The Future Is Bright But Should Rex Ryan Be Part Of It?

Dan Marcus and Joe Caporoso discuss Rex Ryan’s future with the New York Jets

The below article was originally submitted by Dan Marcus and inspired editor Joe Caporoso to leave a response at the bottom in italics. Later in the week, our Cole Patterson and Dalbin Osorio will debate the Rex Ryan question as well, which promises to be a dominant one over the next month or so.

There was a point yesterday when I thought the Jets would actually pull it out right after “Riverboat Ron” essentially spat in the face of the offense and the defense for that matter and the momentum was shifting in a big way, culminated by a Sheldon “Fridge”-ardson Touchdown. However, in the grand fashion of the Jets, they proceeded to throw up all over themselves and turned a three-point game into a 17-point deficit before you could even blink. In a way, it was an all-too-fitting end to a season that many thought to be doomed before it ever started but somehow, despite a fundamental lack of talent, they put themselves in a position to contend for the final playoff spot in the AFC.

Now, somehow we’re supposed to feel disappointed and essentially this season serves as a microcosm of Rex Ryan’s tenure as Head Coach. Somehow, Rex manages to find a way to get the most out of the talent he has for as long as he can, a victim of his own success creating expectations born from unexpected early success. Think about his first two years, coming within a half of the Super Bowl each year and from that moment on the bar for him and his young Quarterback was set just as about as high it could have been.

After achieving such a high level of success in those first two seasons, it was inevitable that it would be “all down hill from there.” Due to his early success, the front office was convinced that Rex could coach anyone regardless of how big their personality or off-the-field issues. The list of such unsavory characters is long: Antonio Cromartie, Joe McKnight, Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason, etc. Putting all of those personalities on the same roster regardless of talent or perceived talent was bound to fail eventually, a ticking time bomb of sorts. The bomb went off at the end of 2011 and the Jets have been trying to pick the metaphorical shrapnel out of their bum ever since. They have quietly put together a solid foundation to build off since on the defensive side of the ball and are finally on the verge of getting out from under some bad and hastily-given contracts on the offensive side of the ball and will finally have the means to add some talent to a unit that hasn’t really had any to speak of since 2010.

The struggles of this team over the past two and a quarter seasons can be attributed to mismanagement by the front office both in the draft and in free agency since the lockout was lifted in the Summer of 2011 and the truncated free agency period that ensued soon after. The flirtation with Nnamdi Asomougha allowed Brad Smith to be scooped up by the Bills and left the Jets to go back to Antonio Cromartie “hat in hand” to address the Cornerback position. In that same off-season, they allowed high-character guys like Jerricho Cotchery leave, choosing instead to invest in a much older malcontent Wide Receiver who didn’t even last six weeks with the team, They chose to pay another malcontent Wide Receiver, Santonio Holmes $50 million when no one else would have approached that number. They opted to pay Plaxico Burress, fresh off his self-inflicted jail sentence, more money than Braylon Edwards ultimately received from the 49ers despite the fact that Burress hadn’t played a snap of football in two years and Edwards was the team’s leading receiver the year before.

The cherry on top of the incompetence sundae that the Mike Tannenbaum regime was concocting on the offensive side of the ball was the contract he gave career-backup, Wayne Hunter to be the team’s starting Right Tackle. In retrospect, the season was doomed from the start considering the motley crew that the Jets assembled around their young and at the time, ascending Quarterback and despite this, Rex managed to do what he always does and coach the team to an 8-5 record in striking distance of the playoffs. The collapse that ensued has left this offense in shambles in terms of talent for the past two seasons and if the offense is semi-competent the last two seasons, the Jets are probably in the playoffs each year.

However, here we are for the third straight year, watching other people’s teams go into January in a soft AFC while we assess who’s to blame and what needs to be done to fix it. The answer is: not as much as you think because the mistakes of the previous regime are finally about to be washed away when the Jets inevitably cut Santonio Holmes without looking back and getting out from the “olive branch” deal they gave Mark Sanchez. Couple that with the fact that the team once again has a full complement of draft picks and a significant amount of cap room, this team can become a legitimate contender in a hurry as long as John Idzik and company don’t drop the ball like their predecessors and begin to address the offense in a big way.

The 2013 season was as good as anyone could have expected it to be and in fact, it was probably slightly better than that because given how daunting the early schedule looked, this day could have come a lot earlier. Instead, Rex and crew overcame another turnover-prone Quarterback and a generally inconsistent offense to make Jets fans think a return to the playoffs was an actual possibility, when in all reality this was a transitional/rebuilding year. If you ask me, the 2013 Jets give you a lot to look forward to with a young defensive core, especially along the Defensive Line that will only figure to get better with time, Hopefully, other young players like Dee Milliner, Brian Winters, Antonio Allen, Demario Davis, and especially can show some significant growth next season but this team should only get better with time. For my money, the wins against Atlanta, New Orleans, and especially the Patriots made the journey worthwhile.

