The New York Jets handled their self proclaimed “mini-draft” in a perplexing way over the previous few days. General Manager Mike Tannenbaum acted against conventional wisdom with many decisions and left the Jets with a surprising amount of holes and/or questions marks on their opening day roster. This was an extension of his actions throughout this entire off-season which saw a lack of action to improve the offensive side of the football. Clearly, Tannenbaum holds the belief that last year’s team underachieved as aptly pointed by Rich Cimini today and that his job security is firmly secure, as we mentioned in an article last week.
Let’s review some of the most recent decisions and attempt to look at them from both sides of the coin, we haven’t been shy to criticize Tannenbaum on this site but that doesn’t mean we won’t search for his perspective –
Wide Receiver – Waive Jordan White/Pick Up Clyde Gates/Keep Chaz Schilens
Despite not playing in the final three pre-season games and not showing anything throughout August, the Jets decided to keep Chaz Schilens on their final 53 despite only giving him a very modest contract in the off-season. Schilens was brought in on the recommendation of receiver coach Sanjay Lal and has shown flashes of productivity at times throughout his 4 year NFL career. He also possesses a desirable combination of size and speed.
Gates is another burner who was a fourth round pick last year but was cut from the receiver desperate Miami Dolphins, which doesn’t speak well to his ability. From everything he has demonstrated throughout his career so far, he is very raw and still not ready to be a contributor on a NFL roster.
White is a player who put together a strong August. He lacks the impressive physical attributes of Gates and Schilens but has shown an ability to get open and work well in the slot. White is now stashed on the practice squad but isn’t it overkill to have three receivers with nearly identical skill sets in Stephen Hill, Schilens and Gates on the roster? At least White provides insurance if Jeremy Kerley can’t stay healthy or productive in the slot. Schilens can’t be counted on to stay healthy and Gates hasn’t shown an ability to do anything but run in a straight line.
Tannenbaum’s logic is clearly to stack the roster with vertical receivers. Will the Jets passing game take advantage of such assets and is he overvaluing the ability of Schilens and Gates though? He didn’t lose White and the #4 and #5 receivers on the Jets roster will likely not be major factors, so it is hard to be too critical of these moves but it doesn’t send a great message that a guy like White can practice and perform all August, just to lose a roster spot a bicycle superstar Schilens.
Defensive Line – Cut Marcus Dixon/Sign Isaako Aaitul/Keep Damon Harrison
It was perplexing to cut Dixon because he played well last season as a spot starter and member of the Jets defensive line rotation. He is a young player with the ability to slide between tackle and end, who has proven his value in Rex Ryan’s scheme. The Jets parted ways with him for an undrafted free agent in Harrison and a Dolphins castoff in Aaitul. Harrison has played well this pre-season, did he play better than Dixon? Probably not, but it is a better story for Mike Tannenbaum to tell that a UDFA fought his way on to the Jets roster at a crowded position. Aaitual has potential according to his scouting reports but likely can’t contribute this season.
Overall, this was a battle for the 6th spot in the Jets defensive line rotation and thus minimal reps if any. Tannenbaum chose to young and with upside, instead of the proven performer…penny-pinching about $150,000 in the process. In the long term, it could payoff if Harrison or Aaitul develop but if the Jets suffer an injury upfront this year, their depth is a bigger question mark than it would be with Dixon on the team.
Tight End – Waive Dedrick Epps/Sign Konrad Reuland
Tannenbaum had adamantly refused to go after a proven blocking tight end and clearly thinks it is better to let an extra tackle, like Jason Smith, take the reps. Epps didn’t show much this August, either as a blocker or receiver. Reuland has good size but every report on him, notes his receiving ability and calls him a “finesse blocker.” The Jets remain perilously thin between Dustin Keller, with Jeff Cumberland being the top option. Cumberland struggled all August, both catching the ball and blocking, likely because he is a former college wide receiver.
For whatever reason, Tannenbaum devalues the blocking tight end role, despite having success with it in 2009 and 2010 with Ben Hartsock being a major contributor to the Jets rushing attack. He also is demonstrating faith in Cumberland to handle a large role on offense. If the Jets can overcome giving away their tendencies with Smith on the field and Cumberland performs above expectations, Tannenbaum will look smart for saving money here, it the Jets struggle with Smith on the field and Cumberland flounders, Tannenbaum should be roasted for ignoring this need.
Fullback – Waive Terrance Ganaway/Keep John Conner
The Jets lost Ganaway, a sixth round draft pick to the Rams in the waiver process. He is a big back who showed the versatility to play fullback and halfback. It would have been a risk to hand him the starting fullback job but perhaps the Jets could have signed a veteran like Ovie Mughelli or Jacob Hester to ease the transition. Ganaway, Mughelli and Hester all have flaws in their game but at least they provide a measure of versatility for the passing game. Simply put, if you watch film on John Conner last year, he brings nothing to the passing game and his lead blocking is average at best. The Jets should probably consider going to more single back looks but if they have to use a fullback, why not go with an average blocker who can at least make an impact as a receiver or runner?
It would have been bad PR to cut the starting fullback with a catchy nickname a week before the season but can the Jets overcome Conner’s shortcomings for another year?
Running Back – Nothing
The Jets are rolling with Bilal Powell as their backup running back. A move that is eerily reminiscent of rolling with Colin Baxter as the backup center last year. Tannenbaum is clearly banking on last year’s fourth round pick to step up as a capable contributor and starter if Shonn Greene goes down. Yes, sometimes you have to let your young players play but on a run heavy team…maybe the most run heavy team in the NFL, isn’t that too big of a risk?
Based on performance to this point, it looks like Tannenbaum whiffed on three running backs in the last few years of the draft. Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell in the fourth round and John Conner in the fifth round. He also has a recent second round pick, Vladimir Ducasse, serving as the team’s 8th offensive lineman and a first rounder struggling heavily as a nickelback in Kyle Wilson. It appears he wants to roll the dice on his three running backs stepping up this year to validate his selection, if they fail, all three could be gone next year.
The New York Jets remain in a position to be competitive in the AFC East, thanks to a very good defense which Tannenbaum supported by adding Quinton Coples, LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell, and Demario Davis. Their defense is led by a terrific defensive mind and has a soft schedule to feast on. Could their offense be better than expected? Yes, if rookie Stephen Hill grows up fast and the newly added Tim Tebow brings a needed punch to the running game. However, it doesn’t mean the Jets have the necessary depth on offense. Tannenbaum feels comfortable to bank on players like Bilal Powell, Jeff Cumberland and Jason Smith…which demonstrates a self-comfort in his own job security.