It wasn’t that long ago that all of the NFL “experts” and pundits out there considered the New York Jets to be a complete and total joke. The team was considered to be such a “circus” that wouldn’t even be able to find a new General Manager because the job was so undesirable. They were so hopeless that their head coach was on the hot seat and might be fired midway through the season. They had to trade their best player away and didn’t stand a chance heading into 2013, or 2014, or any time soon for that matter. You remember all of that, right? Well not only does that all look silly as the Jets are in playoff contention after seven weeks, but the Jets are in the process of building something great here. And this time, they’re doing it the right way.
The Jets are far from a finished product, of course, but they’re clearly on the right path toward building a long-term winner, which is something Jets fans have craved seemingly forever. Let’s take a look at Idzik’s plan so far and what the next steps will be toward building a legitimate contender here in Jets Land.
Cut Dead Weight, Give Young Players a Shot – I wrote about this back in May when the Jets roster was starting to take shape, but this was an extremely important first step as Idzik was able to cut bait with a lot of players who had success with the Jets and may have been retained under the previous regime. Players such as Sione Po’uha, Bart Scott, Bryan Thomas, Eric Smith, Brandon Moore were all let go and are currently out of the league. Others such as Mike DeVito, Laron Landry, Shonn Greene, Matt Slauson, and Dustin Keller were all allowed to leave rather than being overpaid to stay, which was key. None of those players were worth the money they received, and just as importantly, the Jets had replacements ready to step up and fill those spots.
Young, hungry players like Bilal Powell, Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill, Jeff Cumberland, Vlad Ducasse (ok, so not all of these worked out), Quinton Coples, Damon Harrison, Kenrick Ellis, Demario Davis, Darrin Walls, and Antonio Allen were all given the opportunity to grab jobs and run with them. In addition to those guys that were already on the roster, the Jets also have plenty of rookies starting and playing big roles, such as Sheldon Richardson, Dee Milliner, Brian Winters, Brian Bohanon, and of course, Geno Smith, which brings me to the next point…
QB They Believe In + Legit Offensive Coordinator – It was painfully obvious John Idzik wanted nothing to do with Mark Sanchez and if his contract wasn’t what it was, releasing him would have been one of his first moves. The hard part was finding a QB they believed in and one that they could build around. When Geno Smith fell into his lap in the 2nd round of the draft, Idzik had his man. Almost as importantly, the Jets had already found their new offensive coordinator in Marty Mornhinweg, and for the first time since…umm… since forever maybe, they had a legitimate offensive coordinator who could properly develop a quarterback.
Since the start of the season, Geno has obviously had his share of downs, but his progression as a player has been undeniable and he’s shown enough flashes to make us think that the Jets finally have something they can build around. The days of Paul Hackett, Brian Schottenheimer, and Tony Sparano butchering our quarterbacks and setting offensive football back decades are finally behind us. Jets fans are not used to this, but it’s ok to have confidence in our QB and OC working together.
Stockpile Draft Picks – One of the biggest reasons the Jets fell apart the last two seasons was because of Mike Tannenbaum’s tendency to trade away the majority of his draft choices. That resulted in the team’s “middle class” being severely weakened and the lack of depth was astonishing. Idzik believes in building through the draft, and since taking of the Jets, he’s shown that by stockpiling draft choices.
