10 Off-Season Priorities
With six days until the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers set to kick off Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, the Jets were left one game short yet again. After seeing Indianapolis, a team they dominated in the first half of last year’s AFC Championship game, falter against the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, G.M. Mike Tannenbaum and the rest of the Jets were ready to re-focus themselves for the 2010 season.
“Super Bowl or bust,” a boisterous Rex Ryan announced as the team and HBO’s Hard Knocks filed in to Cortland, N.Y. for the start of training camp. Re-tooled with a team that looked like it was plucked from a Madden fantasy draft, the Jets welcomed such big-name newcomers as LaDanian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes, Jason Taylor and Antonio Cromartie. They made moves in the draft, landing the highly touted cornerback Kyle Wilson and running backs John Conner and Joe McKnight. Despite the money they spent on bringing players in, they still managed to pay three of their “Core Four”; offensive linemen D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold as well as cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Even with the off-season roster bolstering the Jets still came up one game short, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-19 in the AFC Championship game. Now Tannenbaum has plenty of personnel decisions to make while the distinct possibility of a 2011 NFL lockout looming large over his head.
Think the season was over with the Pittsburgh game? Think again. The second season of the NFL has begun and the JetsInsider.com has the ten most pressing Jets issues for the 2011 off-season. (*Writer’s Note: The new CBA may effect the cycle of things, but, ideally, this is the pecking order for the Jets.
RE-SIGN LB DAVID HARRIS- The last member of the “Core Four” may be the most important to the Jets. The recipient of the 2010 Curtis Martin team MVP award, Harris has led the team in tackles in three of his last four seasons. He’s not only a leader on the field, but has the respect of everyone in that locker room as a silent warrior. “He remains a top priority for us. David has done a lot of great things for us on and off the field. We expect him to be here for years to come,” Tannebaum told members of the media.
- RE-SIGN EDWARDS & HOLMES- Perhaps this may be disputed as not the number 2 most pressing issue, but there’s certainly an argument. As a second-year quarterback, Mark Sanchez developed a rapport with Edwards early on and began to develop one with Holmes as the season closed. “Both those players (Edwards and Holmes) did a really good job for us,” Tannenbaum said. “Both made big plays for us during the season and the postseason. I’m proud of what they accomplished for us.” He may be known for his dropped balls and off-the-field antics, but Edwards emerged as one of the vocal leaders late in the season, as his game stepped up week after week. As for Holmes, he seems like the perfect fit for the franchise tag. A prime-time player, Holmes may be allured by the big-money bucks he would command on the open market.
- BOLSTER THEIR PASS RUSH: We all saw how effective the Jets defense was against the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs, as they recorded five sacks and constantly had pressure coming Tom Brady’s way. With a weakened pass rush this past season, the Jets defense often seemed to be missing that final ingredient to a defense that ended up ranking third in total defense. There are plenty of options, as of now, in the free agent pool that the Jets could throw some cash at. Chiefs’ DE/LB Tamba Hali (14.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles) had a superb season on a Chiefs defensive that exceeded expectations. Vikings DE Ray Edwards (8 sacks) is often overlooked on a Vikings defensive line that is loaded with talent. Make no mistake, Edwards may just be the most well-rounded end on the open market, excelling in stopping the run and pass. Or they may fill the hole in the draft. Miami stand-out Allen Bailey (6-4, 288 lbs.) had seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 2010, while Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward (6-5, 288 lbs.) has emerged as a late-first round pick perfect for a scheming 3-4 defense.
- PASS ON ANTONIO CROMARTIE-Unfortunately for Cro, his level of play failed to live up level of his smack talk. In recent weeks he has drawn criticisms for has rather candid media encounters. While there were glimmers of brilliance (his play on Randy Moss Week 2 after Revis went down, in particular), too often he was beat regularly on single-man coverage. Add in his knack for his propensity to draw pass-interference calls and it’s a signing that could really hurt the Jets. “By and large, he had a good year for us on the field. He wasn’t perfect, but he played well,” Tannebaum said about Cromartie.
- BRING BACK BRAD SMITH- How could you not? Smith single handedly won the Jets two games late in the fourth quarter with his superb return skills. He may not be the fastest return man nor is he the shiftiest, but the combination of both makes him explosive. Not only is he pivotal in the special teams game, but with Smith running the Wildcat offense he offers yet another facet when he can utilize his freakish talents. Think what you want about Brian Schottenheimer and his timing of using the Wildcat package, but the Jets were amongst the top in yardage for teams that feature the Wildcat averaging over 4.2 yards per attempt because of Smith.
- PART WAYS WITH SCHOTTY- I know, I know. Tannenbaum has already stated that he plans to stick with Schottenheimer, but many argue that he was a big reason as to why the Jets lost in Pittsburgh. He has been often labeled as “too cute”, which may be a compliment for a high school girl but not so much for an offensive coordinator in the NFL. Calling passing plays in clear running down and vice versa (as we saw late in the game against Pittsburgh) has been Schottenheimer’s MO throughout his tenure with the Jets. As the season began to unfold it seemed, through his playcalling, that he didn’t trust Sanchez to make the big plays. The fans have the right to not trust Sanchez, but as his coach Schottenheimer must display trust in his young quarterback.
- GET OFFENSIVE LINE HELP- Let’s face it, this group has been at war together for the last two years. The offensive line has been a staple of his new-look Jets team for the past few years, but with the knee injury and contract uncertainty with RT Damien Woody, they will have a glaring hole on the right side. If the Jets look to the draft to fulfill it will either come in the third round or via a trade. I believe a Rex Ryan team will devote their first pick to the defense. The draft pick traded to San Diego for Cromartie turns from a third-round to a second-round pick because of their victory over the Colts in the playoffs. The answer may be returning back-up turned starter Wayne Hunter, who is a free agent. Other notable free agents include Tyson Clabo, who helped the Falcon’s ground game lead the NFC in rushing, and Willie Colon, who has a history of the Jets rough-and-rugged style of play from his history with the Steelers.
- THINK ABOUT BACK-UP PLAN FOR SAFETY- While the Jets maintain that Jim Leonhard will be on pace for next season, there’s certainly no guarantee. And Eric Smith is a free agent. He pieced together a few great games for the jets down the stretch and in the playoffs, but still struggles and often looks confused in coverage. Perhaps Rex calls on another one of his former Baltimore Ravens players. Tom Zbikowski was drafted by the Ravens in Ryan’s last season, and Ryan is always looking for a fired-up kid who knows his style of play.
- SEARCH FOR A REPLACEMENT AT KICKER- Nick Folk started out his tenure in New Jersey on a high. Hell, he was pretty much the entire offense for a few games this year. But at the end he faltered — blame it on misuse or mental — as his head coach lost faith in them. Besides with the gusty winds that run through New Meadowlands Stadium, the team needs a kicker who can shine in the face of harsh elements. Free agent kicker Matt Prater has that on his resume, spending the last season in Denver. Prater has a big leg and despite his low attempts hit 89% of his kicks and was 6-of-8 from 40+ (59 long).
- FIRE SAL ALOSI- Oh wait…