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Report: Leonhard Leaves Florham Park without a Contract

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

After making a splash early in free agency by signing linebacker Bart Scott and guard Brandon Moore, the Jets welcomed safety Jim Leonhard in for a visit. The former Raven has been high on the team’s wishlist and would provide the team a youthful boost in the secondary and as a kick returner. However, the National Football Post is reporting that Leonhard left the Jets’ facility in Florham Park, NJ, today without signing a contract.

Leonhard’s move does not rule out the possibility of him signing with the Jets, but it does not bode well for the team. Generally teams like to lock up players with contracts before they walk out the exit.

The National Football Post lists the Eagles as a potential suitor for Leonhard. Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins signed a five-year contract with the Broncos yesterday.

Kemoeatu Remains with the Champs

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Well it appears the Jets will have to wait a bit longer to find Brandon Moore’s replacment. Chris Kemoeatu has spurned the Jets’ contract offer to re-sign with the Steelers, according to the Daily News.

Kemoeatu appeared bound for the Jets earlier this afternoon, but the Steelers reportedly agreed to retain him with a five-year, $20 million deal.

Where Has the Offense Gone?

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Today the Jets continued to reshuffle their roster as they released wide receiver Laveranues Coles. Prior to last season Coles was guaranteed the final two years on his contract ($11 million), meaning the Jets could still be on the hook for a portion of Coles’ $6 million salary this season if he signs with another team. Coles battled a thigh injury in training camp last season but still had a relatively productive year, recording 70 catches for 850 yards and seven touchdowns.

According to Dave Hutchinson of the Star Ledger, Coles said he and the Jets “didn’t leave on bad terms” and that a return to the Jets is “not out of the question.”

While Coles is set to become a free agent when the signing period begins 12:01 a.m. Friday, the Jets now have another significant hole to fill on offense. The team already released its best blocking tight end in Chris Baker and their reluctance to pay Brandon Moore his $7 million roster bonus in early March may leave the team without its most consistent offensive lineman. These moves came weeks after quarterback Brett Favre told the team that he was retiring for good this time.

The Jets’ roster purge has created some cap space (around $26 million) for the team to work with, but the offense may need just as much re-tooling as the defense. Coles’ departure leaves Jerricho Cotchery (71 catches, 858 yards, five TD in 2008) as the team’s only proven wide receiver. The coaching staff remains high on second-year wideout David Clowney, but he has only one career reception. Brad Smith and Chansi Stuckey are also expected to return next season. The Jets have not been named among the teams showing early interest in marquee free agent TJ Houshmandzadeh, but they could turn to April’s NFL Draft to pluck a young receiver. Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin, Maryland’s Darris Heyward-Bey, Florida’s Percy Harvin, North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks and Rutger’s Kenny Britt are among the names to watch.

Head coach Rex Ryan has said that he envisions the team using an “all-weather” offense based on a powerful running game, but with the unit’s two best run blockers likely gone, moving the football on the ground will not be easy. If the team does release Moore, they could slide right tackle Damien Woody over to guard and put Wayne Hunter or Robert Turner at tackle, but neither lineman is proven. Fullback Tony Richardson also remains unsigned.

On top of all the turnover in the Jets’ offense, who will be the starting quarterback in 2009? Ryan’s attack-happy defensive scheme may grab the Jets some victories next season, but they will not be winning much if they cannot score. There are a lot of questions on the Jets’ offense to be answered.

Next on the Jets Wish List…Blocking Tight End

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Today the Jets continued clearing cap space, as they released tight end Chris Baker. Baker signed a three-year extension last September and was due $9 million in guaranteed money over the next three seasons if he remained on the roster. With Dustin Keller’s emergence during his rookie season, the team’s decision to say goodbye to Baker came as no surprise.

The seven-year veteran set career highs in receptions (41) and receiving yards (409) in 2007, but he struggled last season to repeat his success. Baker recorded only only 21 catches for 194 yards and failed to reach the endzone for the first time since his first full season (2003). The Jets could still re-sign Baker, but he will first test free agency.

