Should the Jets Fire Rex Ryan

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(Note: Normally I would post this to my Jets site but for ease of posting I decided to post at OTC)

As the Jets moved to 7 wins I have seen a number of people stating that this is the best job that Rex Ryan has ever done coaching the Jets and that he deserves another season. Im not sure I agree with either, but let’s examine further

The “Best Job” Ever Done?

That would seem to be a stretch. While, on paper, the Jets had some expectations in 2012, expectations that were bolstered by the ridiculous trade for QB Tim Tebow, how much of the roster is that different than the team that Ryan went 6-10 with?

First let’s compare the offensive starters in 2012 versus 2013 in terms of snaps played:

20122013
QBSanchezSmith
RBGreenePowell
WRKerleyKerley
WRHillHill
WRSchilensNelson
TECumberlandCumberland
LTFergusonFerguson
LGSlausonWinters
CMangoldMangold
RGMooreColon
RTHowardHoward

Is this that much worse of a group?  Sanchez, a horrible veteran, was replaced by Smith, a pretty horrible rookie. The RB grouping of Greene and Powell in 2012 was replaced by the RB duo of Powell and Ivory in 2013. At worst that’s a push. The receivers and tight ends were the same. The lone significant downgrade on the team was Slauson to Winters and Ryan never seemed to care much for Slauson to begin with.

How about on defense?

20122013
DEWilkersonWilkerson
DEDeVitoRichardson
DTPouhaHarrison
OLBPacePace
OLBCoplesCoples
ILBHarrisHarris
ILBScottDavis
CBCromartieCromartie
CBWilsonMilliner
SL. LandryD. Landry
SBellAllen

I’d say the major downgrades here were at the Safety spots where Dawan was not as good as his brother and Allen not as consistent as Bell. The Jets did play 2012 for the most part without a Defensive Tackle because Sione Pouha was almost always injured so in many cases DeVito played the interior with Coples coming down and either Bryan Thomas or Garret McIntyre standing up. Those problems did not exist in 2013.

When it comes to evaluating the roster itself it stunk in both years. The main difference is there were simply expectations in 2012 and none in 2013. How did the overall results compare between the two seasons:

2012

2013

10+ point wins

3

2

Quality wins

1

2

17+ point losses

6

4

10+ point losses

7

7

Margin of victory

11.8

5.7

Margin of loss

16.5

18.8

SOS Wins

0.401

0.409

SOS Losses

0.578

0.558

We saw an increase of 1 in quality win, which is simply defined as a win against a team with a record above 0.500. That would be the win against the Saints. The Saints are 3-5 on the road this season. The Jets continued to get blown out in 2013 against what is a similar schedule as they faced in 2013. It is not as if this was a more difficult job. It was essentially the same job with the same pieces and same results. The major difference this year?  Lavonte David pushed Geno Smith in week 1 to set up a 48 yard field goal for a win instead of a loss.

Rex Ryan did a far better job in 2009 and 2010 with the team. The 2009 team faced adversity late in the year and found a way to overcome it. The 2010 team faced playoff adversity and overcame it. I don’t think 2013 is any gigantic improvement over 2012 as people say, nor were more losses suffered off the field, unless Sanchez being injured because Ryan decided to play him to win a Snoopy trophy is considered equivalent to Revis being injured.

The Players Love Him

In week 16 the Jets beat the four win Cleveland Browns in a meaningless game with Ryan providing the motivation by saying he was going to be fired. According to many this win alone proves Ryan should stay.  Where was the love in week 11 or 13 when the games mattered and the playoffs were on the line against the Bills and Dolphins?  The Jets lost by a combined score of 60-17. Since 2011 the Jets have faced a number of critical games where winning was pretty much needed to stay in the race. Last year they fell flat against the Titans in a game where Sanchez imploded but Ryan did not want to pull the trigger on him because he made the mistake of making Tebow active for the game. In 2011 they had the epic 3 game collapse down the stretch. So making this Browns game into something it’s not is really ridiculous.

