On Thursday afternoon, the New York Jets were making their final pitch to Nnamdi Asomugha. The Jets couldn’t pay Asomugha the most money, but they could offer him the biggest market, the most endorsement opportunities and the opportunity to be a part of what probably would have gone down as the best defensive back duo in modern football history.
On Thursday evening, the talks got even more intense. Houston and San Francisco, who were rumored to be the only other two teams heavily pursuing Asomugha, had both backed out of the negotiations and began signing other available defensive backs. If the Jets held their ground and held out hope, it would be between them and the long-shot Philadelphia Eagles.
But on that evening, Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum weren’t the only members of the Jets playing the waiting game. And it started to show.
Fresh off their $50 million signing of Santonio Holmes, Mike Tannenbaum put so much focus into getting Asomugha that it literally looked like the rest of the team’s operations were a paused video game. His players were getting anxious.
Hard-hitting safety Eric Smith announced that he would test the waters of free agency. Antonio Cromartie declared that the Jets weren’t going to get a “hometown discount” and further expressed his dissatisfaction for being looked over from the beginning. The Jets' top two draft picks, both pass-rushing defensive ends who were expected to play early and often, remained unsigned, along with every other Jets pick for that matter.
The Jets would be better off
But it wasn’t like that money only worked on the defensive end. Braylon Edwards took to Twitter, where he announced publicly that the Jets had no interest in him. Offensive linemen Wayne Hunter and Robert Turner, who both had potential to be starters this season, were unsigned. Fan favorite Brad Smith opted not to play the waiting game, and signed a multi-year deal with the rival Buffalo Bills, who will more than likely use him to do everything except placekick.
It was Smith’s departing comment that cemented the dangerous territory the Jets were navigating. On The Michael Kay Show Smith said, "When it came down to (the Jets) actually making a hard offer, it was very difficult with the situation they’re in, all being contingent on other guys, if they could get other guys."
Smith later said through e-mail to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, "Everything with the Jets was contingent on whether they got Nnamdi."
But when the Jets didn’t get Nnamdi, they were faced with a locker room full of free agents whose uselessness to the team was publicly insinuated over the last few days.
With their backs against the wall, management had to pull out all the stops to get the old Jets back. And not only did they do it successfully; they managed to put themselves in a position where they can still do a lot more.
For starters, all but two of the aforementioned former Jets were re-signed over the weekend. The Jets offensive line is completely in place, their three most important rookies are under contract and in camp.
The Jets then pulled off the steal of free agency, signing Plaxico Burress to a supremely low-risk, one-year deal. That move spelled the end of Braylon Edwards’ time in a Jets uniform, but it also put the Jets in a very unique situation.
With Antonio Cromartie being the only former Jet still in negotiations with the team, New York has put itself in a position where it can do a ton to continue improving, using the money that it didn’t spend on Asomugha.
And here’s the truth: Having the two best defensive backs in football is great, as long as you have a great pass rush. The Jets rely on their outside ends and linebackers to generate pressure on the quarterback. After releasing Jason Taylor, and pulling the plug on "Project Gholston," the Jets are left with a limited cast of veteran defensive ends. To make matters worse, three out of the four veteran DEs they do have, are older than 32.
While the money clearly is not for Asomugha, it may not be for Cromartie either. If Rex Ryan trusts Kyle Wilson to continue developing, and Dwight Lowery to be the third corner in the nickel package, the Jets can use this money to overhaul their defensive line and make the transition even smoother for rookies Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis.
Asomugha, or Cromartie for that matter, would be great. But if the front seven isn’t generating pressure, it doesn’t matter who your defensive backs are. With enough pressure on the quarterback, a good secondary can become great, and a great secondary can become excellent.
If the Jets spend wisely for the rest of the summer, they have an opportunity to be excellent all around; all thanks to Asomugha’s decision to join the Eagles.
***In the time since this was originally posted, the Jets and Antonio Cromartie agreed to terms on a new contract. Cromartie took a deal worth considerably less money than what Asomugha would have demanded, and the Jets still have money to burn. In other words, the author of this column looks brilliant. This passage was written by the author of this column.***