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Creating the Perfect Offseason Plan for the New York Jets

Philip SchawillieContributor IIIJanuary 18, 2017

Creating the Perfect Offseason Plan for the New York Jets

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    Many believe that creating a perfect offseason plan for the New York Jets means completely gutting the organization. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reports that Woody Johnson may be taking steps in that direction. Johnson has supposedly begun a search for a new general manager, contacting prospects such as the Houston Texans' director of college scouting, Mike Maccagnan.

    The funny thing is that while Johnson wants a new GM, he wants Mike Tannenbaum to remain in the organization. Tannenbaum's duties would focus on salary cap management, while the new GM would address the talent acquisition issues that have seen the Jets fall from AFC title game participants to a sub-.500 team in two seasons.

    According to La Canfora, "Several potential GM candidates...would never consider taking the Jets' job under these circumstances...."

    In other words, Johnson may not get his new GM.

    Is replacing Tannenbaum necessary? A perhaps surprising source, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, thinks otherwise. He wrote, "The Jets...are far from a lost cause. Johnson's decisions in the coming weeks will shape the future....Starting over isn't the best solution."

    This comes from the writer who broke the story in which unnamed teammates called Tim Tebow "terrible."

    Mehta proposed a four-point plan (which I quote) for reviving the team:

         1. Keep Ryan.
         2. Bolster the talent at the offensive skill positions and coaches around Sanchez.
         3. Supplement the front office.
         4. Re-sign defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

    In short, Mehta wants to salvage, not gut, the ship. This is a far more practical approach than building a completely new organization from the general manager level on down. It attempts to take advantage of organizational strengths like head coach Rex Ryan's support among players while addressing acknowledged weaknesses like talent evaluation.

    It also considers the realities of issues like the salary cap impact of releasing or trading Sanchez and the impending deadlines for re-signing unrestricted free agents and contacting available talent.

    However, a perfect offseason plan for the New York Jets must also explore the following issues:

         1. Freeing cap room for free-agent retention and new talent signings.
         2. Replacing departed coaches at coordinator level and below.
         3. Deciding the best way to fill each position need.
         4. Repairing the Jets' public image.

    Mr. Johnson has much to decide, and he doesn't have very long. Free-agent re-signings should conclude in February. With that deadline in mind, let's view the offseason plan's first step: Select the management team. 

Select the Management Team

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    Before Woody Johnson can execute an offseason plan for the New York Jets, he needs an implementation team. Granted, he already has one in general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan. But the Jets' first losing season since 2007 has cast doubts on the capabilities of both Tannenbaum and Ryan.

    Mr. Johnson must assure the public that he continues to have confidence in Tannenbaum and Ryan. Simultaneously, he must communicate his awareness of the Jets' management problems and his intent to find the personnel who will solve them.

    The best way to do this is to call a major postseason press conference and cover the following points:

          1. Acknowledge the accomplishments of Tannenbaum and Ryan.
          2. Acknowledge the issues that the Jets must address.
               1. Getting salary cap issues under control
               2. Improving the talent evaluation and recruitment process
               3. Upgrading offensive skill positions
               4. Retaining key free agents
               5. Replacing players lost because of free agency or to free cap space
           3. Announce the search for or hiring of personnel to address these issues.
               1. Front office manager for talent evaluation
               2. Offensive coordinator
               3. Quarterbacks coach
               4. Offensive line coach
               5. Special teams coordinator
           4. Announce intention to retain defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

    The Jets' conversations with Mike Maccagnan show that Johnson is pursuing the right front office skill sets but perhaps in the wrong way. The Jets need people with a track record in talent evaluation. However, hiring such a person as GM while retaining Tannenbaum could be uncomfortable for the new hire. It would be similar to the Sanchez and Tebow dynamic but play out in the front office instead.

     

    Recommendation

    Retain Tannenbaum as GM. Recruit a full-time specialist in football personnel evaluation and recruitment. That specialist would work with the coaching staff to understand their preferred competitive strategies and identify the best personnel to execute them.

    Tannenbaum's role would be to evaluate these recommendations in light of the team's financial position. He would negotiate contracts and manipulate the salary cap. If the player's demands could not fit team finances, Tannenbaum could reject the recommendation. Financial considerations would be Tannenbaum's only basis for rejection.

    In short, Tannenbaum would have the financial role Johnson envisions, but continue to be GM while the new hire evaluated talent based on football considerations.

