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The Biggest Offseason Priorities for New York Jets

Philip SchawillieContributor IIIJune 14, 2016

The Biggest Offseason Priorities for New York Jets

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    Two words summarize the goal behind the offseason priorities of the New York Jets.

    Restore credibility.

    It's time that the Jets address the football world's perception of the team as a "circus," a "joke" or a "laughingstock."

    WalterFootball.com, for example, gave the Jets a "D" for hiring Marty Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator.

    I don't understand what Marty Mornhinweg has accomplished to earn himself another offensive coordinator stint in the NFL. Mornhinweg will be charged with either saving Mark Sanchez's career or grooming a young quarterback acquired this April. If I were a Jet fan, I'd be scared to death that Mornhinweg will fail in either regard.

    The same site gave John Idzik's hiring a higher grade—C minus.

    John Idzik is a salary-cap expert. The Jets need one of those. They have an awful cap situation which is the reason why many general managers turned them down. So, maybe Idzik will be able to save them. However, Idzik has no history of scouting or player evaluation. This move looks like it'll ensure that the Jets will be the laughingstock of the NFL, but I'm not sure if they could have done anything else.

    It's time for the Jets to prove their critics wrong.

    News conferences and press releases will not accomplish this. It takes deeds, not words, to build a winning organization.

    The actions the Jets must take are straightforward. They involve a sequential series of processes common to all NFL teams. Each step's available choices depend on the outcomes of its predecessors.

    For example, if the Jets free a large amount of cap space, they can sign a high-profile free agent.

    The free-agent signing changes the needs they would have to address in the draft.

    That dependence is why this slideshow is organized sequentially.

    Ultimately, wins and losses will determine how well the Jets satisfied their offseason priorities. However, the football world will be watching every step, expecting them to fail.

    Let's hope the Jets disappoint them.

    NOTE: The source for salary and salary-cap information not otherwise credited is nyjetscap.com.

Idzik Must Assert Himself

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    In his first news conference, John Idzik came off as a diplomatic consensus builder.

    He did not resolve this question: Who has the last word when consensus is not reached?

    That was an issue with Idzik's predecessor.

    While Mike Tannenbaum was responsible for personnel decisions on paper, the organizational chart did not reflect reality.

    Sports personalities such as WFAN’s Mike Francesca maintained that Tannenbaum rubber-stanped Jets' head coaches’ requests.

    The theory went that Tannenbaum did the same for both Rex Ryan and his predecessor Eric Mangini. However, Mangini was a superior talent evaluator. Rex Ryan's first two years were successful because he inherited Mangini’s players. When Ryan replaced Mangini’s players with his own, the talent level declined, especially on offense.

    That led to declining records and missed playoff berths.

    Idzik claims to have a coaching background. Hopefully, he can apply it to personnel issues and stand up to Ryan should the need arise.

    However, Idzik can't stop there.

    Idzik must redefine how the Jets interact with the media and fans.

    In 2012, players and coaches brought internal issues into public view.

    Dissatisfaction with Tim Tebow's ability went public.

    Former offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo publicly complained about platooning left guards Matt Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse.

    Worst of all, linebacker Bart Scott mocked critical fans after the Jets' Thanksgiving loss to the Patriots.

    Idzik must put an end to this behavior, with support from owner Woody Johnson.

    Developing and enforcing a media-relations policy that puts the Jets' best foot forward will improve the team's public image and Idzik's reputation as well.

Fill the Coaching Ranks: COMPLETE

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    The Jets let Rex Ryan keep his job. However, over 75 percent of the coaching staff will either be new hires or have new responsibilities.

    Stalwarts like defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff and linebackers coach Bob Sutton are gone.

    A new offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, is introducing the West Coast offense to Gang Green.

    The Jets announced their 2012 staff on Feb. 13, 2012. They announced their current staff a week earlier this year.

    It's an efficient start to a long rebuilding process.

    Let's hope everyone works well together.

Clean Up the Salary Cap

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    Before the Jets can sign either free agents or draft picks, they need salary-cap room to do so. As of now, they do not have it.

    General manager John Idzik’s ability to free cap room will affect the Jets’ personnel strategy at every turn.

    Create enough cap room and the Jets can rebuild by combining smart draft picks with established free agents.

    Fail and they must scrimp and save at every turn, hope that every draft pick works and look for free agent talent from others’ discards and CFL hopefuls.