While his low production would suggest that the Jets hand the reigns over to Keller, losing Baker’s blocking abilities could be costly. Head coach Rex Ryan plans to feature an all-weather offense based around a power run attack in which having a polished blocking tight end will be imperative. Keller will provide the Jets a surehanded receiver, but he remains inconsistent as a blocker.

If Baker remains unsigned weeks from now, the Jets should come calling again. Then again, only if he chooses to take a pay cut.

What Do the Jets Need to Fly in ‘09?

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Last offseason the Jets dipped into a spending frenzy, as they dished out nearly $140 million for new additions. The moves were expected to improve the roster for the 2008 season, but would possibly cripple the team’s cap situation in the near future. However, with Brett Favre’s retirement and the release of David Barrett, David Bowens and Brad Kassell in the last week, the Jets have shed nearly $20 million. As we reported earlier, the Jets are now $18 million under the projected $124 million salary cap.

General manager Mike Tannenbaum has some wiggle room in molding the new roster, but he has several key areas to address. First and foremost, the Jets must find a quarterback. Head coach Rex Ryan plans to implement an all-weather offense, in which the quarterback “does not have to be the solution. They just have to be part of the solution.” That approach worked in Baltimore with Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Steve McNair and most recently rookie sensation Joe Flacco, but the Ravens’ ferocious defense carried the team to victory on several Sundays. While Ryan plans to bring that ball-hawking defensive scheme to the Jets, it will take time to build a defense comparable to Baltimore’s.

The Jets remain confident in the young but unproven trio of Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge, but it would be wise to bring in a veteran to compete for the starting job in training camp. Teams have made the playoffs with game-managing quarterbacks and ball-hawking defenses, but only the 2000 Ravens took the next step and won the Super Bowl. That season of course, they shelled out the lowest-scoring defense in NFL history.

The Jets’ options from the free-agent pool are currently slim (Kyle Boller, Byron Leftwich) but the list could grow more attractive if gunslingers such as Mark Bulger and Jon Kitna become cap casulties. The Jets could also wait until April’s NFL Draft to address their need, as Kansas State’s Josh Freeman may be the best available quarterback left for the Jets at 17th overall.

If Ryan plans to mold the Jets into the ball-hawking defense that he crafted in Baltimore, he will need playmakers in the secondary. Darrelle Revis continued his ascension into one of the true shutdown corners in the NFL last season, but inconsistency in the other cornerback slot plagued the Jets.  Rookie Dwight Lowery burst onto the scene during training camp and early into the regular season, but he faded late and watched his snaps diminish toward the end of the year. Aside from Revis and Lowry, Drew Coleman remains the only other veteran corner on the roster.

Tannenbaum will need to add some playmakers at the position, but he has limited options. The Raiders’ Nnamdi Asomugha, the Colts Kelvin Hayden and the Texans’ Dunta Robinson would have highlighted the group of free agents, but each player has since been slapped with the franchise tag. Former Raven Chris McAlister should warrant a look, but he underwent knee surgery last November and his durability could become a concern.

The Jets could turn to April’s draft to fill their need, but the top two corners, Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins and Illinois’ Vontae Davis are likely to be chosen before the Jets are on the clock. If both are gone, their next best option would be Wake Forest’s Alphonso Smith.

Part of the secondary’s struggles last season also came from the safety position where Kerry Rhodes and Abram Elam will return. Rhodes has quickly developed into one of the league’s top playmakers in the secondary, but he was inconsistent last season. Rhodes looked slow at times in Bob Sutton’s read-and-react defense, but he could flourish under Ryan. In Ryan’s attack scheme, Rhodes will be given the opportunity to blitz more often.

The Jets will need depth in the secondary and looking toward Ravens safety Jim Leonhard would be a good start. Leonhard is small in stature (5-8, 186 lbs) but he quietly had a productive campaign. He played in all 18 games aside Ed Reed and totaled 69 tackles and one interception. Unlike Bart Scott and Ray Lewis, Leonhard will not break the bank in terms of his desired salary. Giants safety James Butler also will be available and should warrant a look.

