New York Jets Off-Season: Getting Inside Mike Tannenbaum’s Head

Just what exactly has New York Jets GM Mike Tannenabum been thinking this off-season?

At this point in the New York Jets off-season, it is easy to be a little confused, angry and disappointed. Here is a review of what they have done so far –

  • Signed a highly injury prone strong safety, LaRon Landry
  • Signed a highly injury prone wide receiver, Chaz Schilens
  • Traded for a backup quarterback/wildcat option, Tim Tebow
  • Re-signed Sione Pouha and Bryan Thomas
  • Guaranteed Wayne Hunter’s salary next year
  • Held on to Santonio Holmes by guaranteeing his salary the next two years
  • Signed Drew Stanton…then traded Drew Stanton after trading for Tebow
  • Gave Mark Sanchez an overhyped extension that basically didn’t change much to his original contract but brought a wave of publicity with it

So, what the hell is Mike Tannenbaum thinking? Let’s try to figure it out –

Starting on offense, we told you throughout February the Jets would not be spending big money at the wide receiver position opposite of Santonio Holmes. The hiring of Tony Sparano confirmed a commitment to a run heavy offense and with so much already invested in Holmes, it doesn’t make philosophical sense to splurge financially for another receiver. Their approach is taking a low cost risk on a player like Schilens and then seeing how the draft shakes out before exploring the option of bringing Braylon Edwards back.

Do not look for the Jets to take a receiver early in the draft, unless somebody they fall in love with drops into their lap in round 2 or 3. I would expect them to take a receiver with one of their late round picks and then check out Edwards knee in May. If he passes the team’s physical, he can be brought back on a low cost deal and likely provide all the production they’d need from the number two receiver spot, with Schilens providing insurance.

The Tebow trade was clearly not something in the original off-season plans as demonstrated by the Stanton signing. There was speculation about the Jets signing or trading for another running back to compliment Shonn Greene but bringing in Tebow is going to prevent that from happening. He will be a weapon in the running game more than anything and outside of potentially a mid or late round pick, look for the Jets running back depth chart to stay the same.

Tebow’s trade was fueled by Rex Ryan and Tony Sparano’s desire to run and protect the football coupled with the business aspects of it endorsed by Woody Johnson. Tannenbaum saw Tebow become available, had his head coach, offensive coordinator and owner express interest and made it happen. Mark Sanchez was a peripheral thought in all of this, as I do think the organization still believes he could be the franchise quarterback but saw the Wildcat dimension/business aspects of Tebow too valuable to pass it up. Only time will tell, if it was worth it.

At tackle, Tannenbaum probably looked at Hunter’s contract and figured at a minimum he was a good depth player, which he is and something that the Jets badly lacked last year. The hope in the organization is that with a full off-season to learn the position, Vladimir Ducasse will be a viable option at right tackle. Teams don’t like giving up on second round picks after two years, regardless of how awful they looked throughout those two years. At this point, I fully expect the Jets to open camp with Hunter and Ducasse competing for the job, with Austin Howard maybe grabbing a few reps.

If they struggle, the Jets could hope that Vernon Carey is still on the market. He is a veteran who knows Sparano’s system that could immediately hop in or Tannenbaum could swing a trade in August to supplement the position. It is a risky strategy and not one I agree with, but it appears to be the planned approach at the moment.

Defensively, the Jets wanted to pair LaRon Landry and Reggie Nelson as their shiny, new safety duo. Unfortunately, they struck out with Nelson leaving a gaping hole at free safety. The Jets protected themselves from Landry’s injury with how the contract is structured but the defense will suffer if he misses extended periods of time in 2012. I would expect the Jets to seriously consider finding a way to add a free safety in one of the early rounds of the draft and then bring back Jim Leonhard in May or June as veteran insurance. Missing out on Nelson hurt and the Jets are now going to need to rely on a healthy Landry and likely a draft pick to improve the position’s play.

The team hasn’t been shy about their desire to improve the pass rush. It would be an upset at this point if they don’t find away to take a outside linebacker in the first round. The question is only how aggressive will they pursue one? Would they trade up for Melvin Ingram or Quinton Couples? Could they trade back for Andre Branch? Is Courtney Upshaw on the board for them at number 16? The Jets want a young pass rusher to take Bryan Thomas off the field on passing downs and eventually off the field all together. They likely envision a third down defense that prominently features this first round pick opposite of Aaron Maybin, who should only get better in Rex’s system in year two.

