, and each signing only limited the Jets' cap maneuverability to a greater extent.
Also, players like Bart Scott and Calvin Pace accepted restructured contracts primarily based on guaranteed bonuses.
As for the Jets, this type of bonus was prorated for the life of the contract against the cap. This helped the Jets avoid cap issues in the early years of the contracts. However, due to their length and the restrictions against cutting these players, it has placed severe constraints on the roster flexibility going forward.
Will Mike Tannenbaum be fired after the 2012 season?
The Jets were able to advance to the AFC Championship Game in 2009 and 2010, but close losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively, kept the Jets from ever reaching their ultimate goal.
Since 2010, the consequences of Tannenbaum’s win-now strategy have hit the Jets hard. In 2011, the Jets finished a mediocre 8-8, and 2012 has been a nightmare.
The players Tannenbaum acquired might have been good players, but NFL careers are short. Without an infusion of young talent or the cap room available to sign new players, the Jets were unable to replace key players.
The only real personnel decision Tannenbaum made with the future in mind was the trading up to draft Mark Sanchez.
The idea behind drafting Sanchez was that he could develop into the type of franchise quarterback who could carry the team once the older players around him started to deteriorate. Unfortunately, Sanchez has regressed over time instead of improving, leaving the Jets helpless.
The decision to draft Sanchez was a curious one, though, and in retrospect seems counterintuitive.
At almost every other position, Tannenbaum and the Jets sought experienced players. At quarterback, after Favre left, they chose a rookie. This decision goes against every other win-now strategic move they made and may have cost them a Super Bowl title.
In the 2009 and 2010 seasons when the Jets advanced to the AFC Championship Game, Sanchez was at best a game manager. Had the Jets brought in a veteran quarterback with slightly more experience, would the team have been able to advance further?
This question will always remain a hypothetical, but it would have made sense for Tannenbaum to pursue a veteran quarterback, especially considering all the other moves he made.
Had the Jets fully committed to their plan and acquired a veteran quarterback, they might still be facing the same issues they are today, but at least they might have a Super Bowl ring to show for it.
The immediate lessons a team can take away from looking at New York's situation is that trying to develop a nucleus of players via free agency and trades is a dangerous game that can lead to success, but only for a short window of time. Also, if you are going to attempt this route, you have to fully commit to it.
The Jets may have reached the AFC Championship Game twice, but it is still questionable if a team with a core group of players acquired from other teams can win a Super Bowl. Recent trends of Super Bowl champions show that it is unlikely.
Of the past 10 Super Bowl championship teams, eight of them have had homegrown quarterbacks leading the way. Seven of them have had a homegrown leading rusher. Eight of them have had a homegrown leading receiver.
Only James Farrior, Rodney Harrison, Jonathan Vilma and Charles Woodson led a Super Bowl champion in tackles and have not been a direct product of that team.
These trends prove that over the last 10 years, Super Bowl champions have been built primarily through drafting and developing talent out of college. Free agency and trades have been useful for teams in acquiring missing parts, but the nucleus for all of these teams was homegrown.
By developing their own talent through the draft, teams like the Patriots, Steelers, Colts and Giants set themselves up for long windows of contention in which the possibility of winning the Super Bowl was there each year.
As certain players or parts of their nucleus have gotten older, newly drafted players have been able to step in and fill their roles, thus allowing the team to continue to stay competitive.
This type of system is far more stable than the win-now strategy employed by the Jets, but one that takes time and a rebuilding process to develop.
It will be interesting to see going forward whether or not the Jets fully commit to a rebuilding process this time around or once again pursue a win-now strategy.
It will also be intriguing to see which strategy other struggling franchises like the Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs or Oakland Raiders choose to follow in the near future.
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