Year two of the Eric Mangini/Mike Tannenbaum era was a disappointing step backward, failing to live up to the high expectations that were set after an impressive and surprising 10-6 record in 2006-07.
Many things went wrong in Tangini's second year:
-The unnecessary Pete Kendall contract situation where the Jets should have just given Pete the $1 million dollar raise that he was asking for
-The hold out of first-round pick Darelle Revis, which hindered his development
-The quarterback controversy between Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens
-The struggles on defense especially the lack of a good pass rush along with having the wrong personnel for the 3-4 defense
All of these problems proved to be too overwhelming for the Jets to overcome, as they finished the season at 4-12.
To their credit, the Jets did not sit idle this off season. As soon as free agency began, the Jets moved aggressively to fill their most glaring needs.
-The Jets signed former Steelers left guard Alan Faneca to a huge contract, the most ever for an offensive lineman at five years, $40 million dollars with $21 million of it guaranteed.
As I alluded to earlier, left guard probably would not have been a problem if the Jets would have simply given Pete Kendall the modest million dollar raise that he requested before the beginning of the season.
Alan Faneca is a seven-time Pro Bowler who is a definite upgrade over whoever the Jets desperately plugged into that LG spot in between first-rounders D-Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold.
The continuity that the offensive line developed and enjoyed the year before was gone and it especially hurt the running game that featured last year's big acquisition, Thomas Jones.
The Faneca-signing does concern me a bit, considering the amount of money invested into a 31-year-old guard whose play has slipped a bit in the past couple of years and who has never been considered much of a standout in pass protection.
Those concerns are minor though considering what Faneca can bring to this offense: stability, a winning pedigree, a reputation as one of the best run blockers in football and veteran leadership who will undoubtedly influence the two youngsters next to him.
-I thought the trade for NT Kris Jenkins from the Panthers was a good one. The Jets had to give up a third and fifth round draft pick in this year's draft, but considering that NT was perhaps the biggest hole in the defense last season, it was a good gamble.
The first thing that stands out about Jenkins is how massive he is. He is a nose tackle in every sense of the word. At 6'4 335 lbs, he is bigger than any of the other NTs that the Jets used last season. There is going to be an adjustment period for Kris from playing in a 4-3 to a 3-4 but he has the makeup to thrive in the 3-4 taking up space for the linebackers to make plays.
There are injury concerns especially since Jenkins tore his ACL several years ago but he played in every game last season and seems motivated to play well here in New York. The $20 million dollars in guaranteed money doesn't bother me as much because he is still 28 years old, a three-time Pro Bowler and a premium of quality NTs available in the market as well as the draft with Kris's size and strength.
-The Jonathan Vilma trade to the Saints for a conditional draft pick caused a lot of outrage amongst Jets fans.
J-Vilma was easily the most popular Jet post-Curtis Martin. It hurt personally because he was my favorite player on the team. I've followed his career since he was playing at the U (University of Miami) and was ecstatic when the Jets drafted him, seen every snap he has ever played in the NFL and own his No. 51 jersey.
Vilma would have been regarded as one of the best linebackers in the game had the Jets stuck with a 4-3 system.
I know it makes sense to trade Vilma for the best offer available considering he is an ill-fit for the 3-4 defense and coming off knee surgery. If he stays healthy, he will thrive in New Orleans and he will be a perennial Pro Bowler. New Orleans got a steal, no other way to put it.
As for the Jets, it works out well for us too. Our new defensive monster, David Harris, is a bigger, more physical linebacker who thrived when he was inserted into the starting lineup. Eric Barton has good size and does well stopping the run, he'll start the season in the middle alongside Harris unless the team drafts a MLB.
I'm really happy with David Harris anchoring the middle but I can't help feeling hurt that Jonathan Vilma is no longer a Jet. Good luck #51.
-The Calvin Pace signing was perhaps the riskiest signing in my opinion. Pace is a former first rounder who converted to outside linebacker from defensive end after the Cardinals switched to a 3-4 defense.
Pace thrived in his first year in the 3-4 with 98 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks. He has excellent size for a rushing OLB at 6'4 270 lbs and he is only 27 years old.
My biggest gripe with this signing is that they gave him six years, $42 million with $20 million of it guaranteed. That makes Pace one of the highest paid linebackers in football after only one good season.