While the Jets’ offense flourished at times in 2008, they sorely lacked a wide receiver who could strech the field. Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery are still among the most surehanded receivers in football, but neither is blessed with exceptional speed. David Clowney looked to be the team’s vertical threat during the preseason, but his promising campaign was cut short due to a separted shoulder. Clowney only caught one pass last season, but his role should increase if Brad Smith departs. The Jets do not need to break the bank for a high-priced receiver such as TJ Houshmandzadeh, but it would be smart to grab one from the draft.

The Jets could look toward Florida’s Percy Harvin if he is still available at 17th overall, but they would be wise to fill one of their other needs. Rutgers’ Kenny Britt, North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks and Penn State’s Derrick Williams all would be good value picks and could be available when the team selects 53rd overall.

Ratliff Confident Heading into Competition

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

With Brett Favre retiring, second-year quarterback Brett Ratliff is expected to be vaulted into a competition with Kellen Clemens for the starting role. Ratliff has yet to take a snap in the regular season, but he impressed the team with his performance during the preseason. He completed 32 of 47 passes for 499 yards and four touchdowns last summer. His 122.5 quarterback rating led the conference.

Here is the full transcript of Ratliff’s interview today, courtesy of the Jets’ PR staff…

On the expectations placed on him and Kellen Clemens…
I know my abilities. I know who I am and it’s great that Kellen is getting that recognition. It’s nice to be under the radar and not have expectations on you. I know it’s coming now, but (it hasn’t happened) yet. That is the way my career has always gone. That is the way I like it.

On how confident he feels going into next year…
I am very confident. I am going to continue to work through this off-season like the last off-season, just preparing for next year. I am going to keep working as hard as I can and try to get better in any way possible. The one thing that I am grateful for is that Brian Schottenheimer is coming back. It’s great to be to be in the system for a third year. I am very confident in what’s to come.

On if he has had a chance to speak with Coach Ryan…
Yes, I have had a chance to talk to Rex. I met with him a couple of weeks ago. It was about a half-hour conversation. The first half wasn’t about football, it was about family and stuff like that. It was a great conversation, but also we did talk a little football. He said in his eyes, it’s an open competition. That’s really all he said. He said that there would be an opportunity for me. All I can ask for is an opportunity to prove myself, to show my abilities and I am looking forward to that.

On seeing other undrafted quarterbacks succeed in the NFL…

It definitely helps my confidence knowing that they did (succeed). It helps make it easier for me. That is what I have been my entire career. I’ve been overlooked at first and then the free agent guy or I had to go to junior college. That is what I am used to and that is not going to stop me. Even if they (undrafted quarterbacks) weren’t there, it still wouldn’t stop me. It’s happened before. I wouldn’t be the first guy to do it. I am going to keep pushing until I get to my goal. My goal is to be the starting quarterback.

On what he learned from last year’s quarterback competition…
Competition is always great. It brings out the best and the worst in players and I love it. Last year was great to see how (Clemens and Chad Pennington) both dealt with their situations. They both dealt with it differently in their own way. It was fun to be able to get the opportunity to be thrown in a little bit, too. I never was up on the same level as they were, but I was excited for that opportunity to be in that situation. Yes, it’s kind of hard to get scrutinized. When you become the starting quarterback, everything you do is scrutinized. It’s a stepping stone to get to that.

On his relationship with Kellen…
Up to this point, (our) relationship has been great. We have done stuff outside of football. Our wives hang out. We have (eaten) dinners as a family – my wife, my daughter, his wife, his daughter. In my opinion, we are good friends and I hope that doesn’t change. I don’t think it will. We both have been playing football a long time. Kellen likes competition just as much as I do. I think that we will both embrace it and I think whatever happens, it will be great.

On if he learned anything from Brett Favre this year…
Definitely, I tried to whenever I could. Not everybody gets the opportunity to play with a veteran of his status. It was a great opportunity. There weren’t any big things I learned. It was a bunch of little things that you can add to your game, looking guys off, little things like that I learned. He does certain things. How he goes through his reads. I definitely learned some stuff from him.

