On January 18th, things were looking pretty bleak over here in JetsLand as John Idzik was hired to take over as General Manager and right the ship. We heard it all regarding this team, whether it was that there’s no talent, or that the cap situation is impossible to fix. We heard the word “circus” thrown around repeatedly, and endless bashing of Rex Ryan and his team. Well, ever since then, Idzik has methodically went about his business and gotten this organization back on track, step by step. Jets fans who closely follow the team have praised him for the job he’s done from top to bottom. Let’s look at how in just three and a half months, John Idzik revamped this roster from “old, slow, and expensive” to “young, talented, and hungry” with a simple 7 part plan.
Step 1 – Dump the Dead Weight – As soon as Idzik was hired and got a chance to look at the team as a whole, the first thing he had to do was cut the dead weight from this roster — and there was plenty of it. The first to go wasn’t a player, but rather a coach, Dave DeGuglielmo, the disgraceful former offensive line coach who once touted Wayne Hunter as the best right tackle out there. Dumping him was a great start. Next to go were some veteran players whose contracts didn’t match up with their level of play anymore: Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, The Smith brothers, Jason and Eric, and Sione Po’uha not long after. It’s worth noting that those moves were all fairly obvious and whoever took the job would have cut all of those over the hill, overpaid, overused players. It’s what Idzik did next that made his early tenure as general manager positive.
Step 2 – Replace the Replaceable – The Jets had many free agents heading into this offseason, and how Idzik handled players such as Mike DeVito, Dustin Keller, Laron Landry, Shonn Greene, Brandon Moore, and Matt Slauson would go a long way towards shaping this roster. Those players were all major contributors to last year’s 10-loss team and all have major question marks at this point in their careers.
Landry is the best of the bunch, and while he was a Rex Ryan and fan-favorite, the Jets simply couldn’t afford to guarantee the same amount of money to the oft-injured safety that the Colts did. The rest of the key free agents on the team were all very replaceable and not worth over-paying for, and that’s exactly how Idzik felt. None of those players were worth offering multiple years or big money to, so Idzik allowed them all to walk away to new teams. Despite some fans clamoring to re-sign them, paying big money to role players like Keller or DeVito is a surefire way to get yourself to 8-8 every year. Giving starter money to Shonn Greene is how you set yourself up to be unemployed in a few years. Brandon Moore is so washed up (despite what some in the media may have you believe), that he has still yet to be signed by a team. Yes, letting all these players go obviously meant Idzik would have a lot of holes to fill, but he had a plan for that.
Step 3 – Find the Value – Rather than overpay for mediocre players just because they were already Jets, Idzik identified where there was better value on the free agent market. With his hands tied financially due to Mike Tannenbaum’s mishandling of the salary cap, Idzik had to be smart with who he signed. He targeted two different kinds of players as free agency opened: cheap productive veterans who were let go from their previous teams for various reasons, such as Willie Colon, Antonio Garay, and Dawan Landry; and younger players with upside looking for an opportunity, like Mike Goodson and Antwan Barnes. He also pulled off the trade with the New Orleans Saints to land talented and productive running back Chris Ivory, who has all of the tools to be a major contributor to this team. All of those players brought in have shown ability and offered much better bang for the buck than the alternatives.
Step 3b – Give incumbent Young Talent a Chance – Not only was Idzik going to replace the departed free agents with outside signings, but he also decided he was going to let the young talent already on the roster get a chance to show what they can do in bigger roles. Players like Jeremy Kerley and 2nd-round pick Stephen Hill will be given opportunities to play major roles on offense, as will tight ends Jeff Cumberland and Hayden Smith. The 3rd-round picks from 2011 and 2012, Kenrick Ellis and Demario Davis respectively, will be taking over major roles on defense to replace departed veterans like Scott and Po’uha. Last year’s draft choices Antonio Allen and Josh Bush will be given a chance to replace Yeremiah Bell and Eric Smith at safety, while Garrett McIntyre and Ricky Sapp can help fill the (small) hole left behind by Bryan Thomas. In many cases, the players stepping up from within or the ones who were brought in from the outside not only offer better value than the player they’re replacing from 2012, but they’re better players, period.
