So You Say You Want Braylon Back?
The idea of longing for what once was is completely natural in all areas of human life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have it right when you romanticize about what you once had. Everyone has done it, you start think about an old girlfriend and immediately you start to remember all the fun and good things about her. You conveniently gloss over all the bad, the drama and the headaches, that caused you to break up in the first place. It’s not that you want her back, it’s that you’re not happy with where you’re at. So you start romanticizing, tricking your brain into thinking things were better than they actually were. Which is exactly what I maintain is happening with the Jets fans that are banging their drums letting the world know they want Braylon Edwards back (original analogy courtesy of @LilMissNYJet).
I understand the logic, I just think the logic is flawed. The logic of the Bring Back Braylon movement is simple, he’s a cheap option that won’t eat up much cap room, he had good chemistry with Sanchez who needs all the good chemistry he can get right now and he can stretch the field to go along with his downfield blocking skills. However there are better/healthier/more talented options available for relatively cheap, yes he and Sanchez had a solid connection, but it’s being overstated and overrated as their “success” doesn’t warrant this type of reaction. If you don’t believe me just go back (or below) and look at the numbers. Edwards was a solid receiver for the Jets, but he was hardly irreplaceable.
I am writing this article today because Manish Mehta of the NY Daily News reported the Jets are considering bringing him back, but this is hardly a new debate. In fact this debate has been going on since the preseason and has only picked up steam as the offense struggled, but the Jets struggles this season went way beyond missing Braylon Edwards.
In 2010 Edwards’ played in all 16 games (only not starting in Miami after the DUI) and finished the season with 53 catches for 904 yards (17.1 avg.) and 7 touchdowns. Solid numbers, just not the type of production that a team can’t function without. This past season 34-year-old Plaxico Burress, who had just finished a 20 month bid in prison, caught 45 passes for 612 yards (13.6 avg.) and 8 touchdowns. Only an eight catch differential, but obviously it’s the nearly 300 yard difference that jumps out at you.
This is where I will concede that Edwards in 2010 had a significant edge of Burress in 2011. Edwards caught 14 passes of over 20 yards, Burress just six and Edwards had five catches of over 40 yards to Burress’ zero. But my counter point to this is something in the offense changed drastically and it wasn’t just swapping Burress for Edwards that caused this.
These changes stemmed from the play of the offensive line and branched out to dissension in the ranks as player’s began to question the man calling the plays. In 2011 there was no Damien Woody (retired) or Rob Turner (injury), which left Wayne Hunter as the right tackle and killed the Jets ability to run those jumbo sets they had so much success with the year before. We all know the problems Hunter caused, but add the injury to Mangold and the struggles of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and all of a sudden Sanchez never had the time to throw down field, regardless of who his receivers were. Now we have reports coming out that the playbook was too think and complicated for the offensive line and that played into what plays could and couldn’t be used in games as well as the effectiveness of the plays called. Braylon Edwards or Plaxico Burress, either way those problems would have been the same and the problem with who plays right tackle and how to address the depth on the o-line remains the same going into this season.
I’m not a big stats guy as numbers can be manipulated into saying whatever you want them too, but when I see stats or statistical analysis that matches what my eyes tell me, I pay attention. There is no perfect method for collecting and analyzing stats, but the guys over at ProFootballFocus.com do as good a job as any others I know of at breaking down each player’s individual performances. Their grades aren’t to be treated as gospel, but to either confirm what your eyes tell you or to tell you to take another look. Maybe we’re both wrong, then again maybe not.
In 2010 ProFootballFocus gave Edwards a -4.7 overall grade. He earned a positive 3.4 grade in passing, -0.5 in pass blocking, -4.6 in run blocking and a -3.8 in penalties. In contrast Burress received a 0.4 overall grade, 3.8 in passing, 1.5 in pass blocking, -2.6 in run blocking, and -2.3 in penalties. What all of those numbers mean is that in every individual category ProFootballFocus graded Burress last season higher than they graded Edwards in 2010. You can either believe in their tape study and analysis or not, but their grades are pretty much what my eyes told me they would be which is why I trust them.
I’d be lying if I was to say I wasn’t a little surprised that Burress graded higher in every category, but memories are tricky things. Memories fade and get distorted, especially memories of the good times. Thinking back to the back-to-back AFC Championship appearances it’s easy to remember plays like the huge clutch catch by Edwards in Indianapolis, what you forget is how many times he disappeared or was a complete and total non-factor.
There’s no denying that Edwards did some good for the Jets, but there’s also no denying there are more talented receivers available (maybe Robert Meachem who is a down field threat and excellent in the red zone, maybe he’d be a blend of Edwards and Burress for the Jets or there are plenty of quality receivers in this year’s draft class). Otherwise someone other than just the 49ers would’ve at least considered signing him last season. Yes he’ll be cheap now, but as it turned out he was cheap last year too.
The news that the Jets are willing to consider bringing him back is good news, strictly because it means the front office is considering every possibility. If the first month of free agency and the draft comes and goes and the team hasn’t found the receivers they feel they need, then they should absolutely kick the tires and see if he’s healthy and ready to return to his beloved Jets fans. But to think that his return would get Sanchez and the Jets right back into Super Bowl contention would be terribly misguided.
As fans you should love Edwards for his role in the back-to-back AFC Championship teams, you should love how he played and love how he loved you, but you can do all that while realizing he is a slightly above average receiver in a league full of exceptional receivers. Besides, reunions in sports don’t tend to work out as hoped, sure there are exceptions to the rule but few and far between. The two sides parted ways for a reason and it’s always a dangerous decision to try and move forward by going back to the past.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have to prepare for the backlash from the Bring Back Braylon coalition.