The old adage is that a picture’s worth a thousand words.
One would be hard-pressed to debate that notion when given the shot of Santonio Holmes sulking alone on the sideline, late in the fourth quarter of the Jets season-ending loss in Miami.
An acerbated, broken captain. A fractured locker room. A disjointed, flawed team. And now an astray, unredeemed franchise searching for answers after two consecutive trips to the AFC Championship Game.
Enter Year 3 of the Rex Ryan era. Or perhaps, exit would be the more appropriate term.
While it would be particularly onerous to pinpoint the exact moment that the 2011-12 campaign began its descent down a troubled path, Sunday’s fourth quarter at SunLife Stadium was absolutely the time of impact for this underachieving Jet squad.
17 weeks of pent-up frustration with his offensive coordinator, his offensive line, and an erratic young quarterback. Santonio Holmes had seen enough. And barring an uncharacteristic second-chance from Woody Johnson and Mike Tannenbaum, the New York Jets have likely seen enough of Holmes.
“Tone Time” is most certainly up in the Big Apple, as is the Jets window for a Super Bowl with the roster as it’s currently constituted. That’s the bad news for Gang Green faithful.
The good news? The Jets aren’t nearly as far-away from championship glory as the thespian media would lead one to believe. Don’t get it twisted. The Jets are certainly a flawed football team. But there’s a definite difference between 8-8 and 4-12.
8-8 signals a team that is flawed personnel-wise, both coaching and players. 4-12 on the other hand would indicate a squad that is fundamentally flawed, one that needs to be dismantled and rebuilt from the ground-up.
The Jets don’t need to go back to square 1. That’s a ridiculous thought for a team coming off consecutive trips to a conference title game. But what Mike Tannenbaum does need to do is to accomplish some serious retooling this off-season. He certainly has his work cut out for him.
1. Improve the defense
When Rex Ryan arrived in Florham in 2009, he trademarked the organizational mantra of “Play like a Jet”, which centered around Gang Green becoming a tough-minded, gritty, smash mouth football team whose success would be predicated on a shutdown defense and an aggressive running attack.
From years 1-3 of the Ryan era, the Jets have progressively declined defensively, from the number one-ranked unit in the NFL in ’09, to third in ’10 to seventh in ’11. As long as Ryan is at the helm, the Jets will be undoubtedly be a defensive-minded ball club, that will go only as far as their defense can carry them.
For the Jets to take the next step, they need to go back to their roots. The retooling and revamping of the Jets begins and ends on the defensive side of the ball.
a) Get younger and faster in the linebacking core
Bart Scott and Calvin Pace are both 31 years old. Bryan Thomas is 32. In the position of outside linebacker which relies on covering the most ground on the defense, speed is an absolute necessity. The Jets are older than dirt in the second line of defense, and slower than slow.
David Harris can only do so much by himself in the middle of the field. Tannenbaum needs to surround Harris with ball-hawks that can also match up with speedy tight ends and slot receivers.
Thomas, the Jets’ best linebacker in coverage, is an unrestricted free agent this spring and will most likely not be brought back, unless he takes a discounted deal.Scott has regressed substantially since ’09 and is due a little under $6 million next season. That’s a hefty figure to be paying out to a situational linebacker, at this point in his career. The Jets would save $1.25 million in cap space by cutting Bart.
Pace is another possible candidate to be released. While he’s shown a definite ability to get into the backfield and has been decent in coverage, Pace is also on the downside of his career. In four seasons, he’s been effective but never developed into the sack monster the Jets thought they were getting in 2008 and has seen his production drop off significantly since then. The Jets would save $1.8 million by cutting ties with him this offseason.
Jamaal Westerman will be a restricted free-agent but has yet to prove he can be a factor in any role outside of a situational pass-rusher. He will also likely be back unless some outside team overpays for his services, which isn’t likely.
Vontaze Burfict out of Arizona State would be an interesting option on draft night, though the Jets would likely have to trade up to get him. UNC’s Zach Brown too.