Darrelle Revis was traded for a 1st round pick in 2013 and a 3rd round pick in 2014, which may end up being the first pick of the round since the Bucs have become all the horrible things everyone said the Jets would be and then some. Players like Keller, DeVito, Landry, and Greene were all let go and will result in compensatory picks in the 2014 draft as well. In next year’s draft, the Jets are looking at probably 11 or 12 draft choices, which is obviously way more than the team has had in a long time. Consider this: Between 2009 and 2011, the Jets had a total of just 13 picks, which is incredible to think about. Having nearly that many in a single draft will give Idzik the flexibility to take some chances with his picks, or package some up to move up and select a player that he truly covets. In fact, that’s the next step in the plan to turn the Jets into a true championship contender…
Get Playmakers – Idzik and Rex Ryan have teamed up to do a great job setting the foundation for the team going forward, but there is still work to be done. There are some terrific building blocks on both sides of the ball, including the probable QB of the future, so now the next step is bringing in some legitimate playmakers, particularly on offense to help the team take the next step. The Jets clearly lack explosive players on offense, and with all of those draft picks, you have to believe wide receivers and tight ends are going to be targeted. No quarterback is going to thrive without weapons around him, and if the Jets are going to put all of their eggs in the Geno basket, they need to give him what he needs to succeed. The Jets never did this with Mark Sanchez, and we saw how that turned out. None of us want to see a repeat of all that, so the next step in the championship plan is to get Geno some playmakers that he can grow up with and just let them be. No changing the receivers every year. No Plaxico Burress. No Derrick Mason. Give him some consistency and let them grow together.
Of course, the draft isn’t the only way to bring in players, and with Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes coming off the books after 2013, the Jets will also have a ton of cap room available to bring in some complementary players. It’s important not to rely on free agency to fill all your needs, however, and John Idzik knows this. A lot of that cap room is going to be needed to extend the contracts of players such as Mo Wilkerson in the the near future, but you can expect the Jets to bring in some veteran help to complement the core of the team. I would expect to see the team pursue a veteran safety and perhaps a tight end, while targeting an explosive wide receiver and perhaps a running back through the draft. This is the way smart franchises go about building their teams. Surround the QB with talent, don’t overpay in free agency, and use your draft picks to build the core of the team. Finally, the Jets are following the blueprint.
Extend Rex (and Marty) – I sound like a broken record at this point, but it’s imperative that the Jets extend Rex Ryan and his entire coaching staff to give the team some stability. Everybody will be in this together going forward and they can truly start to build something special that will hopefully result in many good years. Building a team with a bunch of quick fixes and making a run for a year or two isn’t the way to build a team as the Jets pretty much did in 2009 and 2010. With a head coach in place that the entire team loves and believes in, a quarterback that can win games and continue to improve, and more players brought in to surround the core, the Jets can have the foundation in place for a team that consistently make the playoffs and make a run. They’re quite there yet, but the pieces are all starting to fall in place. The Jets are building something special here, and this time they’re doing it right.
And now, an abbreviated edition of the Stock Watch as the Jets head into a pivotal matchup against the Bengals…
SELL: Bill Belichick – He cheated. Again. He got caught. Again. He lost. He cried. He complained. Sorry, Bill.
BUY: Chris Ivory – The yards per carry last week were low, but the big story was that Ivory showed he was able to handle the running back load and take 30+ carries in a game. He moved the chains and kept drives moving, while Tom Brady had to sit on the sideline, which was key. Ivory is fresh and healthy and these next few games will be huge for him as the Jets and Marty are clearly ready to let him handle the load and see what he can do. I expect good things.
SELL: Jeff Cumberland – I don’t know what the hell that was last week, but Cumberland had an atrocious game. Yes, he dropped a touchdown, but the play that really drove me crazy was when on 2nd and 10, he received a pass out on the left flat and went out of bounds a yard short of picking up the first down, which led to a punt after a failed 3rd and 1. That was just inexcusable, and I expect better things from him because he can be a threat in the passing game.
BUY: Kerley and Nelson – Both of these guys stepped up huge and were reliable targets for Geno. Kerley especially has emerged as the go-to guy on the team, and Geno has clearly shown he is very comfortable with Nelson, despite him only being here for three weeks.
BUY: The Defensive Line – Yep, the DL is still awesome. Carry on…
BUY: Win in Cincinnati – This will undoubtedly be a tough game, and the Jets have a tendency to fall on their faces after a huge win, which is definitely a concern. That being said, the Bengals are way overrated and I think the Jets defense is going to get after Andy Dalton all game long and do just enough on offense to pull out a huge win, 20-17.