With Black Monday approaching for coaches and general managers I wanted to look back at the John Idzik tenure in New York as it sounds as if he will be fired along with Rex Ryan within the next few days.
The 2013 Purge
The Jets set the wheels in motion in 2007 for the building of pretty good football team that would peak in 2010 before internal fighting, poor coaching, poor drafting, and bad QB play sunk the team in 2011 and 2012. It was clearly a time for a change in the composition of the team.
Contrary to popular opinion the Jets were not in salary cap hell when Idzik was hired. They were a team, similar to the Giants, that was in a position to add a few pieces each year to try to extend a window of opportunity, but each year those windows grow smaller and that strategy will eventually leave the team stuck down the line unless they have major success in the draft.
Idzik made the proper call in the deconstruction of the roster. Gone were players like Bart Scott and Sione Pouha. Idzik played chicken with the Buccaneers and engineered one of the best trades in the NFL when he received a high first round draft pick for an unhappy cornerback coming off an ACL injury.
Idzik didn’t do much that season either very positive or negative. He drafted Sheldon Richardson, who is quickly developing into one of the best lineman in the league, but also drafted Dee Milliner who is quickly going to find his face on a milk carton. He made a low risk trade for a talented but often injured Chris Ivory, who has given the Jets a nice season and a half of work, while also signing Mike Goodson who proved an embarrassment to the organization with his off the field problems.
As someone who followed the Jets for many years and sees these transactions I think you would give Idzik a C+ for the 2013 offseason, mainly based on the Darrelle Revis trade. He did not do anything to hurt the Jets in the long or short term but there was also nothing out of the ordinary that he did to improve the team. In general the Jets owner could have hired someone like me as a “consultant” and mapped out a similar plan, though I’m not sure how many people would have stood firm on the Revis trade which is I’d say slightly above average.
The 8-8 Season that Likely Sunk Idzik
The Jets would overachieve in 2013, finishing 8-8 despite having one of the worst quarterbacks and what was considered one of the worst rosters in the NFL. While everyone wants to win in the NFL, for Idzik this was nothing short of a disaster. It re-affirmed the value of a very popular head coach who nearly was fired in 2012 for being the leader of a sinking ship.
For Idzik this season eliminated his chance to hire a coach that he wanted to carry out his vision for the football team. Despite whatever lip service was given to the relationship between the two they seemed to be completely opposite personalities that meshed together as well as fire and ice. Even worse, the season raised expectations for what was a bad football team that had no business winning 8 games in 2013.
In the NFL there is always a honeymoon period, usually three years, for a coach/GM combo, but to maximize that honeymoon you need a number of items to fall into place. The Jets were not going to have them. Ideally if you overachieve you want to fall into one of two categories- either you want a veteran QB that led the team during the overachievement with a younger guy sitting on the bench or you want a high draft pick playing QB. The Jets had neither.
When the Jets struggled in 2007 after a playoff run in 2006 they could simply turn to Kellen Clemens to take the focus off the head coach and the general manager. Had they missed the playoffs in 2009 they would have survived for the next two years just based on the “potential” of Mark Sanchez. The Jets already played the “Clemens card” in 2013 with Geno Smith who looked terrible. When Smith struggled in 2014 there was no alternative to turn to that would take the heat off the front office. Smith was also not a highly regarded talent to make people look for a silver lining.
The honeymoon also works best when you have a new head coach in place not a person who is already entrenched with the media and fanbase. Normally both guys get some credit for the success of a team. The new coach gets credit for being special and the new GM gets credit for hiring the coach and building a team that he can work with.
But Ryan’s persona overshadowed Idzik and Ryan already had a reputation for overachieving. Ryan wasn’t Idzik’s hire, Ryan was simply getting the most out of a bad team. The general consensus was that Idzik needed to get Ryan the talent to take it to the next level ASAP.
The 2014 Offseason
What was supposed to be the big offseason turned into a big yawner. Idzik had a ton of cap room and had the lowest payroll in the NFL. The expectation was that the Jets would be big spenders in free agency. Instead they made a few lateral moves and left fans, media, and probably a head coach scratching his head.
The big prize for the Jets in free agency was wide receiver Eric Decker, fresh off a huge season with the Denver Broncos. Though Decker put up big numbers he was considered a byproduct of the Broncos system and the market for him seemed flat. The Jets second big acquisition was QB Michael Vick, expected to give the Jets a veteran QB to replace Smith if Smith struggled.
Both struggled and worse gave off the signal that they had no desire to be in New York but simply signed their contracts because this was their best financial option. Those are things that you should do your best to detect before you sign the player. For Decker that may have been more difficult, but the Jets had weeks to wait on Vick realizing his real goal was to have ended up in Oakland. He only came back to the Jets once the Raiders job closed following a trade for Matt Schaub. The Jets also added Chris Johnson as a running back.
