As a former member of the New York Jets, let’s just say I still have a lingering sentimental connection to the organization, despite their recent Monday night embarrassment posing as a real NFL offense—though we all know they’re far from it.
This has obviously been an especially tough year for both Jets fans and players, to say the least. Offensively, the Jets have been as dangerous as a rubber band in a gun fight. They rank 30th in total yards (302 per game), 28th in points scored (18.2), 31st in yards per play (4.7), 22nd in first downs per game (18.7) and 27th in turnover ratio (minus-11).
The Jets are clearly on the decline and have been since last year, which has either been caused by or correlates with the late-season team implosion of 2011, spearheaded by Santonio Holmes.
Sure, we might be tempted to point to the numerous injuries the Jets have incurred this season as reason for their significant drop-off in production. But they happen to every team on some level. The Jets did a poor job building a team with quality depth, which was the result of making terrible personnel and salary-cap decisions.
The 11-5 season of 2010 is beginning to feel more like a lifetime ago with each passing week. But who is to blame for turning this once-proud and maybe even arrogant organization into the joke it has now become?
And what could possibly be done to change things around so that the Jets may fly high yet again?
In my opinion, it all starts with one man.
Mike Tannenbaum’s record as a general manager since taking over in 2006 is 51-45, he has achieved this while appointing and overseeing two separate head coaches. He has seven playoff appearances, including two conference championships. Yet, it’s beginning to look now like Tannenbaum will have to fire his second coach in only seven seasons.
And every time he decides to fire a coach he hired, he’s essentially weakening his own justification to remain the general manager of the Jets in the end.
Tannenbaum’s biggest weakness, from what I can tell after having played under him, talked to him and listened to the way he thinks, is he is not a very experienced evaluator of talent. His background has been predominantly centered on tinkering with salary-cap issues and player contracts. It is in this area that Tannenbaum is most natural.
As a result, it has become very common for Tannenbaum to elicit advice from his coaching staff (whoever that coach may be at the moment).
This symbiotic relationship between coach and GM occurs on some level across the NFL, but Tannenbaum is far too dependent on the guidance of others in order to make any decisions focused on the actual evaluation of talent, how a player fits in a scheme and what the strengths and weaknesses of that player are.
He only really asserts his expertise when it comes time to negotiate a contract or play with the salary cap.
A perfect example is my own arrival and departure in New York. I was brought in and signed based on Rob Ryan referring me to his former colleague and Jets head coach at the time, Eric Mangini. Then I was released, primarily because the special teams coach, Mike Westhoff, had other fringe players valued higher than me in regard to special teams contributions.
Tannenbaum was merely a guy signing off on the decisions of other people’s preferences. In this particular case, it was the coaches. This pattern has been repeated numerous times over the years.
This style of team-building tends to result in short-term thinking, void of any semblance of a “master plan.” It’s like trying to make a good movie simply by seeing how many famous movie stars you can add to the cast, though having a great script is the key to success.
Another concern with Tannenbaum’s GM style is his detrimental attraction to big-name vets with costly paychecks, whether that is free-agent re-signings or a new addition to the team. Tannenbaum consistently sacrifices depth in order to solidify a specific position with a guy who is deemed capable.
Many issues are layered into this. Guys like Bryan Thomas were paid pretty big money to bring a pass rush to the defense. The only problem is, he’s not a very good pass-rusher. Anyone with even mild evaluation ability should have been able to see this, but the year he signed his extension happened to be just after he had 7.5 sacks.
Paying Mark Sanchez that guaranteed contract seemed like a bad idea from the start, yet somehow Tannenbaum felt it was smart, seemingly because it could help Sanchez’s confidence and trust in the organization after the Jets made a push for Peyton Manning. Certainly ridiculous reasons to guarantee a struggling quarterback over $8 million in 2013.
Bringing in Tim Tebow was also a huge mistake that could have been sniffed out well before execution. Yet Tannenbaum decided to green-light this experiment without even considering how it would undermine his other intention, which was to restore Sanchez’s confidence and faith in the organization.
In regard to building through the draft, there has been some success by Tannenbaum through the years. Some of his draft highlights include D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, who were both first-round selections in the 2006 draft. Then came Darrelle Revis as the 14th pick overall in 2007. Muhammad Wilkerson is a burgeoning star and was a good first-round pick in 2011 as well.
Since Tannenbaum took over as the GM in 2006, 22 drafted players are still on the roster; however, four out of the 22 are from the 2012 draft class, which isn’t saying very much. Ten of those 22 have been predominantly starting for the Jets this year. But of those 10, we find guys like Sanchez and Shonn Greene.
These guys were drafted with the intention to be cornerstones of the franchise, but they have since dragged the organization down by not living up to expectations, especially Sanchez.
Here is a quote from a recent article on NFL.com:
Since Week 1 of the 2011 season, New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has played in a total of 30 games and committed 50 giveaways. By comparison, it has taken New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady a total of 76 games to commit 50 giveaways, a period dating back to October of 2007.
