I think everyone who reads my work or listens to my podcasts knows I’m a Jets fan and originally ran a Jets salary cap site. I used to post my thoughts after Jets games on the nyjetscap site but due to the time constraints and work involved in OTC have been unable to do that this year. I had a number of requests for the post games this week and tonight so if you are not a Jets fan just bear with me. The process of posting here is much easier for me and I’ll get back to the usual stuff tomorrow, but for now I’m just going to share my thoughts on the team I cheer for.
I don’t think you can understate the importance of the Lions game for the Jets today. Sitting at 1-2 and staring at the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos, two of the three best teams in the AFC, in the next two weeks made this game as close to a must win as possible. While the second portion of the schedule looks easy in the NFL things have a tendency to spiral out of control when things go bad and if the Jets are at 1-5 with the Patriots coming up on a Thursday night it becomes a big mental hurdle for both players and fans alike.
The Jets have blown two football games this season. There is really no other way to spin it. They jumped all over the Green Bay Packers in week 2 and got shelled in the second half of the game. Last week against Chicago they handed them points early and kept shooting themselves in the foot every time they made it to the red zone. Blame the referees all you want, and they did the Jets no favors, but the Jets had opportunities and did not convert.
Today you had the stadium chanting for Mike Vick to replace Geno Smith. I get it. The Jets haven’t really had exceptional QB play since 2002 and in hindsight as to how Chad Pennington got exposed you probably are going back to 1998 and before that 1986. I’ve lived through it and it stinks. Kenny O’Brien, Browning Nagle, Boomer Esiason, Neil O’Donnell, Glenn Foley, Rick Mirer, Pennington, Kellen Clemens, Brett Favre, and Mark Sanchez all leading to disappointment after disappointment. It’s in our nature to blame the QB because they have almost all let us down.
Smith was terrible against the Lions and it was his worst game of the season. He’s made plenty of mistakes going into this game but he has almost always looked poised and confident that he could win a football game. That was absent today and the mistakes were still there which just amplifies those mistakes. When Smith puts pressure on himself or feels it from the sidelines the game seems to get too fast and get away from him. That’s what happened the last few weeks. He can’t seem to get it to slow down often enough.
But Smith is the one chance the Jets have to improve in the future. He moved the ball up and down the field in the first half in Green Bay. He did it all game in Chicago. The coaching has been abysmal in the red zone and that plays a part in his failures. When the coaching is that bad in the game trust me the things they are working on in practice are not going to be considered ideal plays either. But once that decision was made to go with him as the starter you have to stay with him and see where things go. At 1-3 and the difficult upcoming schedule, Vick is not saving the season. We’ve seen the Jets go that route before. It didn’t work and it wont work now. The Jets problems are deeper than just the QB.
Today was the first day the Jets just looked like they did not believe. It was like they were resigned to losing the game. I didn’t see any fire or passion outside of a few plays. Nothing was more telling than that then Geno’s fumble where the Jets had two or three lineman standing there and nobody dove on a ball or tried to create a pile to at least fight for the ball. If you are not going to fight in that spot then you are not going to fight at any point in the game.
They still struggle to find an identity. For the first drive of the game they were a running team. The ran 10 times on that first drive. They ran 13 times the rest of the game. Still they seemed more conservative than usual but not in a traditional way. They tried a ton of short passes which is not Smith’s strength and it showed.
The Jets over-reliance on the defense has been a crutch for the organization. It is the biggest fault of the head coach and one of the reasons I had hoped he would have been replaced this past offseason. Too often Rex calls the game as if he knows his defense will create something positive for his team. But this isn’t 2010 and it’s time to realize the defense is not a world beater by any means.
The Jets have a terrific run defense so the Lions did what most teams should do- spread them out and force the Jets linebackers into coverage and watch them get torched. Rex is overly loyal to his players. David Harris should never be in pass coverage anymore. Somehow he ended up on Golden Tate and later on the tight end who caught a touchdown. Was the coverage bad on the TD? Not awful, but it was the matchup the Lions wanted and why they had no fear making that pass.