One other thing that should be noted, the locker room chaos last year clearly made a huge impression on the Jets front office. Re-signing Sione Pouha was a smart football move but became such a major priority because he was a respected captain last year. The quick re-signing of Bryan Thomas, a longtime good guy veteran of the organization was also a larger priority than it would have in years past. Bringing back Hunter, who despite his on field struggles, is a respected player in the locker room who stood up to Santonio Holmes slacking last year supports the notion of emphasizing the importance of improving the locker room. Finally, while the Tebow trade was primarily motivated by the Wildcat and business, it would be foolish to think his personality didn’t play a factor in it as well.

So what else should you expect the rest of the way from the Jets? I would look for an outside linebacker and safety early in the draft, along with an eventual signing of Braylon Edwards and Jim Leonhard. If the Jets make an addition at right tackle, it probably won’t happen until training camp. It isn’t the flashiest off-season but the Jets are clearly banking on Tony Sparano improving Mark Sanchez’s play and Tim Tebow adding an element to the Jets offense that will make it harder to defend. Rex Ryan is always going to be confident in his defense and I am sure he thinks with a new pass rusher, Landry, and a free safety the group will take major strides from last year.

Finally, what about that extra money the Jets still have? Remember they are going to have to pay Darrelle Revis next off-season to avoid another holdout, along with Dustin Keller and Shonn Greene’s contracts both being up. Those considerations have to be a factor in the Jets spending right now.

Doesn’t cheer you up? Well maybe this will…feels like a hundred years ago, right?

New York Jets Resign Bryan Thomas, Other Updates

The New York Jets have resigned OLB Bryan Thomas and other free agency updates

The New York Jets have resigned outside linebacker Bryan Thomas to a one year deal. This is a smart, low risk move by the team and will help their solidify their depth at the linebacker position. Thomas is coming off a season ending torn Achilles and is expected to be ready when training camp starts. He is a good fit in Rex Ryan’s defense and is solid against the run.

The signing of Thomas could be the first in a series of moves that facilitates a trade of outside linebacker Calvin Pace. If the Jets can also bring in free agent Jarret Johnson and spend their first round pick on a player like Melvin Ingram, Andre Branch, or Courtney Upshaw the Jets could be looking to move Pace and his hefty contract.

In other news, the Jets are planning a visit with former Detroit Lions quarterback Drew Stanton. We speculated here earlier that the Jets could have interest in Stanton as a low cost backup to Mark Sanchez. The Jets have also expressed their interest in free agent safeties Brandon Merriweather, LaRon Landry and Reggie Nelson according to The Daily News. At wide receiver, outside of reaching out to Laurent Robinson the Jets are also interested in former Oakland receiver Chaz Schilens, who was coached by their new wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal.

What is frustrating to hear is that the Miami Dolphins have a visit scheduled with Eric Winston tonight and the Jets haven’t had any movement towards expressing interest in him or any other tackles on the market, yet.

Other news around the league – Josh Morgan signing with the Washington Redskins, joining Pierre Garcon. CB Brandon Carr visiting with the Cowboys. TE Martellus Bennett visiting with the Giants and Chad Henne planning to visit Seattle after meeting with Jacksonville.

New York Jets Monday Notes – Bryan Thomas Done For Season

A round-up of Jets headlines today —

1. As expected, Bryan Thomas is out for the year with a torn Achilles. It sounds like the Jets will use a committee of Jamal Westerman, Aaron Maybin, Josh Mauga, and Garret McIntyre to replace him. Thomas is a valuable player who does a lot of the dirty work on the defense, but this was likely his last year with the team anyway. Let’s hope one of these young players can step up.

2. The Jets are considering signing tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, who I will just call “Manu” from now on. They could use him as a hybrid tight end/tackle to provide extra blocking…since Wayne Hunter is pretty damn awful.

3. Rex Ryan proclaimed the Jets would return to their Ground and Pound roots from now on. Considering they have 92 carries for 284 yards this season, I will believe it when I see it. However, it should at least help keep Mark Sanchez somewhat more safe and allow their defense to keep them in games.

4. No grade report, because it is all F’s for the offense and all A’s for the defense. No final thoughts on Jets/Ravens tomorrow because this team needs to bury this game and move forward. It is New England week.

New York Jets: Linebackers Need to Make Plays

The New York Jets have a solid, veteran group of starting linebackers. Calvin Pace, David Harris, Bart Scott, and Bryan Thomas are now entering their third year together as the 4 in Rex Ryan’s 3-4, and while the group has been instrumental in the defense’s success the past two years, it would be nice to see them increase their playmaking ability in 2011.

Scott and Thomas have roles that are more conducive to doing the dirty work and making plays that don’t always show up on the stat sheet, so it is more on Pace and Harris to come up with the game changing plays.