On some of his responsibilities on the practice squad in 2007…
When I first signed on, I was like ‘this is going to be great. I am going to get the opportunity to go against the starting defense every day at quarterback.’ The first day that I show up, they take away my red jersey and they give me a white one and they said fill in whenever you can. I was like, “Are you serious?” It was a great learning experience because I got to be on the other end playing receiver. The timing of routes. How hard it is to catch the ball with guys all over you. It was fun. It was hard because I am competitive. I wanted to be good at it and I am going against guys like Darrelle Revis, David Barrett and those guys. It was a tough thing to do, but it was a great learning experience. I was definitely glad to get back to what I do and that is playing quarterback.

On his best reception on the practice squad…
In my opinion, I had a bunch of good ones. I had some drops, but I had one that ended up being a touchdown. I actually caught it over Revis and Barrett. We all went up for it and I ended up getting it. I was really pumped about that one. It might have been my first catch of my receiving career.

On if there were any other teams trying to sign him…
There was talk that teams had shown interest, but not as much as the Jets, and the Dolphins were one of the other teams that showed interest. The Jets definitely were the ones who picked me up. They showed the most interest.

On what he showed in the preseason…
The way I look at it is as a stepping stone. It’s nowhere near a regular season game, but it’s one step closer to getting to that point. I am going to keep working as hard as I can to get to the next level and that is playing in a regular season game. I did show a little bit of what I can do. It’s one step above practice. It’s something where the coaches needed to see what I can do. It was a glimpse of my abilities and what I am capable of.

On how comfortable he is in the Jets system…

I have become very comfortable in it. That first year was a little rough. It’s a very big offense. There is a lot of information. Being able to come into my third year, it is a great opportunity, having Schottenheimer back. I am very excited just to get back into the mix of things. I am very confident.

On if he prepared as if Brett Favre would not be back…
Yes. The way I prepare is I am going to be the starter no matter what, even if Brett (Favre) was going to come back. I would try to prepare myself as I was going to be the starter. I tried not to worry about what Brett was going to do. If he was going to come back, great. That is one more year that I would get to play under the guy and learn from him. If not, that is another great opportunity to be able to get a chance to battle for the starting position.

Team Statements on Favre

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Shortly after the Jets learned that quarterback Brett Favre would be retiring, owner Woody Johnson, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan issued statements on the future Hall of Famer.

Johnson: “I had a great conversation with Brett this morning. Considering that he came from a totally different environment and joined our team during training camp, his performance last season was extraordinary. As I spoke with people throughout the organization, they all told me how much they enjoyed working with him. Brett Favre is a Hall-of-Fame player, but he is also a Hall-of-Fame person. Brett, Deanna and his family will always be a part of the Jets family.”

Tannenbaum: “When we acquired Brett, we knew we would get everything he had. He took the time to mentor younger players and his competitiveness and enthusiasm at practice and during games was contagious. I spoke with him this morning and told him that he will be a friend of the Jets for years to come and it was an honor to work with him.”

Ryan: “It was an honor to coach against Brett over the years. If he’s not the best quarterback ever, then he’s certainly in the conversation. I have great admiration for him as a player and a person. I wish him only the best in his life after football.”

Where do the Jets Go Now?

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Brett Favre’s brief stint with the Jets is over and barring another early-August comeback attempt, his next step will be into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Last March Favre held a tearful press conference at the Packers’ facility to announce his 17-year career was over and it was presumed he would quietly ride into the sunset of his Mississippi home. However, as his former Packers teammates reported for another training camp, Favre regained his desire to play again. His first wish was to return to the Packers, but they had already spent months grooming Aaron Rodgers to become Favre’s replacement. His other desire was to join the Vikings, but the Packers had no intentions of sending him to their division rival. 

Just three weeks before the start of the regular season, the Packers traded Favre to the Jets for a fourth-round pick, marking a bitter divorce for the legendary gunslinger and his former team. 