Secondly is it that big of a deal even if they do love him? One of the reasons certain players are very vocal about Ryan is likely their own futures. Players gain the trust of certain coaches and have an inside track on jobs if the coach remains in place. It’s an audition that begins in the summer and goes all season long. Willie Colon and David Nelson both stepped up and spoke up for Rex. Their futures are likely tied to Rex being the coach of the Jets. So might be the futures of many players on the team. Most of the players won’t be part of the future of this organization. Its good that they fight for him and better than the alternative, but not important for the future.

At Least Give Him a Fair Chance in 2014

Nobody should even be bringing this point up.  Ryan can not be coach of the Jets for just one more season. If the team is going to keep him it has to be long term. This was a transition year for the Jets. They signed a number of players to one year contracts or multi year deals that had no guaranteed money to protect a roster spot. The Jets will be loaded with cap space in 2014, well over $40 million, once they make the initial releases of Holmes, Cromartie, and Sanchez, and will probably have between 10 and 12 picks in the draft factoring in the Darrelle Revis trade and compensatory selections. The Jets starting right tackle, tight end, right guard, safety, and outside linebacker are all unrestricted free agents in 2014. They could release a starting inside linebacker, cornerback, and safety.

The Jets will look very different in 2014. All things considered you could be looking at over 10 new starters and 15 new meaningful faces. You do not overhaul a football team like that and maintain a lame duck coach. That is counterproductive to the entire organization. In many ways it was already counterproductive to bring in a rookie QB and pair him with a coach twisting in the wind but whats done is done. The commitment to Ryan has to be long term if it occurs, not another wait and see season.

Should He Stay or Go

Ryan has a pretty large sample size by which we can evaluate him. To try to boil this down to the last two games of the 2013 season is foolish. Odds are the Jets organization made their preliminary decisions when they were hired and swaying that opinion was only going to occur based on actually working with him during the year not by anything accomplished on the field. The Jets were not a playoff team in 2013 and to have expected that was ridiculous. In the NFL these moves are made all the time, just look at Lovie Smith in Chicago last season. The only person who probably saved their job by coaching record was Ron Rivera in Carolina, a team that had a one year window before they will likely begin to see some parts fall by the wayside due to cap considerations.

Ryan has five seasons by which the Jets can judge him. While the last few years the defense has been overrated I think it’s fair to say that Ryan is going to field a good defense more often than not and he is one of the rare coaches that can put together a gameplan to neutralize an elite level Quarterback. Very few coaches have that ability and it is a major strength. If the Jets fire Ryan they are not keeping him on staff as a coordinator so if he is fired the Jets lose that edge.

Offensively it is a struggle for him. Ryan has gone through three offensive coordinators in his five year tenure, all supposedly agreed on by him, though there were rumblings that Tony Sparano was forced on him.   All three have performed poorly. Ryan has had an opportunity to develop a top five pick at the position in Sanchez and failed miserably. Tebow was a first rounder and never got a sniff. Smith had a first round grade to some but fell to the Jets in round 2. He has been pretty poor most of the season and has been benched a few times due to poor play. Some of the blame has to go on Ryan for that.

I can see why this is a difficult decision for the team.  Rex is very popular and is the face of the franchise. He also covers for the fact that the current front office is not very forthcoming or open to the media or fans. If the Jets bring in a coach that does fit the personality of John Idzik it will be completely back to the days of Eric Mangini where he refused to do weekly live phone interviews and required interviews to be taped at practice.

But if you keep Ryan you have to commit to a very specific style of football. It’s a style that is outdated in the NFL. That does not mean that it can not work, but you can not just assume that the offensive problems will fix themselves because Ryan says he will change. Coaches do evolve but usually that happens after they are fired. Bill Belichick probably never evolves if he does not fail in Cleveland. Tom Coughlin probably never evolves if he never was let go by the Jaguars. Having to take a step back and actually look at your failures while sitting on the sidelines is an easier way to improve than working through it on the job.

You are most likely not going to build a long term solution with a draft built offense and Ryan. That is how most teams attempt to build but Ryan has failed in that regard. If the Jets keep Ryan you are going to have to build differently. You are going to have to buy a mid level “professional” QB. In the immediate future that probably means Matt Schaub or Kyle Orton. Perhaps Jay Cutler but I think he would be too up and down. Chad Henne and Matt Moore would also be available and maybe a team gets interested in Josh McCown. Down the line you might be able to consider Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, or Ben Roethlisberger if the Steelers foolishly made him available.