Step 4 – Trade Revis – This could go in the previous section with the value moves, but the Revis Saga deserves it’s own heading. The Revis trade was mainly driven by ownership, but it was up to Idzik to maximize the return on his best player who was coming off an ACL tear and had a history of being a major pain in the butt to teams off the field with his contract situation. When the process began, many in the media were skeptical that Idzik would be able to even fetch as much as the Vikings got in exchange for Percy Harvin and that a first-round pick wouldn’t be had. Well, Idzik played the situation about as well as he possibly could and ended up with not only a 1st round pick, but a high one (#13 overall), and he got what will likely be a 3rd round pick in the 2014 draft. It sucks to lose a player like Revis, but Idzik did what needed to be done.
Step 5 – Cut Out the Leaks / End the “Circus” – From the moment Idzik has taken over, he’s taken steps toward eliminating the whole “circus” persona that has overtaken the Jets franchise the past few years. The most noticeable change has occurred with the media, as the leaks that plagued the previous regime have been completely plugged. There are no more anonymous sources from the front office giving reporters information. There are no anonymous quotes coming out from inside the locker room. Heck, the beat writers don’t even have the scoop on players the team is looking at or about to sign. There wasn’t a peep about the Jets being interested in players like Willie Colon or Antonio Garay. Nobody knew Landry was going to sign until the Jets very own twitter account broke the news. Nobody had Sheldon Richardson linked to the Jets in the days leading up to the draft, and the guesses about the Revis trade compensation became comical at best. The Jets are back to being run like an actual football team, and that’s a good thing.
Step 6 – Promote Competition Across the Roster – This is most notable at the quarterback position, where much has been made about the fact the Jets currently have five quarterbacks on the roster despite Greg McElroy and Matt Simms not actually having a chance to start. When the position was as big of a mess as it was last year, then competition between three players like Sanchez, Garrard, and 2013 2nd-round pick Geno Smith is not a bad thing at all. But it’s not just at the QB position where Idzik has preached competition. He brought in two new running backs — Chris Ivory and Goodson — to compete with Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight. At Guard, Idzik brought in FOUR new players to compete with incumbents Vlad Ducasse and Caleb Schlauderaff. Willie Colon and Stephen Peterman were signed on the cheap, while the 3rd and 6th-round draft choices were used on Brian Winters and William Campbell.
Dee Milliner was drafted to push Kyle Wilson down the depth chart and push competition with guys like Aaron Berry, Ellis Lankster, Isaiah Trufant, and Darrin Walls for roster spots. Garay was signed to push Kenrick Ellis, and Sheldon Richardson was drafted to play on the defensive line as well. There will even be competition at the fullback position as Lex Hilliard will battle it out with 7th-round pick Tommy Bohanon. From top to bottom, there will be depth at every position, and the best players will compete for playing time.
Step 7 – Look Toward The Future – Idzik has done a very good job setting a foundation on this roster, but there is obviously work to still be done. He’s re-tooled the offensive line, took a shot on a new “QB of the Future” with Geno Smith, added two good running backs who complement each other very well, and there’s a very good young and talented defensive foundation in place with guys such as Coples, Wilkerson, Cromartie, Harris, and now Milliner and Richardson.
Next year, there will be a lot of extra salary eligible to come off the books, and Idzik will be flush with draft picks. The Tampa Bay 3rd or 4th rounder (depending on the Revis situation) will belong to the Jets, and it’s expected that the team will be awarded several compensatory selections in the mid-to-late rounds for players like Laron Landry, Keller, and DeVito signing elsewhere. So while there is still work to be done (positions such as Tight End, Linebacker, and of course QB still need to be solved), Jets fans everywhere should be encouraged with the job John Idzik has done in a short period of time. We’ll see how his moves play out on the field come September, but here in May, it’s hard to be disappointed, especially with how the team is set up going forward with cap room and a plethora of draft picks. For the first time in a while, it seems as though the Jets actually have a real plan: The Idzik Plan.