There are just too many unknowns here, it is eerily similar to Bryan Thomas during the 06-07 season. For less money, I would have been very happy with this signing. I'm hoping Pace lives up to his contract—he proves to be a disruptive pass rushing force—puts up double digit sacks and 100+ tackles a season, is mentioned alongside hybrid DE/OLB types such as Shawn Merriman and DeMarcus Ware and ultimately if he makes an impact on the team winning games.
A guy can dream, can't he?
For now, I'll just place a ? here, a very optimistic one at that.
-I liked the Damien Woody signing although I would have preferred the Jets signing former Chargers RT Shane Olivea considering Olivea is younger and grew up in the New York area. I can't complain though, either one is an upgrade over Anthony Clement.
-Other notable Jets signings:
Fullback Tony Richardson who made the Pro Bowl last year with the Vikings, paving the way for Adrian Peterson's great rookie season. He will do much of the same here in New York, clearing the lanes for Thomas Jones and Leon Washington (Darren McFadden too perhaps?!). Great signing.
Running back Jesse Chatman who started for the Dolphins last season after Ronnie Brown went down for the year. He is a solid veteran running back who gives the Jets excellent depth at that position.
Former Green Bay Packer tight end Bubba Franks was a cheap but good signing to complement Chris Baker because he is a good blocker and a decent red zone target.
Cornerback Andre Woolfolk who was on IR last season provides depth at the CB positon. He has good size at 6'2 197 lbs.
Justin McCariens (WR), Andre Dyson (CB), Adrien Clarke (OG) and Anthony Clement (RT)--Good riddance.
-We're keeping you happy:
The Jets guaranteed the last two years of Laveranues Coles' contract, assuring that the heart and soul of the team remains a Jet. I'm sure the Jets learned from the Pete Kendall mistake..that you should always take care of your own guys first especially the tough leaders who not only have an impact on the field, but off the field as well.
And perhaps the best signing the Jets made all offseason was extending Kerry Rhodes' contract for five years, $33.5 million with $20 million guaranteed. This makes Rhodes the second highest paid safety in the league behind the Colts' Bob Sanders.
Rhodes should have made the Pro Bowl two seasons ago and had a good season last year despite the team's overall struggles on defense. Rhodes is a ball hawk and he is an excellent blitzer from the safety position (eight sacks since coming into the league three years ago). He is the best player on this defense and will become more of a vocal leader with Jonathan Vilma now gone.
--Overall, the offseason for the New York Jets was good as they addressed some of its biggest needs and added depth with some quality players. However they overpaid to get their key acquisitions Faneca, Pace and Jenkins—all of whom have question marks surrounding each of them. All three are high risk, high reward type deals that hopefully pan out. I have no worries about the other signings as they simply provide low risk depth which is vital in the NFL.
While I admire the aggressiveness of Tangini, there are other unresolved issues concerning the team.
First, and perhaps most importantly, is who will be the starting quarterback for the Jets? Pennington or Clemens (or maybe draft pick X)? Picking and committing to one quarterback is essential to the success of any NFL team. I personally would go with Clemens but I have a feeling that the winner will be determined in training camp.
The Jets have to dump Dwayne Robertson and his $11 million salary cap number. The Jets had a deal earlier with the Bengals that would have sent Robertson to Cincy for draft picks. The Bengals backed out after Robertson failed a physical.
The Broncos seems to be the most-willing taker and the Jets should just take whatever Denver offers. Like Vilma, he is terribly undersized to be a 3-4 NT and it showed last season as he was constantly manhandled off the line of scrimmage.
The Jets still need to address WR and CB. A third WR behind Coles and Cotchery who can stretch the field. A starting caliber CB opposite Darelle Revis (who is one of the best young corners in the game). Hopefully, they will address these needs in the draft.
As of right now, I give the Jets' off season a B+.
I upgraded it from a B to and B+ because of the Coles and Rhodes extensions. The Jets deserve credit for being pro-active but ultimately the big moves need to play out on the field before proper judgement can be passed. It is also important to see what the Jets do in the upcoming NFL draft (April 26-27) where they select No. 6 overall.
As a Jets fan, I'm very excited about the upcoming season especially the draft. Jets fans should be optimistic about the 2008-09 season but be sure to approach with caution.