Idzik would release the very popular Antonio Cromartie, who was also a favorite of Ryan’s. Cromartie dealt with injuries in 2013 and was largely ineffective, but it was the Jets backup strategy that played out poorly. The Jets had already slotted Dee Milliner into the number 1 role but had nobody to play the second spot with Cromartie out.
The Jets either flirted with a number of big name corners or those players agents used the New York media to drive up prices for their clients. One by one the players signed with other teams. The Jets looked cheap, especially when Alterraun Verner would sign for just a shade more than $6 million a season. Cromartie had already signed a low cost deal worth $3.5 million in Arizona that he indicated the Jets had no desire to consider.
The Jets opted for Dimitri Patterson, an always injured journeyman, to hold down the number 2 spot for essentially the same price as Cromartie. Patterson quit the team in August and never played a snap for the Jets while Cromartie had a terrific season in Arizona. The whole treatment of the Jets cornerback position turned out to be a focal point against Idzik as everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong.
Idzik’s focus was on a huge draft class filled with compensatory picks earned by the inactivity in free agency in 2013. It was a bust. Most players either did not make the team or never played. His first round draft pick, Calvin Pryor, found himself benched for minimum salary talent at one point in the season. While you can’t judge a draft class in one season, the Jets ranked towards the bottom of the NFL in terms of draft class contributions and with many off the team it was clear that the hope of recreating the Seahawks drafts of recent years was gone.
I’m not sure how anyone could grade the Jets offseason in 2014 as anything but an F. The team was left sitting on millions and millions of unused dollars that could have been used to improve the team. Even if the plan was to save it for 2015, that plan seemed to blow up the minute they spent about $7 million on Percy Harvin in the middle of the year.
The 2014 Season
Not surprising the Jets struggled this year. The team had no talent and it is not as if there were building blocks from the Idzik regime that made the Jets look ready to turn the corner. The last time the Jets were this bad, the 2007 season, the Jets had a number of high projection starters and quality backups drafted in 2006 and 2007.
This time the Jets have Richardson and an overpaid Harvin. Their best players are all holdovers from the Mike Tannenbaum regime- Muhammad Wilkerson, Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Quinton Coples, David Harris, “Snacks” Harrison. Most are too old to be long term answers for the team. Even on the secondary talent level- players like Jeremy Kerley, Demario Davis and Jeff Cumberland- are holdovers from the Tannenbaum era.
The Idzik players moving forward are Richardson, Milliner, Smith, Amaro, Ivory, Decker, Harvin, Winters, Giacomini, and Pryor. That’s not murderer’s row and not a core of a team. Richardson at this point looks like the only core talent. With all the draft picks the Jets have had one would have certainly hoped for more. One can certinly argue as Ryan goes out the door that no coach in the NFL could have won with this group.
Hard to Keep Idzik
I’m not sure I have ever seen a fanbase turn on a general manager the way the Jets have on Idzik. I hinted last season when he cut off access to the media that this could end badly for him as there was negativity around him by July of 2013, before the team ever played a game. His disastrous press conference this year made things worse. It was the only time he made himself available to explain the seasons shortcomings and his vision for the future and he couldn’t communicate anything. It was as if he had never been in that position before and had to understanding as to how to handle it.
The Jets will likely have the 4th pick in this years’ draft and those picks can be franchise changing. They will also have over $50 million in cap room to improve the talent base around the younger players. With two years of what seems like poor talent evaluation under his belt it becomes a difficult decision to retain Idzik.
It’s essentially game 7 of the World Series with the tying run on second and two outs and the guy you have coming to plate is a great prospect but one that is only batting 0.120 since being called up to the majors to cover for an injured veteran. Most coaches would probably pinch hit in that spot even if 2 months earlier they thought this was a great player based on his time in the minors and credentials.
While some will argue that two years is not enough time and firing him makes it more difficult to hire quality candidate since the Jets will be looked at as too hasty this is where Woody Johnson has to do the work to convince people otherwise. Outside of this one firing the Jets have been relatively stable with Terry Bradway and Tannebaum being given longer runs with the team.
It is also the kind of situation where Johnson needs to simply cede control and say he’ll be out of the way. No needling for a Tim Tebow or Brett Favre for headlines. No vetoing the GM in his choice of head coach. No getting anymore cozy with the coach than any other employee in Florham Park. There are only 32 of these jobs in the NFL and most of the time if you pass on one of them for a better situation odds are that better situation will never arise. They can find someone.
And if he doesn’t fire Idzik then he still has to act the same as above and not interfere. He also needs to do the damage control for Idzik to calm the feelings of the fanbase, most of whom do not want Idzik back under any circumstance. If that means being the bad guy and knocking Rex on his way out the door, so be it. He needs to communicate why John is the right man for the job and how much he compromised his chances for success by forcing Ryan on him. Woody created this mess the Jets have found themselves in and it is his responsibility to fix it.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.