Pace was signed to a monster contract before the 2008 season and has been productive, but still hasn’t put together that one big season for the Jets. The past two years he has missed the first four games, once because of a suspension and once because of a foot injury. On the current depth chart, he is the guy most likely to pull in double digit sacks and now needs to put together a full 16 game season where he produces like he is being paid.

Harris is now one of the highest paid linebackers in the NFL, and after playing at an All-Pro/Pro-Bowl level in 2009, took a minor step back in 2010, coming up with less tackles, sacks, interceptions, and forced fumbles. Rex Ryan’s scheme is designed to free Harris up to make plays and he needs to take advantage of that. There is no reason he shouldn’t be able to match his 2009 production (127 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 INTs) on a consistent basis.

Even though backup linebackers like Josh Mauga have shown potential in the pre-season, it is especially important that this group stays healthy this year. The depth behind them is extremely young and inexperienced. A full, healthy season from all of them with a bump in plays made from Pace and Harris could propel the Jets back to being the NFL’s number one defense.

Time To Step Up: Jamaal Westerman

 

Rex Ryan always has a few interesting things to say about his line-up during training camp press conferences. Today was no exception, as he revealed:

  • Muhammad Wilkerson will start at defensive end from day one, which we will get into a little more in a separate article.
  • The kick return and punt return jobs are both wide open with Jeremy Kerley, Kyle Wilson, and Joe McKnight all expected to compete. Antonio Cromartie could also be used in late game situations on kick return.
  • And finally, when talking about linebacker Jamaal Westerman, he said the following – “It’s time to unleash him. I see Westerman as a DPR: Designated Pass Rusher.”

Westerman will now be entering his third year with the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers University. He impressed in his first year with his versatility of being able to line-up at defensive end, outside linebacker, and inside linebacker. He recorded a sack in his first professional game against the Houston Texans and finished his rookie campaign playing in 14 games, ending up with 10 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries. Last season, with Jason Taylor on the roster and due to some injuries, Westerman only played in 6 games and recorded 7 tackles.

Unfortunately, his most memorable play from last year was a roughing the punter penalty against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

At the moment, it doesn’t look like the Jets are going to add a veteran linebacker which means Westerman will be the top backup to Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas, along with be featured as a pass rusher in multiple packages. Is Rex Ryan expecting too much from Westerman, a player with 1 career sack or he is right to gamble on giving a young  player with potential a bigger role?

Westerman is one of the handful of players who need to improve substantially from last year if the Jets are going to remain a Super Bowl contender. You can include Kyle Wilson, Joe McKnight, and Wayne Hunter in that category of players who can compensate for the Jets technically not looking as good on paper as last year, by stepping up.

New York Jets Shouldn’t Forget Value Of Bryan Thomas

Mike Tannenbaum is going to have to do some creative maneuvering with contracts in the coming week to improve the New York Jets through free agency. There has been a good amount of talk about releasing Bryan Thomas as a necessary move to free up cap space. However, too many people are writing off his value to the defense and not looking at the important question of who will fill his void.

Thomas has started every single game at outside linebacker for the Jets since Rex Ryan has taken over. In 2009, he finished with 53 tackles and 2 sacks. Last season, he followed up with 39 tackles and a team leading 6 sacks. He isn’t a flashy player but he fits well in the system and is constantly praised for doing those “little things” that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

Rex Ryan’s defense needs players who are going to take on less enviable tasks in sacrifice of their own personal stats, look at Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard and any player rotating through at defensive end. Thomas is comfortable in that role and has the trust of the coaching staff. If the Jets let him walk, who are they are going to replace him with? The only in house option is Jamaal Westerman, who has shown potential at times but spent most of last season inactive and finished with a total of 7 tackles.

Outside of their own roster, why would they spend money on a free agent like Manny Lawson, Antwan Barnes, Matt Roth, or even bringing Jason Taylor back before using that money to work something out with Thomas, who should be open to moving money around on his contract considering the big deal he received from the team before the 2007 season and that he has spent his whole career in New York.

The Jets are thin enough at linebacker, there is no need to make the position weaker by parting ways with a quality starter.

TOJ Top Five: Most Underrated Jets

We continue our TOJ top five series today, with a look at the five most underrated players on the Jets roster

Previous TOJ Top Fives

5. Matt Slauson – He stepped in for future Hall of Famer Alan Faneca at left guard last year and turned in an admirable performance. There were early season struggles, which were to be expected from a second year 6th round pick who had no experience his rookie year but he got much more steady as the season went on. The Jets running game was still one of the league’s best and Jets quarterbacks were sacked two times less in 2010 than they were in 2009. For at least the next few years, it looks like Slauson will be the answer at left guard.

