8 Moves New Jets General Manager Must Make Immediately
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With the recent firing of general manager Mike Tannenbaum, the New York Jets are in need of a new GM. As was reported by multiple sources this past Saturday, San Francisco 49ers executive Tom Gamble is the heavy front-runner for the job.
With many changes happening over the coming months, the new GM will have to make a lot of moves. Other than head coach Rex Ryan—whose job is secure—the rest of the team is largely uncertain. Both the offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator will be replaced. The conditioning coach and quarterbacks coach have already been fired and not extended respectively.
There are eight moves in particular that the Jets' new GM must make as soon as possible in order to get the Jets on track for being back in contention in 2013.
Reclaim Cap Space
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Mike Tannenbaum regularly made use of back-loaded contracts, meaning contracts that inflate toward the end of their lifespan. Generally with these types of contracts, there is some amount of guaranteed money up front and then the bulk of the actual salary appears in the last few of years of contract, allowing the GM the ability to cut the player if they regress.
The result is that the Jets often appear to be over the salary cap when they are effectively under it. While NFL executives understand this, the strategy is sometimes lost on portions of the media and casual fans. Just like the past few offseasons, this offseason the term "salary cap hell" is being thrown around in reference to the Jets.
Of course, just like last offseason, the Jets' cap situation is under control (though not ideal) and not too hard to understand. The Jets have a handful of back-loaded contracts they have been planning to dump. The new GM's first and easiest move is to make the necessary cap moves Tannenbaum would have made.
As Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com summarizes, the Jets have $31 million in cap space scheduled to come off the books through player releases. Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Jason Smith and Eric Smith should all be getting released. Those players will likely have the choice to either retire or to come back at the veteran's minimum.
Get on Board with Rex Ryan
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It has become somewhat of a meme in NFL pop culture to make comically hyperbolic slander of Rex Ryan. That probably will not change anytime soon, especially if he continues to be caught shirtless by photographers. However, the reason most GMs in the NFL would still love to have Ryan as their team's head coach is because he remains a pretty good one.
The biggest reason Ryan retains so much respect around the league is that in each of his four years as head coach of the Jets, his team has outperformed its talent level. Even this past season, he managed a 6-10 season with a roster that was unbelievably crippled by injury and completely lacking in depth.
Unsurprisingly, owner Woody Johnson has made it clear that Ryan is not going anywhere before the 2013 season. It is important that the new GM embraces Ryan as the team's leader. This includes understanding both his strengths and his weaknesses.
Embracing Ryan's strengths means providing defensive depth. Ryan is arguably the best defensive coach in the NFL and is creative at using a variety of sets. Some of his schemes require an unusually large number of capable defensive backs to be on the roster.
Embracing Ryan's weaknesses means recognizing that he does not bring a whole lot in terms of offensive expertise. The Jets need to put a strong and experienced offensive coordinator next to Ryan who can take control of that half of the team.
Hire a New Offensive Coordinator
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Continuing with the theme, the most important immediate decision for the Jets' new GM to make is to hire a new offensive coordinator. It has been reported that head coach Rex Ryan did not want Sparano to stay. The news of Sparano's firing was made official on Tuesday.
Turner is best known for being the offensive coordinator for the historically great Dallas Cowboys team of the early '90s that won back-to-back Super Bowls. He has also served as the head coach of the Washington Redskins, the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers.
As a head coach, Turner has not seen great success, largely due to his inability to put together a strong defense. In some ways, he is the dual of Ryan. By returning to his field of expertise and becoming an offensive coordinator, Turner could potentially return to his past level of success.
Draft a Second-Round Quarterback
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The Jets could use a first-round quality quarterback in the upcoming 2013 NFL draft. However, there are no obviously great quarterbacks to be picked. More likely the Jets will draft one of the promising outside linebackers that the first round is full of this year.
Nevertheless, getting a young quarterback who can be developed into a franchise player would be the best way to go. There are a few quarterbacks with potential who are likely to go in the second or third rounds. That is the part of the draft where the Jets should be thinking quarterback.
Geno Smith will probably not be available. He is widely expected to be picked first overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. However, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib, Mike Glennon and Tajh Boyd are all possibilities. While one or more of those players could be picked in the first round, it is possible that they will be around to be taken early in the second round when the Jets get their turn.
Turn Mark Sanchez into Cap Space
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Mark Sanchez—a former fifth overall pick and starting quarterback in two AFC Championship Games—obviously has the talent and ability to be a passable starter in the NFL. However, New York is no longer a place where that is likely to happen.
Similar to former teammate Wayne Hunter, the pressure of the New York media seems to have taken its toll on Sanchez. He is very nervous in the pocket and cannot seem to trust any of his decisions. He double-clutched touchdowns into interceptions multiple times this past season.
