Mark Sanchez's battle for his job overshadows other Jets' offseason moves.
We've heard plenty about mistakes like signing quarterbacks with bad knees and running backs who get arrested. Enough. It's time to examine the boldest, most out-of-the-box moves the New York Jets have made to address team needs this offseason; moves whose outcomes remain uncertain.
The Jets have taken some novel approaches to addressing issues that range from front-office staffing to meeting on-the-field needs. Here are some examples:
- Converting an Australian rugby player who'd never played organized football into an NFL tight end.
- Replacing a Pro Bowl safety with his brother.
- Trading a perennial Pro Bowl cornerback for two draft choices, then drafting his potential replacement
- Hiring a new general manager with no personnel experience to rebuild a talent-starved team
Whether you call these moves bold or foolhardy may depend on whether you think the glass is half empty or half full. Only time will tell. For good or ill these moves will play a huge role in determining the Jets' success or failure in 2013 and beyond.
Suppose you were an NFL general manager. What would you do if you lost both of last season's starting guards to free agency?
The Jets response was both conventional and creative.
- They signed free agents Willie Colon and Stephen Peterman.
- They drafted Kent State's All-Mid-American Conference first-team guard and Senior Bowl participant Brian Winters in the third round. He is on the depth chart as Colon's backup, but will compete for a starting position.
- Here's the "creative" move: They drafted Michigan defensive lineman William Campbell in the sixth round. They plan to convert him to guard.
As outrageous as this may sound, this idea is really the least bold on this list. According to Jets' reporter John Holt, there are two reasons:
- One of Cambell's college coaches suggested it.
- Campbell has played guard before, as recently as his sophomore year at Michigan.
In other words, Campbell's best shot at NFL success was to imitate Brandon Moore and switch from defense to offense. It's probably no coincidence that he's wearing Moore's old number: 65.
The dark-horse candidate is Will Campbell, the Michigan DT who's lining up at guard. "He's the kid that really intrigues me," Rex said. "Mike Devlin's an outstanding coach, but I'm surprised Campbell's not making mistakes. He seems like he's been doing it his whole life."
The ourlads.com Jets' depth chart lists Campbell as the third right guard behind Stephen Peterman and Vladimir Ducasse. However, this is deceptive since Ducasse has been working out at tackle. If Ducasse either moves to tackle or does not make the roster, Campbell could make the 53-man roster as Peterman's backup.
Otherwise, he might follow TE Hayden Smith's example and hone his craft on the practice squad while waiting for opportunity to knock.
Undrafted players face long odds of making an NFL team. Athletes whose first American football league is the NFL face longer odds still. Australian Hayden Smith, an international rugby star, may beat the odds.
The only reason this move isn't ranked higher is that it doesn't belong to John Idzik. If Hayden Smith becomes a prominent part of the New York Jets' offense, former general manager Mike Tannenbaum deserves some credit. Smith joined the Jets while Tannenbaum was GM and spent half the 2012 season on the practice squad before joining the active roster.
Smith's 2012 season was all about learning the basics of football. This year is about making plays. Smith described his evolution to ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini in the blog post "Aussie making his move at tight end":
If you've never played football, it's hard to sit on the line. You have to know what the cadence is and you don't want to jump and be edgy. Coming in the second time around, not having to worry about the game of football itself, it takes a lot of the thinking out of it. That was always going to be the challenge early on, getting comfortable with the sport. Now I feel like I'm at the stage where I can just concentrate on execution rather than the bigger things. I feel like I'm at the stage where I can contribute. My primary goal is to help the Jets win football games.
Smith has made an impact both on the field and off. Here's Cimini's assessment of his performance during OTAs:
Smith has come a long way in a relatively short time. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Australian was one of the bright spots during OTAs, impressing with his dramatic improvement. Instead of worrying about where to line up and trying to remember his assignment on each play, Smith actually made plays, including a couple of acrobatic receptions.
Cimini also rated Smith a "stud" at the Jets' recently completed minicamp.