This team had (and still has) a lot of fight in them, despite the fact that many projected them to be a hopeless last-place team (cough, ESPN). If that wasn’t obvious just look at how the Defense played for most of the day yesterday, standing tall in the Red Zone multiple times like they had done all season, keeping the team in the game when the Offense faltered. However, all the time spent bailing out the Offense early in the season was bound to catch up with them at some point and it did but they still fought until the clock hit 0:00 in Carolina. Even though it doesn’t feel like it, 2013 was a step in the right direction and I think the fan base and the front office alike would be best served by taking the advice of The Eagles and “Learn to Be Still” because they are closer than any of us even realize.

I don’t disagree with some of the points made by you, Dan. This season has been a funner than expected ride at times, thanks to a few upset victories. There is a terrific young defensive line in place and a few other pieces spread throughout the roster who have long term potential. Ultimately, I don’t see this team as one that overachieved. The ESPN ranking was a troll move that was based on generating a response, not on reality. Nobody should have thought this was a 2-3 win team after they managed 6 wins last season with a worse overall roster. Ultimately, they are going to be the 7-9 or 8-8 team that many of us thought they’d be.

I’m not sold on bringing Rex Ryan back. There is a very fair argument you can make (as you did above) for giving him another chance and I will be far from devastated if that happens. Yet, Rex cannot be absolved for a big chunk of the blame for the team’s struggles the past 33 games and he is far from irreplaceable.

As is outlined here, Rex was pushing harder than anybody to bring Wayne Hunter back on a new contract (actually getting a tattoo to emphasize the point). The same goes for Santonio Holmes, who he made a captain, in a disastrous move for the chemistry of his team. He pushed for and vouched for Derrick Mason who went up in flames. Rex’s loyalty is an ongoing problem that clouds his football judgement. Outside of free agency, he pushed the team to draft John Conner and Scotty McKnight despite strong recommendations against it from his scouting department.

Rex’s player development has been tremendous on the defensive line (Wilkerson, Harrison, Richardson are shining examples). Outside of that? It has been average at best. Since he is a Head Coach (despite giving his Offensive Coordinator full autonomy…another issue), let’s look at all the draft picks since he took over.

Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene busted despite full confidence from Rex. Kyle Wilson is a middle of the road nickel corner. The Ducasse, Conner and Joe McKnight picks were all disasters. Muhammad Wilkerson is an All-Pro. Kenrick Ellis is a rotational player. Jermey Kerley and Bilal Powell are nice pieces on offense. Greg McElroy and Scotty McKnight are both off the team. Quinton Coples has flashed and has a bright future. Stephen Hill had a very poor first two seasons. Demario Davis tends to be a touch overrated by Jets fans and remains an okay overall starting linebacker (he is ranked bottom 5 in the NFL in coverage for linebackers). Terrance Ganaway, Jordan White and Robert T. Griffin are out of the NFL. Josh Bush doesn’t contribute. Antonio Allen was putting together a strong sophomore season and was an ascending player on the team and was then inexplicably benched the past five weeks by Ryan for an ineffective Ed Reed.

Rex is responsible for the whole team and the culture created around it, which isn’t conducive to offensive success. His defense has went from elite to great to good to middle of the road this season. I don’t doubt his ability to scheme but the Jets defense isn’t going to fall off a cliff if he leaves (they are only 13th in the league right now and putrid against the pass). Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison aren’t going to forget how to play football if Rex does leave.

The rest of the unit is in shambles. Rex wanted Dawan Landry. He’s been average to below average. He botched the other safety spot by benching Allen. He has stuck with Antonio Cromartie all year despite him breaking down and being completely ineffective. Dee Milliner has had a discouraging rookie season and there are valid fears he could turn into Kyle Wilson 2.0. They are average at best at linebacker and still haven’t found a consistent pass rusher off the edge since Rex arrived.

People say it is impossible to name somebody who could do better than Rex. This team is 12-21 in their last 33 games. 1-13 in their last 14 games after a win. 3-14 on the road since the middle of the 2011 season. They haven’t beat a team on the road with a winning record since November of 2011.

It isn’t about coming up with a big flashy name that has a longer resume than Rex. It is about potentially finding the right and new fit. The Harbaugh brothers had zero NFL head coaching experience before being hired. Same with Sean Payton. Same with Chuck Pagano, Bruce Arians, Marc Trestman and plenty of others who are having success this year. Before Rex was hired, I’m sure many Jets fans didn’t know that much about him and wouldn’t have been impressed by his resume.

There is a very open debate about bringing Rex back and it is important to consider everything when discussing it. Most people have their mind made up but I would call the decision far from a slam dunk either way.