The New York Jets lack the following things: General Manager, Offensive Coordinator, Quarterbacks Coach and of course…a Quarterback. What they do have is a situation that is tabloid fodder for the mainstream NFL media, as constant shots are taken at how undesirable it currently is to join the organization. Nothing is ever as bad as it seems in the NFL but without question, the Jets have work to do.
It is hard not to keep referencing back to the off-season prior to the 2006 season for some type of silver lining. The parallels are there. After 2005, the Jets had no GM, were shaky at quarterback and had an undesirable salary cap situation. Rebuilding was the only option and the team was written off for another 4-12 year, with a few more likely to follow.
So how did they end up at 10-6 and in the playoffs, along with begin to lay the groundwork for a team who would be .500 or better in 5 of the next 7 seasons?
It started with a strong draft, where picks were stockpiled. The team selected ten players, including two first round picks, two third round picks, and two fourth round picks. They acquired an extra first round pick by trading away John Abraham after he was coming off a strong, double-digit sack season. They were able to acquire an extra fourth round pick when Herman Edwards left for Kansas City.
The Jets landed two future Pro-Bowlers in the first round, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. and found mid-round and late round contributors in Brad Smith, Leon Washington, Eric Smith, and Drew Coleman. It was far from a perfect draft (Kellen Clemens and Anthony Schlegel, anybody?) but it yielded both quality and quantity.
Outside of the draft, the Jets cut the fat from their roster: Jason Fabini, Barry Gardner, Jay Fielder, Lance Legree, and Jerald Sowell along with trading away Doug Jolley and Brooks Bollinger. They made the tough decision to part ways with longtime Pro-Bowl center Kevin Mawae. The players brought to the roster were low and mid-level free agents or players via trade: Matt Chatham, Kevan Barlow, Tim Dwight, Andre Dyson, Anthony Clement, Patrick Ramsey, Brad Kassell and Kim Von Oelhoffen.
From the crop of new draft picks and free agents, a sizable amount turned into immediate starters and key contributors. Of equal importance, younger players on the roster from the previous year submitted career performances, players like Jerricho Cotchery, Cedric Houston, Victor Hobson, Chris Baker and Kerry Rhodes. Most importantly, they received a stable, productive year at quarterback from Chad Pennington. All these factors meshed with what turned out to be a soft schedule equaled a 10 win season and the building blocks for a generally successful team in the succeeding years.
How can this year’s Jets emulate a similar model?
The fat should be cut from the roster when Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas, Eric Smith and Jason Smith inevitably leave town. They will also likely have to make the difficult choice to part ways with Sione Pouha, like they did with Kevin Mawae. Similar to how the Jets traded Abraham at the height of his value, they should consider doing the same thing with Antonio Cromartie, particularly if it yields a high draft pick back.
In April, the Jets should be looking to leave with 10-12 players not 4-6 like they have been in previous years. They must stockpile in the early and middle rounds, like they did in 2006. Of course, they also need to hit on these picks like they did with Mangold, Ferguson, Smith and Washington. In free agency and in the trade market, the Jets need to find low-cost contributors and stopgap starters while hoping young players like Quinton Coples, Demario Davis, Bilal Powell, Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill, and Kenrick Ellis flourish in bigger roles.
At quarterback, they will need somebody on the current roster or a veteran to provide competent play until a long term answer is found. It isn’t like Pennington set the world on fire in 2006 (3,352 yards, 17 TDs, 16 INTs, 64.5 completion percentage) but he allowed the Jets to be competitive on a weekly basis.
You never know how the schedule will break in the NFL but at least the Jets only host one 2012 playoff team next year (New England).
Whoever the new GM ends up being, let’s hope they find a little inspiration from the Jets past in their rebuilding process – Stockpile draft picks, don’t be shy about cleaning house on the current roster, and bargain hunt in the free agency/trade market.