If that's not enough to get Smith on the team, his locker room behavior should help. Smith becomes the team barista after each practice, serving espresso from a machine he keeps in his locker. It's a routine he adapted from his rugby days, when his club met at a local cafe after practice. Such team-building strategies are just what the Jets need after the tabloid-filling shenanigans of 2012. If Smith's attitude becomes contagious, 2013 could be a much more harmonious year.
Coples pursuing San Diego's Philip Rivers
One of the surprises of the 2013 draft was that the Jets did not select an outside linebacker like Georgia's Jarvis Jones. Many draft experts predicted either Jones or LSU's Barkevious Mingo would wear green and white in 2013. Cleveland took Mingo ahead of the Jets, but Jones was still available by pick 13. However, the Jets selected DL Sheldon Richardson instead.
The Jets faced the following challenges in improving their pass rush:
- Getting more pressure from outside
- Getting more snaps for 2012 No. 1 pick Quinton Coples
Their answer: Convert Coples to outside linebacker.
The Jets' roster lists Coples as 6'6" and 290 pounds, making him the tallest and heaviest Jets' linebacker. That raises the question— is he sufficiently quick and agile enough to handle run-defense and pass-coverage responsibilities of an OLB in addition to rushing the passer?
Comparing Coples' 2012 NFL Scouting Combine results with the top-15 linebackers (including ties) in his draft class might help:
- 40-yard dash: Coples time of 4.78 seconds was 0.04 seconds slower than the 15th-place time among linebackers.
- Bench press: Coples' 25 repetitions would have tied him for 10th place.
- Vertical jump: Coples' 31.5" jump was 3.0" less than 15th place.
- Broad jump: Coples' 109.0" jump was 8.0" less than 15th place.
- 3-cone drill: Coples' 7.57 seconds was 0.31 seconds slower than 15th place.
- 20-yard shuttle: Coples' 4.78 seconds was 0.43 seconds slower than 15th place.
Here's how Coples' results compare with 2013's class:
- 40-yard dash: Coples time of 4.78 seconds was 0.03 seconds slower than the 14th-place time among linebackers.
- Bench press: Coples' 25 repetitions would have tied him for sixth place.
- Vertical jump: Coples' 31.5" jump was 0.5" less than 15th place.
- Broad jump: Coples' 109.0" jump was 8.0" shorter than 15th place.
- 3-cone drill: Coples' time 7.57 seconds was 0.08 seconds slower than 15th place.
- 20-yard shuttle: Coples' 4.78 seconds was 0.25 seconds slower than 15th place.
Whether compared with the linebacker prospects of 2012 or 2013, Coples would have been among the strongest. However, he was below the top 15 (including ties) in all other categories. Only his three-cone drill time (when compared with the 2013 class) and his 40-yard dash time (when compared with either class) were close enough to be statistically insignificant.
In some cases, Coples' physical attributes compensate. You might think, for example, that his relatively short vertical leap would make deflecting passes an issue. However, Coples' height, arm length of 33.25" and 10.4" hands are also factors in his ability to deflect and intercept passes.
However, Coples' individual combine profile raises concerns about his ability to change direction in response to a runner or receiver and to react in the open field:
Coples doesn't see much action outside the box and his lateral movement can be an Achilles heel for him when running down plays. There are also question marks surrounding his ability to use his hands, and his ability to ignite his feet and hips to make quick-twitch plays.
Clearly, there's only one place to determine Coples' suitability for outside linebacker play: the football field. However, from the ways Rex Ryan has played Coples thus far, the coach's commitment to the outside linebacker experiment appears to be uncertain. For example, here's an excerpt ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimin's report from his June 9 "Sunday notes: Geno needs to pick it up" post:
Quinton Coples' switch to outside linebacker is going well, according to Coples. Curiously, he didn't play a lot of linebacker during the three OTA sessions open to the media. I suggested to him, half-jokingly, that maybe the team is purposely keeping him under wraps, a la Tim Tebow and the Wildcat.
Although this conversation continued in a humorous vein, there is a legitimate concern. If Ryan is serious about this conversion, sooner or later he's going to have to expose it to inquiring eyes. Coples deserves better than to be the decoy Ryan made Tebow.