Fill the Coaching Ranks

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    Once the basic team is in place, the offseason plan requires filling in several supporting pieces. Mike Westhoff's retirement calls for a new special teams coordinator. More controversially, the offense's performance or lack thereof has fans and media demanding the replacement of at least offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and quarterback coach Matt Cavanaugh.

    The Jets can either replace Westhoff with an established special teams coordinator like Bobby April or promote from within with Ben Kotwica. Kotwica has worked with Westhoff since 2007.

    Hiring Kotwica would represent a vote of confidence in Westhoff's system and treat the anomalies in 2012 special teams play as a series of temporary lapses. If the Jets wish to make a clean break from Westhoff, they will need a special teams coordinator from outside their ranks.

    As for offensive coordinator, everyone seems to want Tony Sparano's head. They will probably get it, especially after the 11-sack debacle against San Diego. Sparano showed flashes of creativity in that game, especially when using Jeremy Kerley in option plays. However, why he did not display that creativity earlier is a mystery.

    The offense needs an established coordinator with no ties to Rex Ryan. Norv Turner is the perfect example. He would have the authority to hire his own assistants. That would most likely mean the departure of quarterbacks' coach Cavanaugh and offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo at a minimum.

     

    Recommendation

    Sign Kotwica to a one-year contract as special teams coordinator. Extend or renegotiate the deal after 2013 should special teams improve. Offer Turner the offensive coordinator position. Let him choose his assistants.

Meet the Financial Challenge

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    The Jets must clean their financial house to sign the talent they need. They have the following financial obstacles:

    1. Their available cap room of $4.2 million is the lowest of any team in the AFC East.
    2. Projected 2013 cap expenses of $141 million exceeds their projected adjusted cap by $16 million.
    3. The approximate cap value consumed by soon-to-be free agents is $20 million.

    The article "A Look at the Jets Salary Cap Problems" from nyjetscap.com proposes two ways to resolve the issue. Both approaches start by releasing the following players: nose tackle Sione Pouha  as well as linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott. They would also cut safety Eric Smith and reserve tackle Jason Smith.

    If the Jets could get draft picks for any of these players, so much the better. However, outright release fulfills the main goal of creating cap room.

    That saves about $35 million. Total cap room after cuts: $19 million. 

    Releasing or trading Tim Tebow would save another $1 million.

    Of that, they'll need $5 million of that for draft choices. The remaining $15 million would have to cover filling 18 roster spots and the practice squad.

    That translates to approximately $600,000 a man. The Jets need more.

    The first approach frees another $15 million by restructuring the deals of Santonio Holmes, David Harris, Antonio Cromartie and Nick Mangold to convert more of their payments to proratable bonus money.

    However, the amount saved in 2013 counts against the cap in future years, when current forecasts project more room. This plan robs Peter to pay Paul but keeps more key personnel and avoids trades that would damage cap room.

    Should Johnson hire a new GM, the new GM might want to sacrifice 2013 cap room in favor of future gains. Trading Santonio Holmes, Mark Sanchez and either Darrelle Revis or Antonio Cromartie would save less money up front but reduce potential disruption in the locker room. Plus, if Revis is traded, the issue of renegotiating his contract for the 2015 season becomes someone else's.

    In that case, 2013 would be a lean year, but the financial picture for 2014 and beyond would improve dramatically.

     

    Recommendation

    There is no perfect financial plan. However, the Jets need cap room now to build a roster. Renegotiating the contracts of Holmes, Harris, Cromartie and Mangold would accomplish that.

Re-Sign Free Agents

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    Shonn Greene, Mike DeVito, LaRon Landry, Brandon Moore and Nick Folk are among the players who will become free agents after the 2012 season. The Jets have decisions to make.

    Greene, for example, will have two 1,000-yard seasons to his credit. Yet, running backs coach Anthony Lynn has described Greene's body type as fumble-prone because of his short arms and small hands.

    LaRon Landry is one of the Jets' two 2012 Pro Bowl representatives. But the free-agent market is replete with safeties.

    Who stays and who goes is probably a matter of economics. The players who cooperate with Mike Tannenbaum's efforts to keep payroll in line stay. Those who want exorbitant raises go.

    It's a model that teams like the New England Patriots have refined to a high art. Every year, they retool their roster to fit the salary cap. Every year, they make the playoffs.

     

    Recommendations

    In addition to Greene, DeVito, Landry and Moore, the following players are entering free agency: Dustin Keller, Yeremiah Bell, Chaz Schilens, Matt Slauson, Bryan Thomas and Jeff Cumberland. Prioritize keeping the safeties Landry and Bell followed by DeVito, Thomas, Keller (especially if Sanchez returns) and Greene.

