New York Jets: In Spite of the Quarterback

Dan Marcus on the New York Jets ongoing struggles at the quarterback position

The consensus opinion among New York Jets fans heading into this offseason was the number one priority should be retooling their long-neglected offense by putting legitimate “weapons” around their young quarterback Geno Smith. John Idzik made some strides or something in between baby steps and strides towards that end by bringing in the long and athletic Eric Decker, who may be more well-known for his reality show and wife than his playing ability these days, but that’s a topic for another day.

Decker was a nice addition for a reasonable price but there is still quite a bit of work to be done and it appears as though that work will largely be done through the draft. The Jets own a whopping 12 picks, which is a stark difference to some of the latter Tannenbaum years where he traded and packaged draft picks like Lehman Brothers stock circa late 2008. Whether or not Idzik and the Jets think tank make another significant move in between now and draft day ala the acquisition of a Chris Johnson could go a long way in answering the question that in one man’s opinion not enough people are asking: Can this offense be good enough to win in spite of the quarterback?

Naturally there will be those that write this off as classic Jets’ “doom and gloom” pessimism borne from years of watching cataclysmic and epic failures, losses, and missteps to the point that it has become something of an art form. In some sense this is true but it’s not an unreasonable question because aside from a few brief stretches in 2010 and a few games here and there, the Rex Ryan era has been largely characterized by the team winning games in spite of their quarterback. How many games have we seen over the past five years where the defense has to spend virtually the entire game on the field, defending short fields, and standing tall in big moments to give the team a fighting chance of grinding out a win?

Taking this a step further, arguably the two most successful seasons (2009 and 2010) during Rex Ryan’s tenure as head coach were the years in which the offense had enough talent to overcome the sub-par and sometimes disastrous quarterback play of Mark Sanchez and they were doing so with a veteran offensive Line and a running game capable of hitting an opposing defense in the mouth for three quarters despite eight and nine-man boxes until they finally broke down.

No one wants to have to think that the Jets will once again have to tailor their offense to win despite their quarterback but the truth of the matter is that you would be hard-pressed to find me anyone, not even Jon Gruden, who could tell you with a straight face what to reasonably expect from Geno Smith in year two. The highs and lows of his rookie season coupled with his penchant for turning the ball over doesn’t have me thinking that he will make a tremendous jump from year one to year two. Obviously you would hope that the presence of a veteran quarterback like Michael Vick simultaneously pushing and mentoring him in camp and the addition of some quality/reliable weapons around him would suffice to prompt some real growth out of Geno but it’s something that bears watching.

What we do know is that the defensive line and front seven only figures to get better as the sum of its parts continue to mature and thrive within Rex’s system and although the secondary needs some significant bolstering, the defense will once again be the strength of this team. So then the question returns to the offensive side of the ball and what else they can do to improve that unit through the draft. If the Jets do what we expect them to do in the draft and take a Cornerback in the First Round for the second consecutive year and draft a dynamic pass-catching tight end and a true home run threat at wide receiver then (at least on paper) this team will carry an expectation to win some games and return to the playoffs.

Whether Geno has what it takes to be the Jets’ “white whale” of a franchise quarterback or if he will be tossed to the scrap heap like so many of his predecessors remains to be seen but as long as the Florham Park Brain Trust doesn’t throw up all over itself in this draft then we will find out very quickly if it is the quarterback winning games or if it is once again a case of the team winning games in spite of the signal-caller.