Free agency is going to be met with overspending on linemen and consistent wide receivers. It would be all about rebuilding what the team had in 2009 with Alan Faneca, Damien Woody, Braylon Edwards, and Jerricho Cotchery.  While the players were not going to make anyone cringe on paper they helped bring an identity to the team that meshed with Ryans’ beliefs. If Ivory can stay healthy he is the runner to work in that system.

Where the Jets failed in 2011 and 2012 is they tried to replace parts with draft picks (Hill, Slauson. Ducasse, Greene, etc…) and “high impact” wideouts (Holmes, Burress) when they really needed developed team oriented players. Holmes was successful in 2010 because he was a complementary piece to the lunchpail players that were employed by the Jets. Greene was a fine depth player that could do well off the bench but as a starter behind the line the Jets trotted out there he was a below average running back.

Defensively you have to stay the course and keep getting Ryan athletic talent that he can mold and maybe one decent free agent. The building blocks are there on the defensive line.  Quinton Coples is about ready to become a household name as a pass rusher. Dee Milliner has begun to show a pulse. Get quicker on the inside and find another pass rusher and you will have a defense that can rank right up there with what the 49ers and Seahawks are trotting out year after year.

But you are going to have to build defense first and find a way to piece together a professional offense that doesn’t need the coaching or attention from Ryan.  Does Idzik want to do that?  That is the question that should be asked right now, not “how can you fire Rex after getting to 7 or 8 wins with this talent”. If Idzik does not believe in building a team that way then keeping Ryan on is a pointless exercise. Philosophically it has to match up.

The strength or Ryan’s resume is not regular season success. He has only won 10 games once in his five years with the Jets. His reputation is built on postseason upsets and a quality defense that won some games in spite of the offense that he helped run into the ground. Ryan isn’t Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, or Marty Schottenheimer who year after year after year put forth good records and would never succeed when it counted.

That said the same risk is there with Ryan as there was with these three, with the system that will be run if Ryan is the head coach. Schottenheimer never won. Dungy won one time despite lucking into a job with Peyton Manning. Cowher was the only one whose system itself produced a Super Bowl winner, and that was once in 15 tries. All told it was a great deal of regular season success and a great deal of heartache in the playoffs. Just based on what we have seen the expectation has to be that Ryan can be a bit more Coughlin than Dungy. Ryan can get his team hot at the right times, despite very inconsistent play, and win a Super Bowl. From what we have seen with those upsets early in his coaching career and to a lesser extent the wins over Tom Brady and Drew Brees this season it is an argument that can at least be made.

If that argument is compelling enough than by all means keep Rex Ryan. But in this day and age I have a hard time believing that someone who has done nothing but feed on the bottom and get blown out by the top for the last two seasons is going to be given the type of team he needs to work with to get the most out of him and the team. For what its worth this is the same approach the Ravens more or less employed with Brian Billick when they realized his attempts to develop an offense were killing the team and they signed an ancient Steve McNair in 2006. It worked for one season before McNair broke down and Billick was promptly fired.    Do Jets fans want to have to wait another two or three seasons to completely turn the page the way the Ravens did?  I don’t and I doubt too many others want to either.

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Preparing for the Future- The NFC East

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Dallas Cowboys

I guess with Dallas what you see is what you are going to get for the next few years. The Cowboys already have a full complement of players under contract for 2014 and a league high payroll that is over $145 million. Four Cowboys are set to be free agents in 2014 and its unlikely that there is a legitimate avenue to keep any of them given the Cowboys cap circumstances.  In 2015 the Cowboys have $130 million on the books for just 20 players. Basically a Tony Romo restructure is going to need to be done just to keep the team cap compliant. Given Dallas’ situation they absolutely need to hit in this years draft and on a few selections. Despite the hefty cap numbers for Dallas they need help on the offensive line, at running back, and at Safety. In terms of long term planning they need down linemen with half of their defensive front set to be free agents plus Jay Ratliff seemingly close to done. While I don’t think Dallas would trade up it would be such a mistake to even consider. If anything they should trade down and look to cut away from some high priced veterans and replace them with younger talent. IMO, this is a crucial draft for Dallas because if they fail to hit the crash in Dallas when the bill comes due in 2015 is going to be really bad.

