Only four days removed from the team’s season-ending AFC Championship loss in Indianapolis, Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum spoke to members of the media today from the Jets practice facility in Florham Park. While it was a surprisingly successful season for rookie head coach Rex Ryan and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, much of today’s focus was spent on looking forward, not back.
“I think it says a lot about Rex Ryan that, here is a guy who went to the AFC Championship Game two years in a row”, said Tannenbaum Thursday. “I think what it says is that Rex is a heck of a coach that he can get there two years in a row. I think it says a lot about his football acumen and how fortunate we are to have him. As I said in my opening, we are 0‑0, and I remember clearly what the off‑season of 1999 was and what our expectations were and how much it changed. We are going to be invigorated by what happened, but also realize that come six, seven weeks from now, we have got to be humming and we need to have the best off‑season of anybody in our division.”
Tannenbaum addressed a number of popular topics Thursday including the organization’s plans for the future of receiver Braylon Edwards, safety Kerry Rhodes, linebacker Vernon Gholston, running backs Leon Washington and Thomas Jones and quarterback Kellen Clemens.
Gholston, the team’s first-round draft choice in 2008, has been a non-factor in two seasons of play, registering 30 tackles and no career sacks. He is slated to make $3.5 million in 2010, making him a strong candidate to be cut from the roster. Since 2010 is an uncapped year, the Jets could release Gholston without suffering salary cap ramifications. Despite his lack of production, Tannenbaum made it clear that the former Ohio State Buckeye won’t be going anywhere just yet.
“My expectations are he’ll be back,” Tannenbaum said. “He’s never missed a work‑out. (He) doesn’t miss practice. I have no objective information to say that this guy doesn’t love football. He may be quiet but that doesn’t mean he’s not passionate. From where I sit in the world, it hasn’t been lack of effort. He came out early. He’s still young. I have no reason to think that because of those attributes that he still can’t improve and help us.”
“I’ll say this. He started the first four games of the year and maybe didn’t show up in the stat sheet but we were 3‑1 and we went up against some pretty high profile offenses in Houston, New Orleans and New England. He did some good things. He just has not produced at the level we had hoped.”
It had been speculated throughout the season by various media outlets that the organization was planning to sever ties with Kerry Rhodes this offseason. Rhodes, who is among one of the highest-paid safeties in the league, struggled to find his niche in Rex Ryan’s system in 2009, and is due a $2 million roster bonus in March.
Despite earlier reports of Rhodes wanting out, Rhodes has publicly expressed a desire to remain a Jet. In his final press conference of the season, Ryan stated that he hoped Rhodes would return next season. Wednesday, Tannenbaum reiterated the comments of his head coach, making it clear that the veteran free safety is indeed in the team’s future plans.
“We expect him to be back,” said Tannenbaum. “Unless something changes, he will be back. I’m sure we’ll have more discussions with Rex and some of the coaches where hopefully the level of consistency for both him and us is there throughout the 2010 season, and that kind of goes back to my opening comments which are, we need to have a good off‑season and Kerry (Rhodes) is one of those players who could really benefit from a very productive 2010, starting in March with the off‑season, so a lot of the discussions are really non‑contractual, non‑economical.”
As for Rhodes’ secondary-mate, CB Lito Sheppard, the future doesn’t appear so bright. Sheppard struggled with injuries throughout the season and was benched in the AFC Championship loss to Indianapolis, in favor of Dwight Lowery. Sheppard is due a $10 million dollar bonus in March, which he most likely will never see from the Jets.
In a telling move, Tannenbaum declined to commit to Sheppard’s future as a Jet, when broached with the subject Thursday. “We have not finalized any decision on Lito yet,” he said. The Jets will most likely look to restructure Sheppard’s three-year deal, which he signed last spring or cut the eight-year veteran.
Tannenbaum stated that the Jets will extend tenders to both Braylon Edwards and Leon Washington players, in hopes of bringing them back next season. Both Edwards and Washington will be restricted free agents. The Jets are reportedly expecting a first round pick in return for Edwards’ services, should some team attempt to sign him. As for Washington, Tannenbaum indicated Wednesday that the organization has not decided how they will handle his tender.
Edwards, who arrived in a midseason swap with the Cleveland Browns, had a statistically underwhelming first-year in New York. Tannenbaum believes that Edwards’ impact on the offense went beyond receptions and receiving yards.
“Braylon really caused a lot of problems when Rex went against him and that wasn’t just in the passing game,” he said. “In terms of how people had to defend our run, he felt Braylon made a big difference over the course of the season. I think some of Braylon’s contributions were not just stat‑driven. He was a great blocker and I think some of the defenses, again, the way they look at us were quite different after we acquired him.”
Another area of question this offseason is the position of backup quarterback. It has been speculated that the Jets will look to bring in a veteran to help expedite the progression Mark Sanchez. Tannenbaum indicated Wednesday that while that is very real possibility, the team plans to tender QB Kellen Clemens, also a restricted free agent.
“I thought Kellen had a great relationship with Mark (Sanchez),” Tannenbaum said. “I think Mark’s success towards the end of the year, Kellen definitely had a part to it. If another team (comes) along and is interested in Kellen, we will certainly evaluate that.”
“Would we bring in a veteran? Sure. That’s something we would consider, but I like Kevin O’Connell. I like Erik Ainge and we’ll see what happens with Kellen.”
Sanchez, who missed time with a knee injury during the regular season has met with Dr. James Andrews in Alabama and is contemplating having elective surgery this offseason. However, no official decision has been made yet and if Sanchez does elect to have surgery, the team expects him back in time for training camp in July.
“It’s going to be much more of a rehab situation, more preventive, strengthening, things like that, said Tannenbaum. “Nothing has been decided yet, but we are closely looking at that option.”