    According to espn.com's John Clayton, this is the situation: The Jets current player contracts for 2013 exceed the team-adjusted cap by approximately $19.4 million.

    As if that weren’t bad enough, the Jets face additional expenses.

    They'd need around $22 million in cap space just to re-sign their free agents at 2012 cap values.

    Plus, they must have a "rookie cap" for signing draft picks. Although the exact amount depends on a team's number and position of draft picks, $5 million is a reasonable estimate.

    The additional expenses require around $27 million in cap space.

    In other words, the Jets must cut $19.4 million from their cap value to achieve compliance. To sign draftees or free agents, they must cut more.

    Rich Cimini projected the following moves in a Jan. 6 blog post:

    As soon as the waiver period opens in February, the Jets will clear $30.7 million off their salary cap in less time than it takes to hail a cab in New York. They will release LB Calvin Pace ($8.56 million savings), LB Bart Scott ($7.15 million), OT Jason Smith ($12 million) and S Eric Smith ($3 million). Those moves will result in only $4.5 million in dead money. The problem -- and it's a big problem -- is that they will have only 10 starters under contract and not much cap room.

    Those moves get the Jets from $19.4 million over the cap to $11.3 million under.

    After reserving $5 million for the rookie cap, that only leaves $6.3 million for signing free agents.

    Releasing or trading nose tackle Sione Pouha would save another $3.8 million. Releasing or trading Tim Tebow would save $1.5 million more.

    That would increase total cap space to $16.6 million, including the rookie cap.

    That still leaves the Jets $10.4 million short of what they’d need to re-sign their free agents at 2012 levels.

    Additional cap savings will have to come from pay cuts, contract restructurings or contract extensions.

    Possible targets include Santonio Holmes, David Harris, Mark Sanchez, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Antonio Cromartie.

    These players' combined base salaries for 2013 total $44.4 million.

    If Idzik could reallocate about $15 million to future years, the Jets would have a cap surplus exceeding $30 million in 2013.

    They'd move from having the worst cap situation in the NFL to having one of the best.

    If Idzik could manage this reallocation without creating future cap crises, he’d go a long way in establishing credibility as an NFL GM.

Select the Free Agents to Re-Sign

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    Typical wisdom says the Jets must rebuild their offense to succeed in 2013. However, should they suffer a mass exodus of free agents, the Jets will have major rebuilding to do on both sides of the ball.

    According to Rich Cimini, the Jets will enter 2013 with 10 starters under contract.

    That assumes the following events take place:

    • The Jets cut linebackers Calvin Pace, Bart Scott and safety Eric Smith to free cap space.
    • The Jets lose the following players to free agency:
      • Defensive tackle Mike DeVito
      • Fullback Lex Hilliard
      • Guards Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson
      • Kicker Nick Folk
      • Linebacker Bryan Thomas
      • Running back Shonn Greene
      • Safeties Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry
      • Tackle Austin Howard
      • Tight end Dustin Keller
      • Wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Chaz Schillens

    In addition, the Jets may cut or trade starting nose tackle Sione Pouha to make more cap room. That adds one more position to fill.

    It's possible that over half the offensive and defensive starters will be different in 2013.

    That's one reason why getting the salary-cap situation under control is vital.

    Free agency could cost the Jets half their secondary, a starting defensive lineman, three-fifths of the offensive line and several offensive skill positions.

    Who should the Jets try hardest to keep?

    Rich Cimini advocates trying to keep Bell, Landry, Folk and DeVito.

    He is less certain about Moore, Slauson and Howard. Issues other than performance are factors.

    With Moore, the issues are age and expense.

    Cimini believes Slauson and Howard are solid players for whom Jets' management may have low regard.

    In 2012, Slauson took a pay cut and was platooned with Vladimir Ducasse.

    Howard was, according to Cimini, a Mike Tannenbaum favorite. Rex Ryan mentioned him favorably in the Jets' postseason news conference as well.

    Howard's fate may depend on Ryan's ability to sell John Idzik on his potential.

    In short, the Jets' priorities with their free agents should be to preserve their strengths in the defensive secondary, defensive line, placekicking and offensive line.

    Hopefully, they will create the salary cap room to do so.

Replace and Improve Personnel

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    Assume that the Jets re-sign safeties LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, defensive tackle Mike DeVito, guards Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson and kicker Nick Folk. Their priorities for the draft and free-agent signings become linebackers, nose tackle and offensive skill positions.