The Jets spent nearly $160 million in offseason additions, but adding Favre gave the Jets instant credibility when they needed it most. The Giants had won Super Bowl XLII just months earlier, while the Jets crashed to a 4-12 record. The Jets were hopeful that Favre could lead the sputtering franchise to new heights, and just 12 weeks into his first season with the team, owner Woody Johnson was smiling on his return. Favre had carried the Jets to a division-best 8-3 record and citywide talk of a Jets-Giants Super Bowl began to resonate. 

However, the Jets’ honeywoon quickly died. They lost four of their final five games and wrapped up with a 9-7 record and a spot outside the playoffs. Favre tossed nine interceptions and just two touchdown passes in that final strech, while bothered by an injured shoulder. He completed his final season with 22 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

Now as Favre plans to remain in Mississippi with his storied career presumably over, the question remains…where do the Jets go from here?

The Jets entered the offseason close to $10 million over the projected salary cap, but Favre’s retirement ($13 million) combined with the release of cornerback David Barrett ($4 million) will provide the team some spending room. With Favre’s announcement, the team’s most glaring need for next season will be finding a quarterback. The Jets currently have Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge on the roster, but the trio has just eight career starts among them. 

The team could choose to explore signing a low-priced free agent to compete for the starting job in training camp, but the team’s options are thin. Jeff Garcia, Byron Leftwich and Rex Grossman are among the top names available. Browns quarterback Derek Anderson could be available through a trade, but their asking price could be lofty considering Anderson is just two years removed from a Pro Bowl season. Kerry Collins and Kurt Warner will also be eligible for free agency, but each is expected to either return to his respective team or retire. 

The Jets also could choose to address their need for a quarterback in April’s NFL Draft. The Jets hold the 17th selection and the team could be eyeing Southern California quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Jets Continue with Coaching Moves

Monday, February 9th, 2009

The Jets announced the hiring of quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and assistant quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. The team also announced assistant special teams coach Ben Kotwica and quality control-defense coach Brian Smith have been retained.

Cavanaugh spent the previous four seasons at the University of Pittsburgh, where he served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Cavanaugh has 11 years of NFL coaching experience, serving as an offensive coordinator for the Ravens (2000-2004) and the Bears (1997-1998) and as quarterbacks coach for the 49ers (1996) and Cardinals (1994-1995). He began his coaching career with the University of Pittsburgh in 1993, serving as a tight ends coach. Cavanaugh also played 14 NFL seasons (Patriots, 49ers, Eagles, Giants), winning Super Bowls as a backup quarterback with the 49ers (1984) and Giants (1990).

DeFilippo joins the Jets after two seasons as the Raiders quarterbacks coach and two years as an offensive quality control assistant with the Giants. He started his coaching career at Fordham University in 2000. He later was the quarterbacks coach at Colombia University for two seasons and a graduate assistant coach with Notre Dame for two seasons, where he worked with wide receivers and tight ends in 2001 and quarterbacks in 2002.

Kotwica has spent the previous two seasons with the Jets. Prior to joining the Jets, he spent two seasons as a defensive coordinator at the U.S. Military Academy Prep School.

Smith has moved to defense, after spending the previous two seasons as quality control-offense coach. He arrived with the Jets after coaching the linebackers and wide receivers at his alma mater University of Massachusetts.

Jets Add Locklin, Retain Devlin

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

The Jets have hired Kerry Locklin as their defensive line coach. Locklin joins the Jets after spending the previous nine seasons at Fresno State University where he served under the same position. He has also coached collegiately at Eastern Michigan (1995-1999), Moorehead State (1990-1993), Utah (1989) and Western New Mexico (1988) and for Shreveport in the CFL (1994).

After playing collegiately at New Mexico State as a tight end, Locklin played three years in the NFL (Rams, 1982-1983, Broncos, 1987) and two seasons in the USFL (1984-1985).

The Jets also announced that offensive line/tight ends coach Mike Devlin will return for his fourth season with the team.