Were it not for the sudden entrance of Kellen Winslow Jr., Coples' conversion would have been the boldest individual player move of the preseason. One move, if successful, would both compensate for the failure to draft a high-profile OLB and give 2012's No. 1 pick a role to call his own.
If the experiment works, the Jets will have a front seven that includes significantly more outside pass rush than they had in 2012. If it does not, Antwan Barnes will be the primary source of this pressure and the question of how to give more snaps to Coples will raise its head again.
When the Jets invited Kellen Winslow Jr. to attend minicamp for a tryout, they had no idea what to expect. He had been out of football since playing one game with New England in 2012, in which he made one 12-yard catch.
Granted, Winslow requested that release, citing a sore knee. However, it's hard to believe that a tight end with four seasons of 75 or more catches to his credit and a Pro Bowl invitation in 2007 would be unemployed since September of 2012. It's especially surprising since Winslow's last 75-catch season took place in 2011. His reward was being traded to Seattle in May of 2012. Seattle waived Winslow before the 2012 season began and the Patriots claimed him that September.
Maybe Winslow's ProFootballFocus.com grades (paid subscription required) partially explain his post-2011 mobility. The grades indicate issues with run blocking and penalties that may have overshadowed Winslow's receiving. Despite his 75 receptions, Winslow's overall grade for 2011 was a negative-6.2. The major factors were a run-blocking grade of negative-4.2 and a pass-blocking grade of negative-3.1.
Regardless, after two days of Jets' minicamp, ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini pronounced Winslow "a keeper" in his post, "What we learned on Day 2 of minicamp."
Free agent TE Kellen Winslow, Jr., attending minicamp on a tryout basis, has done enough to earn a contract. No one is saying he's ... well, Kellen Winslow, Sr. -- or a young Junior, for that matter -- but he's a functional tight end with some receiving skills. That's good enough for this team.
Congratulations to the Jets may be in order for a problem well solved.
Revis Island moves to Tampa Bay in 2013.
The Jets' second-boldest move of the 2013 offseason concerns not a single player but a group. It breaks apart and reassembles what might have been the 2012 team's elite unit: the secondary.
In 2012, the Jets' pass defense finished second in the NFL, trailing only Pittsburgh. They achieved this despite losing perennial All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis to an ACL injury in Week 3. One of the reasons was the play of the secondary. Safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Antonio Cromartie received Pro Bowl invitations.
Fans anticipated that Revis' return would make a strong unit even better. However, only one of the players from the 2012 secondary will start in 2013: Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
The rest are either gone or may not start. Safeties Bell and Landry are lost to free agency. Revis is lost via trade. Revis' 2012 replacement, Kyle Wilson, will compete for a starting role against first-round pick Dee Milliner.
If Landry's deal counts for $6 million against the cap each year, adding his deal to Bell's results in an annual cap value just over $6.9 million. A few short months ago, that sounded unaffordable. However, after a combination of cuts and restructurings, the Jets' available cap room at publication stands at $13.3 million. Even after subtracting $5 million to sign draft picks Dee Milliner, Sheldon Richardson and Geno Smith, the $8.3 million left is still enough to afford Landry and Bell. Surprised?
In other words, the Jets could have kept LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell from a financial perspective. If they wanted to leave, however, that's a different issue. The question is now: Will their replacements measure up?
Dawan Landry replaces his brother LaRon at strong safety. Dawan has never made the Pro Bowl. However, his 2012 numbers with Jacksonville are similar to what LaRon achieved with the Jets.
LaRon Landry intercepted two passes to Dawan Landry's one. LaRon defended four passes, Dawan defended two. LaRon had 75 tackles and 25 assists, Dawan had 81 tackles and 18 assists. These numbers don't paint complete pictures of the brothers' performances. They do offer hope that Dawan can replace LaRon.