    That means replacing linebackers Calvin Pace, Bart Scott and possibly Bryan Thomas, fullback Lex Hilliard, nose tackle Sione Pouha, running back Shonn Greene and tight end Dustin Keller.

    In addition, the Jets will shop for a quarterback to compete against Mark Sanchez for the starting role, a breakout wide receiver and offensive-line help.

    How they do this, once again, depends on how much salary-cap room John Idzik can free.

    The more cap room Idzik creates, the better chance the Jets have of signing one or two top free agents like quarterback Matt Moore or running back Steven Jackson.

    If Idzik is unable to restructure any veteran contracts, however, the Jets will have to set their free-agent aspirations far lower, looking for bargains at the NFL’s minimum wage.

    Regardless of how the Jets position themselves in the free-agent market, the 2013 draft is vital, both to fill short-term needs cheaply and to establish a pattern for the future.

    If the Jets want to establish a winning tradition, there is no better way to start than by hitting a home run in April’s draft. That will do more than any press conference or interview to rebuild the Jets’ image.

    They’ll have to decide which needs to address through the draft and develop a strategy to match.

    For example, if the Jets free enough cap room to sign a quarterback like Alex Smith or Matt Moore, they can use their first-round draft pick to improve their pass rush by selecting an outside linebacker such as Georgia's Jarvis Jones or LSU's Barkevious Mingo.

    If they don’t have the cap room to sign a legitimate challenger to Mark Sanchez, they may use that first-round pick to obtain the best quarterback available. CBSSports.com rates West Virginia’s Geno Smith and USC’s Matt Barkley among its overall Top 20 prospects. North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon ranks 30th.

    Whichever strategy they choose, the Jets had better do their homework so that their 2013 draft class makes a major contribution for years to come.

Spring Meetings Are Crucial

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    NFL teams view organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamps as ways to begin focusing on the upcoming season and get a first look at young talent. They’re important enough for teams with stable rosters and coaching staffs.

    For a team with as much offseason upheaval as the Jets, good OTAs and minicamps are a vital early step towards success in 2013.

    Seventy-five percent of the Jets' assistant coaches will either be new hires or have new responsibilities.

    Fifty percent of the starting lineups may be new as well. It will depend on which players stay and which players go.

    Regardless of player moves, offensive personnel must learn a new scheme. It won’t be another variant of “ground and pound.” It will be Marty Mornhinweg’s pass-intensive West Coast offense.

    According to the NFL CBA, OTAs are voluntary. For the team’s sake, Jets’ players should consider them mandatory. There is much change to absorb, and the sooner they start absorbing, the better.

    To his credit, Mark Sanchez has already begun his preparation. He is working with Jeff Garcia, who played quarterback under Mornhinweg with the 49ers and Eagles.

    Granted, Sanchez is fighting to save his NFL career. However, if other Jets’ players are taking similar initiatives, it bodes well for the coming season.

Select a Starting Quarterback

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    Many Jets fans consider selecting a starting quarterback the Jets' highest priority of all.

    Quarterback selection will be one of the last issues the Jets settle before the season begins. However, the process is already beginning.

    Mark Sanchez is fighting to save his job. He is working with Jeff Garcia to learn Marty Mornhinweg’s version of the West Coast offense.

    However, after his horrendous 2012 season, in which he led the team in turnovers, Sanchez will have to compete for his job during training camp.

    Who supplies that competition depends on—you guessed it—the Jets’ success in freeing salary-cap space.

    Given sufficient cap room, the Jets could follow Rich Cimini’s strategy of finding the most “competent, cost-effective veteran” available to compete with Sanchez. They could sign a free-agent backup looking for a new opportunity like Matt Moore or Tarvaris Jackson.

    However, if general manager John Idzik can’t clear much cap space, the Jets must get creative. That’s what is behind the reported talks with former Raiders’ quarterback JaMarcus Russell and North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon. The Jets are working on a Plan B.

    In other words, if the Jets can’t afford a mainstream free agent, they’ll consider candidates who recently left the NFL.

    Alternatively, they’ll draft the best quarterback they can and hope he mimics the success of Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson.

    It will be interesting to watch as the Jets divide time with the first unit between Sanchez and his competition.

    May the team be the ultimate winner.

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