Possible free agency targets include Dallas’ Anthony Spencer and Indianapolis’ Ernie Sims.
b) Bring in a cover safety with size
For the past two seasons, the Achilles heel of Rex Ryan’s defensive unit has been the middle of the field, where slot receivers and tight ends have put together numerous career performances matched up against the Jets undersized safeties. While the Jets coaching staff and media alike promptly booted Kerry Rhodes out of town following the 2009 season, the defense, secondary and franchise has yet to recover and fill the void “Hollywood” left.
With the road to the AFC East crown going through New England until further notice, the Jets must bring in one or two safeties with size that can forcefully contend with Bill Belichick’s two-headed monster of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
Until the Jets can competently defend the Gronkowskis, Heath Millers, Steve Chandlers, and even Victor Cruzes of the league, their defense will never return to an elite level. And until they can find a way to shut down “Gronk-Nandez” they won’t be hosting a playoff game at MetLife anytime soon either.
Brodney Pool, 27 and defensive signal-caller Jim Leonhard, 29 are both unrestricted free agents. Pool will likely be back, as he is the best cover safety on the roster and can be had for relatively cheap.
The same can’t necessarily be said for Leonhard who is coming off a major leg injury for the second-straight season. Rex Ryan would certainly prefer to retain one of his glue guys in Leonhard, arguably his most trusted player on the defense outside Darrelle Revis and Harris.
Eric Smith’s extreme ineptitude in coverage has been no secret the past two seasons. The 28-year-old Smith is a nice third safety to rotate in, but has absolutely no business starting at the free safety position in the National Football League. At least not if the Jets want to become a serious contender. The team can save a little over $2 million in cap space by dumping Smith this spring. An “addition by subtraction” option which Woody and Tannenbaum should strongly consider
Washington’s LaRon Landry would make a lot of sense for the right price. While he doesn’t necessarily have the ideal size (6-0, 210 lb) the Jets need, he is a bull who excels in the middle of the field. Landry is solid in zone drops and knows how to lay the hammer.
Other prospective free agent solutions include Oakland’s Tyvon Branch, Tennessee’s Michael Griffin, and Dallas’ Gerald Sensabaugh.
However, the smartest option for Tannenbaum may lie in the draft where the Jets would probably be able to nab Alabama’s Marc Barron at 16. At 6-2, Barron possesses the size and speed the Jets absolutely crave at the free safety position. Add in four years of playing in the powerful SEC, and you’ve got yourself the complete package.
3) Re-Sign Aaron Maybin and bring in another stud pass rusher
Tannenbaum was fortunate to have Maybin fall into his lap after the team cut him after a promising preseason. The 24-year-old Maybin has loads of potential and seems to have found a home in Florham. The Jets will most likely be competing with a number of outside suitors for Maybin, a restricted free agent.
Gang Green needs to hang onto Maybin at whatever price it may be and continue to develop him into a premier pass rusher. At 6-4 and only 240, Maybin has a good frame to add bulk and with it will be exciting to watch his progress the next few seasons. In limited snaps in 13 games, Maybin still racked up six sacks and four forced fumbles. If he can grasp the intricacies of Ryan’s defense and develops into an every-down player, the sky is the limit for him.
The Jets cannot afford however to put all their eggs in the “Mayhem” basket. The past two offseasons, Gang Green has failed to add a stalwart end that can consistently get into the backfield and apply pressure in the pocket. With aging linebackers, the Jets can no longer afford to solely rely on blitz packages to hit opposing quarterbacks.
The addition of an end or designated pass rusher that can consistently draw attention off the edge would do wonders for the defense, opening up holes for other blitzing linebackers and taking away looks down the field for their porous secondary.
Some attractive free agent options include Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis, Detroit’s Cliff Avril, or maybe even bringing back Atlanta’s John Abraham.
Penn State’s Devon Still, Nebraska’s Jared Crick or Clemson’s Andre Branch could draw interest from Gang Green in the draft pool.
Sione Pouha will be an unrestricted free agent and has really emerged has one of the Jets most consistent defensive lineman over the past two seasons. Pouha has locked down the nose tackle position and while he may never be the threat in the pass rush that Kris Jenkins was, re-signing Pouha should be one of Tannenbaums first priorities this offseason.
PART II: The Offense coming tomorrow,…Stay tuned.