Hunter went to the St. Louis Rams for the 2012 season and got back to being a serviceable right tackle in a quiet media market. Sanchez needs a similar move. In a city where he is not expected to be a Pro Bowler and is not expected to win the Super Bowl, he can go back to being an average starting quarterback.
The Jets' new GM needs to find a way to move Sanchez and get back cap space. Sanchez is owed $8.75 million in guaranteed money for the 2013 season. He has no real value in New York at this point. The Jets will likely bring in a new starting quarterback, either through the draft or free agency. Greg McElroy is a quality backup, so having an $8.75 million player on the bench doing nothing would be a waste.
Sanchez could bring value to other franchises in need of a quarterback, so moving him to a new city would be a good thing. Giving him away for next to nothing would be a win for the Jets, since the cap savings are what matter.
If the new GM can move Sanchez before June 1, then the cap hit from the trade will apply only to 2013, meaning the Jets will be free and clear in 2014.
The Jets can also save a little extra by releasing or trading backup quarterback Tim Tebow.
Let Dustin Keller Go
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As the result of a good relationship with Mark Sanchez and a lack of effective wide receivers around him, tight end Dustin Keller has gotten a reputation for being more valuable than he is.
Despite being the only viable target some weeks this season, Keller only racked up 317 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the eight games his health allowed him to play. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the 36th-ranked tight end in the NFL.
Keller is not a star talent and should not be paid as such in free agency. While he was injured, his backup Jeff Cumberland was equally effective. In fact, he ranked better overall (31st vs. 36th) than Keller did for the 2012 season.
If Keller is looking to be paid like a top-tier or even second-tier tight end, then the Jets should let him go. He is an average to slightly below-average player with depth behind him on the roster. He is also one of the worst tight ends in the league in terms of run blocking, so if the Jets plan to remain a run-heavy offense, he definitely has to go.
Let LaRon Landry Go
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Landry was a great pickup by the Jets in the 2012 offseason. Coming off an injury and widely underrated, the Jets signed him to a low-cost, one-year deal.
But since coming to New York, Landry has become vastly overrated, despite not improving his play. With his first career Pro Bowl appearance this season, Landry is in a position to ask for a major contract. His stock is rising at just the right time for him to cash in.
The Jets' new GM would be wise to avoid investing big money in Landry. He is both injury-prone and overrated. Playing free safety with a strong safeties body, he often gets beaten in coverage and cannot cover quality tight ends.
According to Pro Football Focus, he is the No. 65-ranked safety in the NFL. With only five pass deflections on the season to go along with 13 missed tackles and an 97.5 opposing quarterback rating, one could easily argue that Landry has gotten worse this season, rather than better.
The other big issue with Landry is how injury-prone he is. If the Jets do sign him, it should be to only a one-year deal. The 2012 season was the first season since 2008 in which Landry played all 16 games. More likely than not this was the exception rather than the norm. His lingering Achilles' tendon problems keep him off the practice field and constantly one play away from potentially ending his season.
The Jets would be wise to stay away.
Figure out Who the Best OLB in the Draft Is
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As I argued early in the season, the only hole on the Jets 2012 defensive squad was at linebacker. The problem was that it was a huge hole. Specifically, they did not have a single adequate starter at outside linebacker.
The Jets—assuming Darrelle Revis is healthy—have the best set of defensive backs in the NFL. They also have a great defensive line. They get solid coverage. Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples generate pressure on the quarterback at an elite level. Yet that pressure and that coverage does not result in sacks because of the linebackers.
Quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger are able to simply move the pocket and outrun the Jets' pathetically slow outside linebackers. In 2012, Wilkerson generated 22 quarterback pressures but garnered only five sacks. In other words, he dominated at the line but was let down by the players behind him.
On running plays, the Jets linebackers have not been any better. Despite having a defensive line that can generate penetration, the linebackers have been failing to set the edge and have been too slow about closing gaps.
The 2013 draft class has several quality outside linebackers, mostly OLB/DE hybrids. Choosing the right one could provide the Jets defense with one of the most fearsome pass rushes in the NFL. Choosing the wrong one could cause fans to start Googling Vernon Gholston.
With the ninth pick in the draft, the Jets will have the opportunity to grab a real stud at OLB. They need to choose the right one.
Woody Johnson and Rex Ryan
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On the whole, the moves that the new Jets' GM needs to make are relatively straightforward. He needs to get on board with his head coach and find coordinators he can also get on board with. He needs a quarterback he can believe in and needs to turn his other quarterback into cap space.
He will need to release a few overvalued players—such as LaRon Landry and Calvin Pace—and fill his team's biggest holes at outside linebacker. All the while he will need to manage the Jets' salary cap space, which is not particularly large.
The job will not be a piece of cake, but it will also not be impossible. The 2011 San Francisco 49ers were turned around from 6-10 to 13-3. In an ideal world, Tom Gamble will be able to make magic happen a second time.