Ultimately, all blame must begin and end with the man in charge of all football decisions, and that man is Tannenbaum. He is even responsible for everything Rex Ryan is and isn’t as a head coach.
So with that in mind, let’s examine Ryan a bit here as well.
When Rex was brought in as the head coach of the Jets in 2009, it was clear early on that things were at least going to be interesting based purely on his press conferences, if nothing else. But Rex also brought some much-needed fun and energy to the Jets players—guys who had been edging closer to having their spirit beaten from them the previous regime.
Ryan’s player-friendly coaching style was nearly the exact opposite of Eric Mangini’s strict, militaristic presence.
I had long ago predicted immediate success for the Jets in light of Rex’s hiring as head coach due to the balance the Jets could achieve in transitioning between two polar-opposite coaches. I figured just enough of Mangini's influence would carry over into the Rex Ryan regime and make for a very special blend of coaching.
However, I also believed that the Mangini influence would soon fade away from the organization, leaving the players with an extreme version of a player’s coach who doesn’t overly work his guys and is very concerned with being liked.
Mangini, conversely, didn't need to be liked by his players. Respect was plenty adequate for him, and he would work his players to near death, both on and off the field.
With that said, Rex had always done a nice job with his defenses over the years, even without the game’s most dominant cornerback in Revis. But Ryan’s media relations and his generally lax attitude are catching up with him, as he is now quickly losing his players.
Rex also made a costly decision in bringing in Tony Sparano to be the offensive coordinator. Sparano has shown little to no creativity in his play-calling and has also been surprisingly inept at the translation of plays from practice to the game. That tells me his methods of teaching and/or installing the plays are not very effective.
Perhaps Rex’s biggest mistake has been the way he has handled his quarterback situation. His decision to continue to play Sanchez all the way up until Week 14 of the 2012 season means that he was far more than a year too late on trying some other options at the position.
Tebow, for instance, could have helped the Jets offense much more if he were used properly, and I don’t mean as a pure passer. I’m talking about read-options and pistol formations. Give Tebow the ability to run or pass based on the defense rather than predetermined option plays designed to have him run just off-tackle into a pile of defenders.
Sanchez played enough subpar-to-terrible games over the season to have allowed room for a true quarterback competition. This could have given the offense a spark and might have been the difference between a few wins and losses.
Instead, we had to listen to Ryan’s weekly edition of overly forced support of Sanchez, all to avoid a circus in the Big Apple. Well, if you don’t want a circus, then don’t buy the elephants and the clowns.
So, what can be done to fix this ailing franchise as its vital signs drop dangerously low?
Obviously, the Jets need a reliable quarterback. Sanchez is virtually untradeable and will just have to be released. New York will have to bite that bullet on his guaranteed money and just move on.
But who replaces Sanchez? Not Tebow, he will need to be released or possibly traded for a late-round draft pick.
Greg McElroy is not the long-term answer either, but he may be serviceable as a reliable backup.
Rumors pointing toward Mike Vick coming to N.Y. (via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com) are fun to entertain and perhaps quite possible. But Vick is not the quarterback who will save the Jets. The Jets need a guy who truly understands how to manage a game, a guy who allows a good defense to do its job and doesn’t turn the ball over.
That man is Alex Smith. He would be a great temporary fix in N.Y. as they wait to pick and groom their future franchise quarterback.
The Jets also need to address their deficiencies at the offensive skill positions soon. The best solution to this problem is to accumulate as many draft picks as possible and go with quantity. Hopefully, they can get a couple stars and maybe even a decent starter or two out of it.
Trading Santonio Holmes for a draft pick or two would be a fantastic idea. He is a cancer to the team and a terrible leader who isn’t worth what he brings in production. He should also generate a decent return in trade value.
If Revis returns from injury asking record-breaking contract numbers, the Jets should try their hardest to convince him to sign for less. If that fails, they need to be OK with letting him walk. When a player becomes so expensive that it prevents you from improving your team in several other areas, that player is no longer worth the price.
Somehow, some way, the Jets are going to have to add a couple of legitimate pass-rushers to this defense. This might be via free agency, draft or even trade. But it must happen. Three players (David Harris, Quinton Coples, Wilkerson) are leading the team in sacks with only four each—terrible.
As for Rex, give him one more year. Fire Sparano and bring in an offensive coordinator with some imagination who can design an offense within the framework of Rex’s philosophy.
But as for Tannenbaum, the creator of this mess...
He is under contract through 2014.
He has made too many crucial mistakes in both evaluating talent and managing the salary cap. He needs to be fired and replaced with a guy like Bill Polian, who has a rare ability to see and understand the game from almost every angle. If the Jets could retain his services even in an advisor role, that would be extremely valuable.
The time is now for the Jets to bring in a real football genius.
Tannenbaum is not the answer.