Injuries are the bane of a general manager's existence. Like weather near the Jersey Shore, they are difficult to predict and capable of destroying the most ambitious of plans.
John Idzik, however, has much more at stake than a beach weekend. A full calendar year of careful, responsible roster construction is now at risk because of an array of injuries at or near the top of the Jets' cornerback depth chart.
Within a matter of hours, the Jets lost rookie third-round pick Dexter McDougle for the season to an ACL tear and former first-round prospect (and anticipated starter) Dee Milliner to an ankle injury, according to the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta. The Jets were already shorthanded coming into this practice with starter Dimitri Patterson and Jeremy Reeves nursing injuries of their own, Kimberly Martin of Newsday reports.
Successive injuries to the top three players at a position is hardly a stroke of luck, but the Jets now find themselves in a dire situation at a key position on defense that could have been avoided months ago.
Even before the recent rash of injuries, the Jets were precariously thin at cornerback. These three players have ugly medical histories that run deep—even the two youngsters in Milliner and McDougle.
|Jets Cornerback Injury History|
|Player||Age||Games Played in 2013|
All three players had glaring injury issues before the Jets decided to bring them on board. Milliner missed the bulk of the 2013 offseason recovering from shoulder surgery. McDougle played in one game at Maryland in 2013 after suffering a severe shoulder injury of his own. Patterson played in just eight games in two seasons for the Miami Dolphins.
Idzik has gambled on injuries often in his tenure with the Jets. So far, his willingness to do so has had a positive yield, getting quality production out of injury-plagued starters like Willie Colon, Chris Ivory and David Nelson. His squad was the healthiest team in the NFL last year—one of the more underrated reasons as to why the Jets were able to obtain the most unlikely 8-8 record in recent memory.
Idzik's luck, however, is leveling out.
There is a certain randomness to injuries, but there is also a method of playing percentages. There were much better odds of the Jets having to replace at least one of their starting cornerbacks than gliding through the season incident-free.
In fairness, Idzik has not ignored the cornerback position entirely—using his first-ever draft selection on Milliner in 2013 to address the position as aggressively as anyone could have reasonably expected. However, Idzik has yet to finish the job by replacing Antonio Cromartie despite having more than enough resources to do so.
Freed from the burdensome contracts of Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes, the Jets were poised to flex their cap space as hard as any team in football. They came out of the rubble with Eric Decker and Chris Johnson.
Armed with a dozen draft picks in the 2014 draft, Idzik had more means and justification to make an aggressive move up the draft board (or even trade for a proven veteran). The Jets made zero trades during the draft.
The argument that the Jets were simply content with their cornerbacks is invalid. Their flirtation with the top players on the market proves that there was an interest to make a massive-yet-necessary investment in a starting cornerback opposite Dee Milliner—but they left the game of cornerback musical chairs empty-handed.
Whether it was allowing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to travel down the interstate to sign with the New York Giants, not closing a deal with Alterraun Verner or refusing to entertain the idea of bringing back Darrelle Revis, the Jets had more than one opportunity to bring in the proven, top-tier defensive back they need.
Now, like a sleeping student called on by a prodding teacher, the Jets find themselves scrambling for answers. Simply sliding up the depth chart won't work in this extreme case—a creative, desperate move with a fortunate outcome is the Jets' best hope of coming away from this mess relatively unscathed.
Rex Ryan has already begun to reach for solutions, moving promising starting safety Antonio Allen to cornerback, where he will start the next preseason game, according to Dennis Wazsak of the Associated Press.
As much promise as Allen has shown as a cover man, an opposing AFC executive could not help but smell the desperation of this move, as he told ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini:
Yeah, it's a surprise alright, but the Jets are desperate after losing Dee Milliner for a few weeks and Dexter McDougle for the rest of the season. The Jets believe Allen has some cornerback traits in his skill set—they like his 6-foot-1 frame and aggressive attitude—but this is a Hail Mary. If they like his potential so much, why didn't they try this sooner?
Idzik can claim whatever he wants about having no regrets to how he handled the cornerback position this past spring (h/t Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News). But if he had the chance, he would trade a good chunk of his healthy cap space for any of the aforementioned cornerbacks if they were still on the market.
Even if Allen does work out in his new position, it would be more of a testament to the aptitude and brilliance of Ryan and his coaching staff, not Idzik's decision to over-rely on a player the previous general manager picked.
In Idzik's defense, it is certainly possible that any of the players he may have signed would have been injured in lieu of Patterson. However, Idzik simply had too many question marks in one position—the overdose of youth and health issues had a high risk of leading to disaster at some point. The recent injuries are a symbol of the volatility at cornerback.
Idzik's intentions were in the right place when he took the cheaper route last spring. His philosophy of sustaining success through responsible spending is a tried-and-true method for long-term success—as long as a team is willing to weather the storms that pass over from time to time.
As cruel as it sounds, prioritizing the health of the team's balance sheet over its players is the key to winning over the long term, but there is no doubt that Idzik's stubbornness will hurt the Jets at some point this season.
Exactly how much the Jets will pay for their misfortune remains to be seen. Who knows, maybe Allen works out at cornerback after all, while Milliner returns from his ankle sprain to become the dominant player the Jets drafted him to be. McDougle will then return to action next season completely unaffected by such a serious, career-threatening injury.
The general manager who prides himself on dealing exclusively in reality knows the above scenario is a mere pipe dream. He and the Jets have a ton of work to do in order to find a solution for the predicament they dug themselves into.
After all, if the Jets want to sustain success, they need to have some in the first place to build off of.