New York Giants

The Giants are another team with a difficult cap situation and don’t expect them to be finished tinkering with the pay structure of their roster just yet. The Giants don’t have enough cap space to function come the summer and fall so they need to restructure some players or cut players outright. I’ve seen this type of scene play out many times before and typically right after the draft you will see some cuts based on positional selections. If I was Chris Snee or Antrel Rolle I would be worried about my position on the team and ability to maintain my salary for the season. The Giants only have $101 million or so commited to the 2014 salary cap but with deals needed for WRs Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks that cap space could vanish in a hurry. Cruz is an 8 million or so a year player while Nicks, if he has a good and healthy season, could top $12 million a year.  The Giants would be best suited to lock Nicks up now because he has the most to gain in free agency while Cruz’ value seems pretty locked in unless Percy Harvin sets the world on fire out in Seattle. If they intend to keep the two wideouts that means they have no choice but to fill their other issues- offensive line and secondary- through the draft. The Giants love to draft pass rushers and that’s always a possibility but I don’t know if they can ignore these other areas in the draft, Their defense clearly needs more balance.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles are the only  team in the NFC East without cap problems due to superior cap management skills and philosophies over the past few seasons. While they grew a bit too start struck the last two years they have a system in place that actually allows they to retool on the fly rather than go with a full blown rebuild like most teams go through when seasons don’t go as planned. The Eagles have around $120 million committed to 2014 but are poised to carryover $20 million from the 2013 year to 2014 to give them cap room ti improve the team. With over 51 under contract the cap number isn’t really an issue. One of the ways that the Eagles stood out to me this year compared to some other squads with big cap space like the Colts is that they did not overspend. They ate all of Mike Vicks money this season and set the plate to spend more in the future when and if the free agent classes are improved. Just because you have a lot of cap room and low priced QBs doesn’t mean you need to spend it and the Eagles avoided that trap.  With 30 players under contract in 2015, tied for most in the NFL, the Eagles have a long term solution in place if things go well while maintaining the flexibility to move away from those players without much cap pain. Philadelphia has a ton of options in the draft since they pick high in so many rounds. Given that they are looking for more pieces to fit the new coaches system   they would seem like a logical trade down team.  Given the uncertainty in their QB situation they may be a team looking to amass picks to use next year to get a QB since the team should find out everything they need to know about Foles this year. The team needs major help along the offensive line and don’t let the big contract of Jason Peters fool you into thinking they won’t draft his replacement.

Washington Redskins

In many ways I think that the cap penalty was a blessing in disguise for the Redskins. For years the Redskins have overspent on mediocre talent and this penalty kept them from doing just that this season. While they have spent more than I would have liked to see they do have 47 under contract in 2014 and only $106 million or thereabouts committed to the cap. Those are very reasonable numbers for a team whose QB will likely begin entering his real prime provided he is healthy. That said the Skins have work to do if they want to sign their rookies as they are running right on the cap right now. I tend to think some will say that the Redskins will look to get RGIII more weapons in the passing game but  the smarter move will be to improve their defense which can upgrade at multiple positions. The defense has 7 starters who are on their contract years and a number of key subs on their final year.  Plus the defense is not that good to begin with. The Redskins relied too much on RGIII in 2012 and they need to balance that out somewhat by building a better defense. If the QB is healthy they can get by with some patchwork pieces for the time being as he looked so good last season he doesn’t need all great players around him and he already has the running game to rely on. The trade for RGIII depleted their draft reserves so using what hey have and not getting caught up in trading games again is the teams best chance for success.