4. Mike DeVito – Similar to Slauson, moved into the starting line-up last season and didn’t allow the Jets to miss a beat at his respective position. DeVito took over at defensive end, where he is solid against the run and fits well into Rex Ryan’s scheme. In 2010, he finished with 59 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, and 2 forced fumbles.

3. Bryan Thomas – Every year there is talk about the need to replace him but every year he maintains his starting position and produces. Thomas led the Jets in sacks last season with 6 and figures to spend another season as a starter at outside linebacker, doing many of the little things that are necessary for the Jets defense to succeed.

2. Sione Pouha – Nose tackle is a crucial position in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense and the past two years Pouha has stepped in for an injured Kris Jenkins without the Jets missing a beat. After a surprisingly productive 2009 season, Pouha got even better last year and finished with 59 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 fumbles recovered. He also isn’t too shabby with a camera in his hand:

1. Brandon Moore – One of the top guards in the NFL who is frequently overshadowed by Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Moore has been a model of consistency on the Jets offensive line by starting 105 straight regular season games for the team at right guard. He has been a huge part of the team’s success running the ball in recent years and hopefully will receive Pro Bowl recognition at some point.

Plenty Of Work To Be Done On Rex’s Pride And Joy

The number of question marks surrounding the New York Jets defense heading into the Draft is at a somewhat worrisome number. Rex Ryan is a great defensive mind, who has the ability to get more out of less, yet the Jets have holes to fill at all three levels of their defense if they want to remain among the league’s elite units.

Defensive Line – Even if the Jets decide to re-sign Shaun Ellis (which they should) and Trevor Pryce doesn’t retire. They still need both a defensive end and a defensive tackle to improve their depth and youth at the position. Phil Taylor out of Baylor has been a very popular pick for the Jets in mock drafts and his selection would likely allow Sione Pouha to get some work at end. However, spending a first round pick on Taylor or somebody like him shouldn’t stop the Jets from potentially adding another lineman later in the Draft or via free agency (if it ever starts).

Linebacker – The long term replacement for Bryan Thomas needs to be found as the Jets look to improve their pass rush. If the right defensive lineman isn’t available at number 30, Akeem Ayers and Justin Houston have been linked to the Jets. Both players have question marks surrounding them, yet they would have a year or two to function as only pass rush specialists behind Thomas as they learn to become full-time players. The Jets could also use depth at inside linebacker behind David Harris and Bart Scott. Josh Mauga and Jamaal Westerman don’t seem to be any more than special teams players at this point.

Secondary – It is time to accept the fact that the Jets will always need corners and safeties as long as Rex Ryan is their head coach. Everybody is worried about the Jets front seven, while forgetting three of their top four safeties are free agents, along with two of their top three corners. They need to decide what they are doing about bringing Antonio Cromartie, Eric Smith, Brodney Pool, James Ihedigbo, and Drew Coleman back, along with supplementing the position through the Draft and likely a free agency move or two. Personally, I think Pool will be brought back to start opposite Jim Leonhard and they will add a safety later in the draft to groom behind him. At corner, the Jets better pray Kyle Wilson is ready to take his game up about five notches if they let Antonio Cromartie leave.

Assessing Jets Needs Heading Into Draft

A quick run down as we are now less than a month away —

1. Defensive Line – If the season started today, the Jets would be starting Mike DeVito, Sione Pouha, and Marcus Dixon up front with Ropati Pitoitua and Matt Kroul as the top backups…enough said. They need another player or two here and will likely spend their first round pick on the defensive line unless an outside linebacker jumps off the board. The Jets should also work to bring back Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce to improve their depth and to mentor the rookies brought in.

2. Outside Linebacker – The Jets need to improve their pass rush and in the 3-4 that means having outside linebackers who can get after the quarterback. Bryan Thomas is a solid, consistent all-around player but the Jets need more speed and athleticism off the edge to compliment Calvin Pace.

3. Secondary – The Jets could still use a play-making safety to pair with Jim Leonhard. Kerry Rhodes was a bust in Rex Ryan’s first year and the Eric Smith/Brodney Pool platoon from last year could stand to be improved. If Antonio Cromartie leaves via free agency, the Jets may also need to look at the corner position due to Kyle Wilson’s struggles last year.

4. Wide Receiver – This is under the assumption that either Braylon Edwards or Santonio Holmes isn’t on the team next year. The offense could use a player with some upside to develop behind Jerricho Cotchery.

5. Backup quarterback – They need a long term answer to the question of who will be Mark Sanchez’s backup, especially since he has had more than one injury issue in his brief NFL career.

6. Offensive Line Depth – With either Wayne Hunter or Vladimir Ducasse moving into the starting line-up to replace Damien Woody and Robert Turner’s status uncertain for next year, the Jets could use another lineman who is versatile between the tackle and guard spots to provide depth.