The free safety position is where speculation reigns. Two second-year players, Josh Bush and Antonio Allen, are battling for the starting job. Bush is the current favorite. There must be some intangible factors at work, because Allen has the statistical edge. He had a sack, a fumble recovery, two tackles and two assists in seven games. Bush played in all 16 games, but only achieved one tackle and two assists. This begs for an explanation.
ProFootballFocus.com's grading system (paid subscription required) provides a hint. It's based on a limited number of plays, as Allen's grade is based on 40 snaps while Bush's is based on nine. However valid the sample sizes might be, the results favor Bush. Grades of negative-1.3 in pass rush and negative-2.4 in pass coverage are the major contributors to Allen's overall grade of negative-4.2. Bush's overall grade of 0.7, while hardly superstar material, looks formidable by comparison.
Allen and Bush played special teams as well. Bush's overall grade was 1.0 compared to Allen's negative-1.5. The key differences were in kickoffs, where Bush's grade was 1.0 against Allen's negative-0.5, and penalties, where Bush's grade of 0.0 edged Allen's negative-1.0.
Raw statistics echo Bush's advantage, as he had eight tackles, three assists and one missed tackle. Allen had two tackles, one assist and a penalty.
This may be interesting, but it's yesterday's news. Whoever wins the job will have to do it on the field. He'll have to replace or surpass Yeremiah Bell's one sack, two passes defended, three fumbles recovered, 70 tackles and 17 assists.
Then there's the cornerbacks.
One cornerback position is solid. Cromartie returns as the Jets' No. 1 cornerback after taking over Darrelle Revis' responsibilities in 2012. It's the other side that Revis' departure effects.
Former first-round pick Kyle Wilson became a starter after Revis' injury. Ourlads.com designates Wilson the starter again. However, 2013 first-round pick Dee Milliner will challenge Wilson once Milliner's shoulder heals.
In short, this year's unit offers more questions than answers. Will Lawan Landry perform like LaRon Landry? Will Bush or Allen make us forget Bell? Will either Wilson or Milliner make an effective counterpart for Cromartie?
Finally, if one of 2012's bright spots generates all of these questions, how many questions will 2012's weaker spots raise?
The boldest offseason move of all has to be hiring the man who made most of the other moves possible: Jets' general manager John Idzik. (Remember, former GM Mike Tannenbaum scores some credit for TE Hayden Smith.)
Whether the hiring of Idzik was borne more from boldness or desperation is a question fans will debate for years. After all, the combination of the Jets' salary cap issues and Rex Ryan's presence supposedly made the opening the least desirable GM job in the NFL.
However, it can't be denied that he has already made his mark.
Idzik was criticized for being a "capologist," someone who knew the dollars and cents of the game but did not have experience building a team. However, he went to work on both fronts quickly:
- Idzik improved the Jets' cap position through player cuts and contract restructurings. In February of 2013, the Jets were roughly $20 million over the cap. At publication time, the Jets are under the cap by more than $13 million.
- Idzik signed several free agents who replaced players lost to salary cap cuts or free agency including S Dawan Landry, OLB Antwan Barnes, DL Antonio Garay, G Stephen Peterman and G Willie Colon.
- Idzik traded Darrelle Revis for draft picks. One of the picks brought DL Sheldon Richardson to the Jets.
- Idzik presided over the 2013 draft that brought the Jets CB Dee Milliner, Richardson, QB Geno Smith, G Brian Winters, OT Oday Aboushi, G William Campbell and FB Tommy Bohanon. He traded the Jets' fourth-round pick to New Orleans for RB Chris Ivory.
He's made mistakes, like signing QB David Garrard before thoroughly evaluating his injured knee and signing embattled RB Mike Goodson (although Goodson may prove useful if he avoids jail). However, Idzik persists in his efforts to find cost-effective players who can lend their talents to the Jets, players like TE Kellen Winslow Jr. and WR Mike Sims-Walker.
In short, it's too early to pass final judgment on Idzik. However, he seems to be addressing his inherited issues in a systematic, professional way. If he can impose that blueprint on the Jets' organization without eliminating its flair, he'll have built an efficient, competitive team that still has a personality.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid