The Biggest Non-Tebow Mistakes
By MIKE SIELSKI
Back in July, as the Jets were beginning training camp, there was so much that seemed promising about the 2012 season. Well, it seemed that way to coach Rex Ryan. He tossed around the word "best" as if he were dispensing handfuls of rice at a wedding.
He considered himself the best defensive coach in football, and the Jets played in the best division in football, the AFC 2927.JA +1.45% East. Their cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie was the best in the NFL, Brandon Moore was the best right guard in the league, and the level at which quarterback Mark Sanchez was playing in those early practices was the best that Ryan had ever seen from him.
Oh, and in case there was any confusion, Ryan would always do whatever was in the best interest of the Jets.
That last assertion became a reliable trope for Ryan over the subsequent five months, as the Jets limped to a 6-10 record and he had to explain ad nauseum why the team was losing and why quarterback Tim Tebow wasn't playing. And if Ryan grew tired of the persistent questions about Tebow's role, he had himself and the team's front office to blame. In a season full of missteps, the Jets' decision to trade for Tebow was their greatest. His presence failed to help their offense, and the disconnect between the ballyhoo that accompanied his arrival and his lack of playing time damaged the organization's credibility.
Of course, once they hire their new general manager, the Jets will wash their hands of Tebow this off-season by either trading or cutting him. The other major mistakes they made aren't so easily corrected, but we'll try…
Mistake No. 1: Extending Mark Sanchez's contract.
Not long after the Tebow trade, the Jets renegotiated Sanchez's deal, ostensibly as an olive branch after acquiring the NFL's most popular player to compete for Sanchez's job. As it turned out, Tebow couldn't carry out the Jets' conventional offense as effectively as Sanchez could, at least not during the team's practices.
The actual games were a different story. Sanchez committed the same number of turnovers (26) that he did in 2011 but threw half as many touchdown passes (13 this year, 26 last year). His completion percentage dropped to 54.3, the lowest since his rookie year. He was benched for Greg McElroy, got his starting spot back, played poorly, was benched again, got his starting spot back again when McElroy sustained a concussion, and played poorly again. Now, thanks to that extension, he'll earn a guaranteed base salary of $8.25 million in 2013.
Solution: Ride it out for one year.
It's possible that the Jets will find another team willing to take Sanchez off their hands, but it's unlikely, and cutting Sanchez would cost more than keeping him. Better than they sign a veteran quarterback (at a reasonable price) who might usurp Sanchez, let the '13 season play out, and see where things stand then.
Mistake No. 2: Misreading what their offense needed to succeed.
In hiring Tony Sparano to be the Jets' offensive coordinator, former GM Mike Tannenbaum sought to return the team to its roots under Ryan: an offense based on a strong rushing attack. It was a plan doomed from the outset.
To make such an approach work, the Jets needed an elite offensive line and/or an elite group of running backs. They had neither, and they also lacked the sort of explosive receivers whose mere presence would soften an opposing defense against the run. Unable to come up with a scheme that overcame those shortcomings, Sparano presided over the 30th-best offense among the league's 32 teams.
Solution: Hire a more innovative coordinator.
With slot receiver Jeremy Kerley, speedy back Joe McKnight, and wideout Santonio Holmes (assuming he's healthy next season after a Lisfranc injury cost him much of this season), the Jets do have a few players who could be effective in a more creative offensive system. They'll need a fresh football mind to implement it and (as we mentioned earlier) perhaps a savvier quarterback to carry it out.
Mistake No. 3: Placing too great a burden on rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill.
Hill caught 49 passes over his career at Georgia Tech, a meager amount for a pro prospect, but he is 6-foot-4 and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds at the NFL combine.
The Jets were so enamored with him, according to a person with direct knowledge of their draft strategy, that they considered the following: If defensive end Quinton Coples, whom the Jets ended up selecting with the 16th overall pick, had not been available, they would have traded the pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers and moved down on the board to the 24th slot. There, there would have taken Hill.
Instead, they chose Hill in the second round and made him a starter, banking that his athleticism would supersede his inexperience. It didn't. He had 21 receptions and, according to Pro Football Focus, had a drop rate of 22.22—the highest of any wideout who was targeted at least 32 times this season.
Solution: Hope he develops.
Hill is only 21. Just because he wasn't ready to be a top-notch receiver this season doesn't mean he'll never develop into one.
Mistake No. 4: Banking on Aaron Maybin to be a productive pass-rusher.
As a hybrid linebacker/defensive end, Maybin had led the Jets with six sacks in 2011, and they counted on him to duplicate or exceed that performance in 2012. He played eight games and made just one tackle before the team waived him.
He so struggled to master the complexities of the Jets' defense, in fact, that linebackers coach Mike Smith fitted him with a wristband that had Maybin's responsibilities written on it—and Maybin still couldn't handle them.
Solution: Draft a pass-rusher.
The Jets have the ninth overall pick in this year's draft, and there could be a few players available who could help them right away, including LSU linebacker Barkevious Mingo and Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore.
They've tried to address this need in previous drafts, but they have no choice but to keep at it.