The approach of General Manager John Idzik has become the most recent divisive issue among New York Jets fans. Like any other fanbase, there is always going to be a player, coach, front office member or other issue that is going to be a primary point of contention.
Towards the end of the regular season, it was the validity of keeping Rex Ryan as the head coach. Throughout the year, it was the long term future of Geno Smith. Before that, it was Mike Tannenbaum, Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow…and on and on and on. This is all a natural part of the cycle of following or covering a team.
When it comes to Idzik, there are those slamming their fists on the table demanding action and saying he missed the boat in free agency. There are others saying he has a master “plan” and none of his decisions should be questioned. Readers of this site may think I fall into the latter category. While I admittedly lean closer to it than the other way, my feelings on Idzik and how the team is being run is more nuanced than that.
I’ve never been a big believer or sympathizer of the “poor, old tortured New York Jets” mindset. It may have something to do with my age (27) but I do not see this organization as a cursed, miserable heaping pile of sadness it is often stereotyped as being. The past 16 seasons (so, the bulk of my viewing life) have seen the Jets be .500 or better 12 times. They have reached the AFC Championship Game three times, won seven playoff games and reached the postseason seven times.
Yes, I am aware of the zero championships. Yet, the simple reality is that over the last decade and a half the Jets have regularly been better, more competitive and more well run than two thirds of the teams in the NFL. It does sting that two of those teams are not the New England Patriots and New York Giants for obvious reasons but that doesn’t relegate the Jets to being the east coast Cleveland Browns.
This is part of the reason I’m not interested in what many “public” Jets fans have to say. I don’t enjoy the incessant pity and whining people like Mike Greenberg put out there. “Look at me, I’m a Jets fan. It is so horrible and every transaction or decision they make feeds directly into our never ending spiral of sadness.” I just don’t see it or feel that way about the organization.
Like every team, the Jets have made their share of poor decisions over the past sixteen years and had embarrassing moments and disappointments. However, on the whole this has been a regularly competitive, well run team, to the extent that since ’98 there has only been THREE seasons (2003, 2005 and 2007) that they truly stunk and were not competing for a playoff spot in the stretch run of the season,. And, in all of those seasons an injury to Chad Pennington was to blame.
What we have seen in the NFL is that if you can keep yourself in the playoff race and get hot at the right time, any team can steal a championship. Obviously, the more seasons you maintain that level of competitiveness, the better odds you have, hence the benefits of building a long term sustainable model.
I was a fan of many things of Mike Tannenbaum did here, apexing with his construction of the 2010 team, which was a very legitimate Super Bowl contender and a team that was absolutely capable of winning a championship. They snoozed through the first half of their AFC Championship Game (something Rex Ryan gets too much of a pass for from many fans) and missed their shot. The team paid the consequences the next three seasons for Tannenbaum’s decisions on giving away draft picks, missing on too many draft picks and handing out bad contracts. He had a good run here but it was time to move on…and the Jets, as they have many times since 1998, made the right decision and did just that.
Why am I more defensive of Idzik than some? I liked the hire. I liked the rebuilds he was around prior to coming here. I liked a publicly professed focus on building through the draft and a judicious approach in free agency. I liked locking down the information around the team and limiting leaks. If the Jets go 7-9 this year, many will call for both Idzik’s and Rex’s head, I won’t. Seattle went 7-9 their first two years with their current management, stayed the course and it paid off.
Nobody is saying the Jets are going to turn into the Seattle Seahawks or that everything they do should mirror what happened in Seattle. These are different rosters and different situations (…and that Russell Wilson guy isn’t here). I don’t necessarily think Idzik has some “MASTER PLAN” written on a large scroll in Florham Park and everything that has happened since he came was pre-determined and beautifully orchestrated like season two of House of Cards. There has been questionable moves but it is just so, so early. It is early in this offseason and early in Idzik’s tenure. Twelve draft picks is something to be very excited about. The ease with which they should be able to lock up Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison long term is something to be very excited about. That beast man-child Sheldon Richardson is something to be very excited about. Signing one of the top 25 wide receivers in football as he enters his prime is something to be very excited about.
The overall tenure of the moves and decisions Idzik has made since coming here suggests the construction of a sustainable model. A model that will allow the Jets to continue being routinely competitive the next 4 to 5 years, which will put us at two decades of generally solid football. Maybe the next time the Jets reach that AFC Championship Game, they will be ready to play in the first half, or will avoid a Peyton Manning onslaught or remember to field kickoffs in the breezy Denver air.
Forecasting doom for this team is mathematically inaccurate if you are looking at a recent sample size, of both how the organization has fared the past 15 years and the history of teams who focus on building through the draft over free agency. I don’t know if John Idzik is the next great NFL GM but I am willing to give him a fair shot.