With another lackluster loss in the books for the Jets I wanted to look at some of the decisions that the team will need to make in the future regarding their current front office. The decisions in this case need to come from the top, and that lies with the owner Woody Johnson making some very difficult decisions about the team that he must be firm on.
The Jets have had a different way of dealing with some of their front office decisions than most (not necessarily all, but most) teams in the NFL. When the Jets hired John Idzik to run the franchise in 2013 it was with the condition that Rex Ryan be retained as head coach. That’s not a foreign concept. The Bears and Panthers both hired General Managers where the coaches were retained from the prior regime. The one difference is that it was made clear to those GM’s that they had autonomy to make the decision the next year on who would run the team. Idzik did not seem to have the same power, a position reinforced by a recent tweet by Ian Rapoport that indicated Ryan was safe for 2015, but Idzik could be in danger. That’s a strange way to run a franchise.
If the organization if to make a turn for the better Johnson has to ask himself a few questions and understand all the variables about draft picks, free agency, rebuilding phiosophies, coaching strengths and weakneeses to try to stabilize a ship that seems to be taking on more and more water by the week.
1. What direction is the franchise taking?
The answers to all questions really build off of this one. While the GM, in theory, ultimately decides the direction, ownership needs to be on board with what has to be done. If ownership is not 100% behind the plan it is doomed to failure the minute a bump in the road is hit. In many ways I feel this is a problem for the current Jets as their decision making seems to pull the team in a few different directions at once. It just feels like two wasted years.
The Jets need to define a clear path of action for the organization. Is this a competitive team? Is it a rebuilding team? If it is a rebuilding team how major is the rebuild and how do you want to rebuild. Do you want to rebuild in the manner of the Buccaneers (major signings in free agency hoping for a quick solution), Raiders (clear the cap, grab all moderate cost questionable vets in free agency, maintain cap space over long term), or Packers (forego free agency, develop within and pay when they hit). What are you willing to risk with each plan and can you stick with the plan for three years without wanting answers after one season?
If you plan on being competitive immediately map out a path as to why its the case and how will you get there. What do you see on the roster that nobody else does that makes you think you can compete quickly. Cleveland and Houston are two short term successes this year that likely had to make that same call in 2014. Carolina looks to have done the same and may be sustaining it over two years. Do the Jets have the talent base in place to do this? It’s important that the owner understands and is comfortable with whatever the GM is proposing before the GM is hired/retained. They cant try to alter whatever path the GM has once it gets started.
2. Is John Idzik the man for the job?
No matter what angle you want to take with Idzik, the bottom line is the Jets are in no better shape than when he took over. When you look for young building blocks on the team there are few- DE Muhammad Wilkerson and DE/DT Sheldon Richardson. Calvin Pryor and Jace Amaro may be good players, but I don’t consider those positions to be those you build an organization around. There are a few situational pieces like Damon Harrison, Demario Davis and Leger Douzable who will certainly have a role on a decent team.
The team still has no quarterback and the offensive line is fading fast to the point where it looks as if it may need to be totally rebuilt in the near term. The secondary has gone from a strength to a weakness. The wide receivers remain poor. Basically the Jets have shifted the talent base from the offensive to the defensive line and gotten younger, but worse, in the secondary.
Idzik’s moves into the free agent marketplace have been up and down. Mike Vick and Chris Johnson look like wastes of dollars. Mike Goodson and Dimitri Patterson ended up leaving the team the butt of jokes. Chris Ivory can give the team some identity when he is clicking. Erik Decker gives the Jets a professional receiver, while Dawan Landry and Willie Colon are decent fill in the gap veterans. There are clearly no home runs but he wasn’t swinging for the fences either.
The biggest misses for Idzik have come in the draft. The one thing that gave Tannenbaum leeway early on was that he hit a home run in his first two drafts with the Jets. In his first draft he focused on building block pieces (a tackle and center with his first two picks then a QB in round 2) and fixing the depth on the team. Out of that first draft he ended up with two Pro Bowl offensive lineman and four players who would contribute to the team in some manner over the next 5 years.
Because of the success of the first draft, “Trader Mike” was born in draft number two, where he focused on perceived quality over quantity. Tannenbaum would draft all world cornerback Darrelle Revis and a solid linebacker in David Harris. Though the QB flopped, in two years he came out with two starting lineman, a cornerback, and inside linebacker, and a contributing running back, safety, kick returner, and cornerback. That allowed him to go an add in free agency since he had a cheap talent pool locked up through 2009/10.
Idzik has hit a foul ball in his two drafts. Richardson is a building block player, though the Jets are going to have to coach him in handling frustrating times as he seems to be struggling with being on a losing team in such a big market. He found a guard and a fullback who may contribute, but those are not really positions where it’s impactful unless you are a top line player and neither player is. This year they had 12 picks and it looks like they may have a tight end and safety. Even if those two pan out very rarely do you build a team by “hitting” at those two positions.
After two years it is human nature to question the ability of the man in charge when the results have been so unimpressive. One can point fingers at the coaching staff and their inability to develop players (those same fingers could have been pointed when the last man was fired), but after seeing this result it is difficult to look at Idzik in as positive a light as when he took the job.
3. Do you trust Idzik with another three years?
The Jets are likely going to be in a very strong position in the draft and in free agency due to large unused cap space. These are defining moments for a franchise. When you select in the top 5 in the draft you could be selecting your franchise QB. Even if you do not get the QB you are likley going to find a piece that is supposed to anchor you for a decade, whether it is a pass rusher or an offensive lineman.