    The others are more expendable. Slauson was a malcontent, Moore may be in decline and Schilens and Cumberland are second-string talent at best. Folk was not horrible. Neither was he great. 

Acquire Talent: Free Agents, Trades and the Draft

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    Once the Jets have re-signed their free agents, they must fill in the gaps through free-agent signings, trades and the draft. The methods they use depend on the availability of talent, what the Jets can offer and the acquisition price.

    Free agents and trades offer NFL-tested talent, but the Jets must be conscious of the following factors

    When it comes to trades, the Jets have little to offer. They will most likely trade Tim Tebow for a late-round draft pick. Likewise, they will attempt to obtain additional picks for their cap-heavy players like Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and Jason Smith before giving them their outright release.

    Some trades may be necessary to placate incoming talent. Michael Vick has made it clear that he will not compete for a starting quarterback job (h/t Max Dickstein, New York Daily News). If the Jets sign Vick, Sanchez will likely go, regardless of the salary cap consequences.

    The free-agent market is their next option. 2013 offers talent such as quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Matt Moore, running backs Steven Jackson and Reggie Bush, tight ends Martellus Bennett and Fred Davis, and safeties Louis Delmas and Patrick Chung. There are also a number of wide receivers, offensive tackles, guards and linebackers.

     

    Recommendation

    The Jets need bargains because of the salary cap. Unless Tannenbaum can negotiate cap-friendly deals, they should avoid the top tier of free agents and pursue the "honorable mentions." This would still give them access to talent like quarterback Matt Moore, wide receiver Domenik Hixon and running back Rashard Mendenhall.

    It's possible that former starting quarterbacks such as Alex Smith and Michael Vick will obtain their outright releases and join the free-agent market. Quarterback is one area where the Jets should not skimp.

    The draft offers the best long-term means of finding affordable talent. Players in their formative NFL years generally command less in salary. On the other hand, they need more coaching to introduce them to the NFL game. However, the teams that win year in and year out count on the draft as their renewable talent source.

    However, different drafts offer different talent mixes. Last year was rich in quarterbacks as Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson all became starters for playoff-bound or contending teams.

    This year appears to be strong in linebackers, as multiple mock drafts project inside linebackers Manti Te'o of Notre Dame, Alec Ogletree of Georgia and C.J. Mosely of Alabama as well as outside linebackers Demontre Moore of Texas A&M, Jarvis Jones of Georgia, Barkevious Mingo of LSU and Sam Montgomery of LSU to go in the first round.

    Several wide receivers populate the lower portion of NFL Trade Rumors Top 50 Draft Prospects, including Robert Woods of USC, Terrance Williams of Baylor and Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee. A tight end, Zach Ertz of Stanford, may also be available.

    In other words, the Jets could address holes in the linebacker corps and offensive skill positions in the first two rounds of the draft.  

     

    Recommendation

    Draft an outside linebacker if possible in the first round and a wide receiver in the second. Beyond that, take the best athlete available at a position of need. Only draft a quarterback if no free agents were signed. 

Improve the New York Jets' Public Image

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    Along with their record, the Jets' public image took a nosedive in 2012.

    In past years, Rex Ryan's exaggerations were the subject of media critique. In 2012, tabloid headliners feasted on both named and anonymous sources criticizing players, head coach Rex Ryan and fans.

    Johnson cannot allow this to continue. Fixing media relations should be the final piece of the Jets' offseason plan.

     

    Recommendations

    Executing the other components of the offseason plan will be a giant step in improving public perception. However, Johnson must take additional steps to address media relations.

    A perfect time to start is during organized team activities (OTAs).

    Here's what Johnson and the Jets' public relations staff need to implement:

         1. Establish clear parameters for communicating with the media. For example:
             1. Woody Johnson defines key strategic initiatives like this offseason plan.
             2. The GM discuss issues related to football personnel recruitment.
             3. Rex Ryan covers game preparation, player roles and postgame evaluation.
             4. Coordinators and assistant coaches can discuss their specialties.
             5. Players can praise teammates performances or evaluate their own play.
         2. Identify and punish the sources of unauthorized communications or leaks.
             1. Use fines, suspensions or dismissals depending on the source.
             2. Encourage cooperation with investigators.
             3. Conform with whistleblower law.
         3. Involve the team in community service activities.

    Hopefully, a repaired public image will make the Jets' offseason plans pay off both on the field and in the larger community.

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