I am a New York Jets fan. I am also a realist. The two go hand-in-hand like Montana and Rice, Gretzky and Kurri, and peanut butter and jelly.
My fellow "Gang Green" cohorts have not known whether to celebrate or berate all of the personnel moves the Jets have made recently. The Jets have had more roster turnover this offseason than Goldman Sachs. But have all of these additions and subtractions upgraded this team that was one game away from the Super Bowl last season?
Here are four of the players who have come and gone, and what positive and negative effects each roster change will have on the Jets in 2010.
The Jets had the best offensive line in football in 2009, no doubt. It was the backbone of the top-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, and quarterback Mark Sanchez was kept cleaner than a germophobe. But on those rare occasions Thomas Jones was stopped for no gain or Sanchez was sacked, the culprit was usually Faneca.
The 34-year-old, multi-time Pro Bowler was the weakest chain in the Jets fence and was only going to get worse as Father Time kept tackling his body. Faneca’s blocking grades for 2009 were below-average, and New York’s coaching staff was well-aware he was fading faster than Gwyneth Paltrow during a Chinese detox. Faneca had trouble with powerful, athletic defensive tackles bursting by him on several occasions last season.
You can make the argument that the Jets are built for the present, not the future, so Faneca should have been kept around because of his veteran presence. Right tackle Damien Woody can assume the senior leader role on the line, though, and general manager Mike Tannenbaum has a knack for drafting top-notch linemen that can start right out of college (see Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson), so chances are second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse will play better this year than Faneca would have.
Positive effects: The Jets get younger on the offensive line, free up room under the salary cap for 2011 (if there is a cap again by then), and will likely protect Sanchez better.
Negative effects: The line loses a little leadership and cohesiveness without Faneca around, but because of the talent at the other four positions and because of the coaching of line guru Bill Callahan, these concerns have been muted.
One of Cheech and Chong’s favorite receivers has gone from Super Bowl hero to fantasy football zero now that he has been suspended for the first four games of the 2010 campaign. But his off-the-field issues and subsequent suspension dropped his price lower than Enron stock, so it made him easier for the Jets to attain.
Holmes is the most talented receiver on the roster now, no questions asked (apologies to David Clowney). He racked up 1,248 receiving yards last year and has proven he can make game-winnings grabs in the biggest games. He has better hands than Braylon Edwards (who doesn’t?) and more speed than Jerricho Cotchery.
Only two questions surround Holmes. The first is how many times will he get his hands on the football? With the Jets built as a run-first team and already needing to throw to Edwards, Cotchery, and tight end Dustin Keller, and with Holmes missing the first month, will he not make his biggest impact until 2011? I personally think he will make significant contributions during the second half of the 2010 season.
The other question is obvious. Can Holmes stay out of trouble off the field so he can stay on the field? Head coach Rex Ryan and the rest of the organization do not seem too worried about Holmes. While his behavior with Pittsburgh was a distraction, he was never the divisive force other crazed receivers like Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, and Plaxico Burress have been. Let’s hope that pattern holds true with the Jets.
Positive effects: Sanchez gets another weapon to throw to and possibly a go-to guy, and Holmes will help open up space for his fellow receivers and for the running game. His love of marijuana might also help the Jets acquire Ricky Williams someday.
Negative effects: Holmes could bring unneeded turmoil to the locker room and could be a bad person to have around Edwards, who is also legendary for his poor decision-making in nightclubs.
The "other L.T." looked as ancient as Bob Barker in 2009, crawling through the pencil-thin crevices that the porous San Diego Chargers offensive line could barely pry open for him. Tomlinson ran like a graduate from the Jamal Lewis School of Tiptoeing. He did not hit holes hard and fell down easily when grabbed. This is why he rushed for a career-low 730 yards at a god-awful 3.3 yards per carry clip.
Tomlinson has rushed for double-digit touchdowns in each of his nine NFL seasons. He also had at least 1,100 rushing yards and 350 receiving yards in each of his first eight seasons until 2009's abomination. His numbers are Hall of Fame worthy, but was there any reason for the Jets to break up their top-rated rushing attack and add him to the team?
There could be a few non-football-related reasons why Tomlinson is in town. The Jets supposedly are having trouble selling seats at their pricey pad. Maybe a few more tickets and jerseys will be purchased because of Tomlinson. And a few extra ratings points may get tacked to the Nielsen total when the Jets star on HBO’s "Hard Knocks" later this year.
You have to wonder if many of Tomlinson’s problems can be blamed on San Diego’s banged-up, below-par offensive line and a pass-happy offense that was centered around Philip Rivers and his gargantuan receivers. If you stick Tomlinson behind the best O-line in the NFL, will he look like a totally different running back?
Positive effects: Tomlinson still has a nose for the end zone and can catch passes out of the backfield, plus he has a chip on his shoulder the size of Kris Jenkins’ stomach because he wants to prove to all the naysayers that he is not washed up. He would probably make another awesome music video if it guaranteed him a trip to the Super Bowl, too.
Negative effects: Tomlinson has been a bust in the playoffs the last couple years and has lost more tread off his tires than Jeff Gordon’s stock car. If he cannot average four yards per carry running behind the Jets offensive wall, that will prove once and for all that he is done. He will also take some carries away from uber-talented Shonn Greene, which will not be cool if O.L.T. (Other L.T.) runs like there are bricks tied to his ankles.
Jets fans love their hardest-working players, and Jones was one of their favorites. Underappreciated and underrated, all Jones did the past three years was gallop for 3,833 yards and 28 touchdowns. He never caused trouble, never complained, and never missed a game. When Jones was called on he delivered as consistently as a UPS man.
So why would the organization decide to cut ties with such a solid citizen and important offensive player? On the surface it looks like because Jones was due a hefty chunk of change, he was only going to get worse because he is over 30, and because Greene was primed to be the starting tailback. But without a salary cap the money shouldn’t have mattered, and why does Jones’ age matter if the Jets replaced him with the equally ancient Tomlinson?
Is Jones on the downside of his career? It is hard to say that for certain since he is coming off a 1,402-yard, 14-TD year. The number of carries he has had over the past several seasons and the fact that he will be 32 at season’s start go against him, and he seemed to lose his burst towards the end of last season, although that may have been because of a mysterious knee injury the Jets and Jones downplayed.
Positive effects: Tomlinson will be more dangerous and helpful in the passing game than Jones ever was and should be just as proficient, if not more so, near the goal line. Tomlinson also comes cheaper price-wise since he will be making $5 million over two seasons where Jones was due around the same amount just for this season alone.
Negative effects: In a locker room loaded with loudmouths and troublemakers, Jones was the quiet rock, the voice of reason, the guy you never had to worry about. Losing his calm presence and steady play could be devastating, especially in the development of Greene and rookie runner Joe McKnight.
These are only some of the players who have arrived and departed from the Jets during the offseason. In my next column I will tackle the effects of losing Leon Washington, Jay Feely, and Kerry Rhodes, and gaining Brodney Pool, Nick Folk, Jason Taylor, and Antonio Cromartie. To be continued ...