For the fourth time this decade, the Jets are embarking on a coaching search. Owner Woody Johnson's decision to fire head coach Eric Mangini following a 9-7 season ensued in a flurry of interviews with potential candidates. Former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher surfaced as the jewel of the Jets' search, but he withdrew his name from consideration before meeting with Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who interviewed with the Jets last Saturday, remains the likely favorite for the job. Johnson was not present for Spagnuolo's initial interview, but the Jets' owner recently returned from vacation and intends to meet with Spagnuolo for another interview. Spagnuolo's blitz-happy defensive scheme revitalized the Giants' defense last season and certainly caught the Jets' attention as he mastered a plan to shut down the Patriots' explosive offense.
Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan could also emerge as a lead candidate for the Jets' vacant position and he has agreed to meet with the team. By league rules, the Jets are not allowed to speak with either Spagnuolo or Ryan until his team is eliminated from the playoffs or until the bye week before the Super Bowl.
Former Ravens head coach Brian Billick, who guided Baltimore to the Super Bowl XXXV title, was contacted by the Jets, the NFL Network reported Sunday.
To Return or Not to Return?
As quarterback Brett Favre limped to the finish line last season, so did the Jets. Favre tossed a league-high 22 interceptions in his first season outside of Lambeau Field, fueling the Jets' stunning collapse from Super Bowl contenders to a comedy punch line. Over the final five weeks, the Jets won just once despite facing a creampuff schedule (.462 opponents win percentage), as Favre's throws wobbled like wounded ducks when the Jets needed him most. He threw nine interceptions over the strech while dealing with a torn biceps tendon in his right arm. Favre's demise on the field and the injury to his legendary arm created the perfect storm of intrigue into his future in the NFL.
Following the season-ending loss to the Dolphins, Favre sounded exasperated and defeated in explaining to reporters that he remained undecided about returning to football next season. He suggested that making a "quick decision" based on the way the season ended would be both "hasty and irrational" and that his health would weigh heavily in his final decision.
Favre has juggled this decision before and even tearfully wished goodbye to the NFL last March. Four months later he regained his desire to play football and demanded a trade from the Packers.
It is too soon to decipher Favre's intentions, but SI's Peter King reported that Favre spoke to Tannenbaum last Friday, in which Favre suggested "it may be time to look in a different direction" at quarterback.
Favre has not spoken publicly since his season-ending press conference about his intentions, but the Jets have. Johnson told reporters on Dec. 29 that he "hoped" to have Favre back and when asked about why he felt so strongly about Favre, Johnson replied "I just think he adds a lot to the team that's positive."
Johnson's response appeared as a strong indication that the team was committed to bringing Favre back for another season, but questions about the team's desire remains. Favre is scheduled to earn $13 million next season and they are not about to release him with quarterbacks Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge all unproven commodities and anything but a committment to Favre would have turned heads. Even if the team's interest in retaining their quarterback is simply lukewarm, they are not going to say it publicly. The last person within the organization to receive a vote of confidence was Mangini during the NFL winter meetings and look how that turned out.
Back in February, Johnson told the New York Daily News that Mangini and Tannebaum would return for the 2009 season, no matter how this past year played out. The team finished with a 9-7 record, but Mangini received his pink slip one day into the offseason.
Favre did face criticism from within the locker room in the days following this season's collapse. Running back and team MVP Thomas Jones said during an interview with New York radio station Hot 97 FM, "The reality is, you throw interceptions, I'm [ticked] off, I don't like it," concerning Favre's three-interception performance against the Dolphins. "You know what I'm saying? I don't like it, I know everybody else on the team doesn't like it, he said."
Jones appeared on ESPN's "First Take" later in the week and explained that "everything is cool with me and Brett."
As surprising as the comments were from the usually-subdued Jones, they will not alter the team's stance on whether or not to retain Favre. Then again, that decision hinges on the quarterback returning for his 19th season.
Jets Options at Quarteback Potentially Slim
When the Jets traded for Favre last August, they acquired a future Hall of Fame quarterback, but they also burdened the baggage that he brings with his retirement talk. The Jets certainly would like Favre to make his decision on playing next season soon and avoid heading into the free-agency period in March still undecided at quarterback. Most teams entrenched in a head coaching search prefer to have their quarterback in place before making a hire, but Favre has not provided a timetable for his final decision. The Jets are prepared to wait, but just how long they are willing to do so remains uncertain.
If Favre chooses to retire, the likely option is for the team to sign a veteran quarterback to compete amongst Clemens, Ratliff and Ainge throughout OTA's and into training camp.
The options, however, may be slim.
The Patriots' Matt Cassel would certainly be the "cream of the crop" of available quarterbacks, but the chances of New England allowing him to enter the open market appear slim to none. With Tom Brady's surgically-repaired knee heally slowly, all indications point to the Patriots slapping a $14 million franchise tag on Cassel. New England would have to swallow nearly $29 million toward their two quarterbacks, but he serves as a valuable insurance policy if Brady is unable to return for the season-opener. Today, NBC's Tom Curran suggested that Brady could begin next season on the PUP List, which would leave him inactive for the first six weeks.
The Patriots' alternative to franchising Cassel would be to trade him, but there is absolutely zero chance he would be shipped to the rival Jets.
The Browns' Derek Anderson also could be looking for a new team this offseason after not delivering on his big payday. Anderson was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2007 after throwing 29 touchdown passes with 3,787 yards and he was rewarded with a three-year, $24 million contract. This season his quarterback rating dipped to 66.5 and he tore up his knee in a Week 13 loss to the Colts.
The Cardinals' Kurt Warner and the Titans' Kerry Collins serve as two rocket-armed veterans that could be available this offseason. CBS' Charlie Casserly noted that Warner is due an additional $1.5 million in compensation following last week's playoff win and that number could increase if the Cardinals defeat the Panthers in Sunday's Divisional round. If Warner chooses to play another season, it will be interesting to see if the Cardinals sign him to a new deal. As for Collins, he would be an atttractive alternative considering he is familiar with the tricky wind patterns of Giants Stadium after quarterbacking the Giants from 1999-2003.
The most experienced of the three quarterbacks on the Jets' roster aside from Favre is Clemens, who said last week that he is "absolutely ready" to start. He appeared in ten games (eight starts) for the Jets in 2007 but did not deliver a rousing audition. He completed only 52 percent of his passes while tossing five touchdowns and ten interceptions. Clemens entered this season battling Chad Pennington for the starting job, but he struggled through offseason workouts.
Ratliff impressed coaches with a strong training camp and continued his improved play into the preseason and he could serve as a darkhorse in a potential quarterback competition. He spent the entirety of the season as the third-string quarterback, ahead of fifth-round draft pick Erik Ainge. Ainge's rookie year was one to forget, as he suffered a season-ending foot injury and then later was suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league's policy on steriods and related substances.
Mangini Selecting Assistants
Mangini agreed on a four-year contract to become the Browns' new head coach and he has begun selecting his assistants, ESPN's Michael Smith is reporting. Mangini intends to hire Jets quarterbacks coach Brian Daboll as his offensive coordinator. Smith is also reporting that Mangini will select Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan for the same position. Ryan's contract with the Raiders is expiring, but any possibility he had of joining the Jets' staff was swept away by Mangini.