If Johnson wants to fast track the plan and go the route of a team like the Miami Dolphins, who had a similar roster a few years ago as the current Jets and decided to go wild in free agency, it pretty much locks in the roster for the next three years. It’s locked in for that time because the GM will either need to guarantee large amounts of salary or prepay large bonuses that make it difficult to release such players before the three year window expires. At best you have to hold them on the roster for two seasons and on the salary cap for three.
The Jets are going to have a decision to make on a head coach. If you are going outside the room it is going to be a commitment financially for three years at a minimum. You would be bringing in a new head coach and new coordinators and assistants. They may change the base defense you run. They may have different philosophies on offense. Maybe they do not want an aging Nick Mangold on the team. Maybe they do not feel Wilkerson is the best fit for their defense. Jet fans will remember when Eric Mangini was hired to coach the Jets it essentially meant the team needed to punt John Abraham and Jon Vilma because there was no way for them to fit. Coaching decisions can alter a franchise.
These are franchise defining decisions. If Idzik is on a short leash, meaning he makes the playoffs in 2015 or he goes, then how can you let him make these big decisions. What absolutely can not happen in 2015 is to let a general manager you have no faith in go out and hire a new coaching staff just so you can give him a “fair shake”. You cant have him sign ridiculous contracts for players that nobody else wants.
This is really why the answer to the first question has to be a resounding yes if you want to keep Idzik. You can not allow Idzik to go and draft another QB with a high pick, bring in a new system, sign vets to long term deals, and then saddle a new GM with a lame duck coach and QB he never wanted in the first place. That will just send the franchise into further turmoil when the inevitable happens in 2016 and you are bringing in another GM with another lame duck coach/QB combo. Its just going to lead to a repeat of the last two years except the names will be different.
In this regard draft position and draft class quality should weigh heavily on the determination of what to do with Idzik if there is any hesitation from ownership on his future. The owner will also need to be active in setting a budget and contract parameters in this case. This is obviously what happened in Oakland this past year. While I don’t think that is the correct path for any organization to take it is the only path one can take if there is limited faith in the GM. You have to block them from determining the future, but rather allow them to just take an approach for the short term while you further decide their future.
4. Is Rex Ryan the right man for the job?
I think if we look back at Ryan’s tenure the big picture item is that he is a good coach of veterans and not as successful with young talent. When Ryan took over the 2009 Jets they were a team that was already strong in fundamentals from either Mangini or other coaches around the NFL. Whatever Ryan’s shortcomings may have been as a teacher/calming influence were more than made up by the wealth of experience that was brought and could be shared by Damien Woody, Alan Faneca, Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, and others. Rex was great at getting things out of players who felt they had been given up on (Braylon Edwards, Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes) and motivating everyone else to give 120%. It seemed infectious to even mediocre players who he found roles for and challenged them to succeed in.
But as the roster turned over and the veterans were released the message started to get lost. When you talked with players in 2009 and 2010 they talked about how they would jump off a building if Rex wanted them to. Now when they ask players about Rex it’s more the usual lip service about how they like the coach. The veterans who the players in part leaned on about how to handle adversity are all gone. Now after every loss Ryan just seems perplexed that they can’t win and the situation is not getting better.
I firmly believe that if the 49ers moved in a different direction and let go of Harbaugh and brought in Rex Ryan they would be a lock for the championship game. The same might occur in Atlanta if they upgraded their defensive personnel a bit. That’s where Ryan is most effective. Veteran teams. Veteran players. Getting some momentum going and letting everyone feed off it.
That is not the Jets, at least not right now. If Johnson is fully on board with a complete rebuilding of the franchise you can not keep Rex Ryan as coach. It really should be that simple. If the draft picks are not being coached up properly then you have wasted two years by forcing pieces to work together that simply do not mesh. Don’t waste a third year of development if you have faith in who Idzik is drafting and are giving Idzik the long term to fix this mess.
Woody can not make this about his belief in Rex and that he is a good coach. It is about identifying the strengths and weaknesses of an individual. Rex may very well be a great coach in a certain situation. If that situation no longer applies you are not saying Rex is a bad coach, its just saying he is a bad fit for your situation.
If you have a different outlook on how to build the squad and the situation is going to change, Rex might be the guy for a free agent type of team. The fact is this is a decision that should have been made when Idzik first took the job and proposed trading Darrelle Revis and letting a number of veterans walk to build up draft pick quantity. The owner can not continue to protect his coach if he is going to have a team built from the ground floor. It is not Rex’s strength and it just dragged everyone down.
If Johnson is so enamored with Ryan that he is deemed untouchable then he needs to confer with Ryan as to who he would like to work with in the future. One of the reasons he and Tannenbaum worked so well together is because Mike took a lot of what Rex said and tried to implement it in his building of the team. While things fell apart at the end that is the type of relationship a powerful coach must have with his GM. Again I don’t like this idea, but you have to be honest with yourself if you are the decision maker and if this is the road you are going to travel than you must play to the coaches strengths and make the best decision possible under the circumstances.
Too often teams fail in sports because of decisions that come down from far above the GM. It’s one of the problems on the Jets that has led to a pretty dreadful outlook on the future. The Idzik/Ryan pairing has seemed poor from the start and the team has probably wasted two years trying to find a way to make it work for both sides. Two guys with very different personalities and very different philosophies trying to find a common ground to keep both sides happy and the Jets relevant. With potential franchise defining decisions just months away for the Jets, their owner needs to set a firm direction for the team and give whomever is in charge, whether its Idzik, Rex, or someone else the authority to put their stamp on the team and not be hindered by “suggestions” that come from ownership. This is too important a time to be on the fence about what is and is not in the best interest of the organization. Get all the facts and make the decision about what vision the team will have in the future and go all in on that decision. That’s the only way such a team will turn things around in the future so tha they can become one of the franchises that the other 31 teams look at and say “this is how we want to run our team”
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.