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Preparing for the Future: The AFC East

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As we lead up to the draft I thought it might be fun to start looking ahead at some teams rosters and futures to help determine likelihood of trading down, good spots for undrafted free agents, and teams that will still be shopping in the bargain bin. We start with the AFC East:

Buffalo Bills

The Bills have 44 players under contract in 2014, which is the upper tier of the NFL. The only projected starters set to be unrestricted free agent are  C Eric Wood and TE Scott Chandler, while reserves RT Sam Young, OLB Bryan Scott, DT Alan Branch, and OLB Arthur Moats will also see free agency in 2014. I have the Bills estimated to carry around $107 million in cap charges in 2014, which is a pretty safe figure considering their roster size with likely cap casualties of WR/KR/QB Brad Smith and DE Mark Anderson either this summer or next season. Clearly the Bills are in desperate need of a QB  and could be a team that would look to move up if there was one they felt they loved and needed in round 1 or 2. Because the team seems to be set in a lot of positions this may not be a great fit for undrafted players unless they played the ILB position where the Bills are completely lacking or the OLB position where a prospect could show enough to eventually displace the players set to leave next season. That, of course, depends on the defense that the team runs. If they switch to a 34 Defensive end could be a more pressing concern. In terms of positional drafting QB, DE, and LB would seem to be major areas.  If any type of cornerback comes here they have pretty much no shot of making it.

Miami Dolphins

Miami looks to be an interesting team as they head into the draft. Clearly they were big spenders in free agency and they do have 41 players under contract next season with more than enough cap room for 2014, but they have a ton of projected starters and reserves whose contracts expire at the end of the 2013 League Year. The names include DT Paul Soliai, DT Randy Starks, CB Brent Grimes, G Richie Incognito, TE Dustin Keller, S Reshad Jones,  and S Chris Clemons. That’s nearly half of the projected defensive starters. The Dolphins have clearly been built as a win now team and with that in mind they are a team that could look to make an impact in the coming weeks. By 2015 the Dolphins only have 15 players under contract, 6th lowest in the NFL as of April 18th. They are already rumored to be trading for Branden Albert from the Chiefs, a bit of a strange move since they could have kept Jake Long for probably lesser money, so they would be out at least one draft choice to make that move. I’d imagine on draft day they want a player that they think can slot in right away and play for the team. Miami has a ton of draft picks and even if they trade two away will still have 9 picks in the draft. I doubt that will draft for anything but positional need with an eye on both this year and next year, specifically improving the secondary. Considering the moving of parts that could occur after this season I would consider this a decent landing spot for UDFAs to have a as low cost active roster players or Practice Squad players to get noticed and perhaps stick around in the future.  The one negative to signing with Miami is that with so many draft picks and big name new acquisitions it will be much more difficult for a UDFA to stand out.

New England Patriots

The Patriots essentially have no draft this year. They have late picks in the 1st thru 3rd round and then don’t pick again until the 7th round.  The Patriots have a large number of free agents after this season but only 4 project as starters. The team has 44 players under contract for 2014 and limited cap space. The Patriots I think would like to find a receiver and could also look for more interior linemen as both their center and backup are free agents next season. Given that the Patriots are a “now” team I could see them trading back or out entirely and trying to stockpile picks in the future. The team is going to have holes at ILB, WR, CB, C, and potentially DT in the near future making those areas of interest, but if they don’t see the payoff this year and a more desperate team comes calling Id expect the Patriots to play the trade game and wait to reload at a later date.

New York Jets

The Jets are clearly in the midst of a massive rebuild. The team only has 36 players under contract in 2014, 8th fewest in the NFL, and of those 36 many are not likely to be here during or after this season. Of their current projected starting lineup 5 offensive players are free agents after 2013 and 3 defensive starters will be free agents. By 2015 over half of the current projected starters will have their current contracts expire a number that does not include Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes, players who are as good as gone as soon as the cap allows. This is a long term plan with no real quick fix here. If you notice the Jets signed no long term deals this past offseason, the longest contract running all of 3 years. The Jets did not go off the deep end restructuring contracts and did not extend the terms of Antonio Cromartie’s contract for added cap relief nor get deeper on C Nick Mangold for a quick fix in 2013. They did not seem to approach a number of former starters about coming back, including Dustin Keller and Mike DeVito, both of whom signed reasonably priced contracts elsewhere. Those are often signs of a team  with plans of jettisoning a number of players and playing the compensatory pick game as best they can. The Jets are trying to move CB Darrelle Revis and with all the holes on the team there is no reason why they should not do it. This is a long term rebuild which means a ton of draft selections are of the utmost importance and it’s a great home for UDFA’s. The only position where the Jets will have stability is at the DE position where Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples look like long term building blocks. Otherwise this is a clear BAP draft and I would think the Jets will actively shop players, both big name and small name, all summer long.

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