The secondary is a work in progress. Some guys play too far off, unaware of the situation. Other times we see miscommunication. The tackling is terrible. They are dealing with injuries, but that’s part of the game and no excuse to rely on them over an over. They gave up 14 points in the 2nd quarter of this game to a team that had scored a combined 26 points in their last two games and was without the best player on their team in Calvin Johnson, who was essentially a decoy that ended up on the sidelines.
The Jets needed a stop on a few occasions in the second half and got nothing. To say that the team was tired is looking for excuses. The Jets just had a 5 minute drive in the 3rd quarter and the defense had seen the field for all of 3 minutes after a 15 minute break. Detroit ran 8 minutes off the clock to seize control with another score. That’s not the offense letting the team down. That’s the defense.
There was a report today that people within the Jets organization were upset with GM John Idzik’s strategy of sitting on salary cap dollars this year rather than further improving the team. That’s understandable because the Jets have the lowest true payroll in the NFL and have been the lowest spending team in the NFL under Idzik. Considering you have a coaching staff looking to keep jobs you can also get an idea where that criticism is likely coming from.
There is nothing wrong in the NFL with sitting on salary cap space. You can roll that space over to the following year to increase your ability to extend players or be active in free agency in future years. Being active in free agency just for the sake of being active in free agency is a bad way to run a football team. The shelf life of a free agent player is short and you need to building blocks in place before you can really spend in that regard.
When you go back to the Jets spending spree in 2008 and 2009 it made sense. They had solid draft picks in D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, David Harris and Darrelle Revis making up the core of the football team. You also had some veterans like Brandon Moore, Jerricho Cotchery, Laveranues Coles, Bryan Thomas, and Shaun Ellis who were all very capable and reasonable priced players on that roster. It was the perfect time to jump into free agency, even if you have to overpay, and use it to take the next step.
Right now the talent base is Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Jeremy Kerley. The veterans are now Ferguson, Harris, and Mangold. None of the veterans are reasonably priced and Harris and Mangold may be in their last seasons as Jets. That’s it. You can’t go crazy in free agency in hopes of turning a team around when this is your talent base. You do not screw over your future salary caps to go 7-9 or 8-8. That’s how you become the 2011-12 New York Jets or the Raiders, Buccaneers, or Jaguars.
Should Idzik have added more depth players? I do think he failed there. Finding a lower cost receiver to go with Decker should have been a priority. We all knew Stephen Hill was a dud and the dropoff from Decker is gigantic. The same should be said of cornerback. Dimitri Patterson would have been a fine addition as a 4th option, but not a 2nd. The Jets did flirt with higher priced corners but it was clear that they were of the mindset that 2013 was the price points they wanted not the 2014 market pricing points.
I get as fed up as anyone with the lack of spending, but really fiscal restraint is the best option for this team. I’ll probably be saying the same next season. The team is still overcoming years of draft failure and that takes time to repair. The Jets have not repaired that yet. You don’t fix it by bringing in Darrelle Revis for one more year at $12 million.
I don’t really see a vision with Idzik yet which is a worry, but we have to assume he has some plan. The on field product is kind of the same as the Tannenbaum product except at a lower cost. That should not be a surprise since the man navigating the show on the field is the same. I’m not concerned about the lack of an extension for Wilkerson. He had a position of strength of last season and that may decrease this year. I would have liked to have seen Kerley extended.
The Jets, despite their record, were not a good team last season. All the credit to Rex Ryan for pulling wins out of a hat but the way they played last year was not encouraging. It’s been the same this year. None of the three teams they played had been playing particularly well. The Raiders are awful. The Packers struggled in week 1 and 3 while the Bears have struggled in week 1, 2, and 4. The schedule broke well for the Jets early this year and they were close but they failed to take advantage. Last year they probably would have won those games while this year it looks like it will break the other way.
It’s both a talent and a coaching issue. Unless the front office realizes it, they won’t fix the problem. Maybe the first step began last week when the offensive coordinator admitted he did a bad job with Smith in red zone situations. But if all we get is Ryan saying that he believes in his players, how he has a track record that says he knows something about defense, and how he doesn’t understand why the games don’t look like practice then the Jets are just doomed to repeat history.
Maybe next week they will be loose as they play on the road against a team nobody is going to expect them to be within a touchdown of when they head to San Diego. They need the win in the worst way to keep from falling too far behind and to keep the home crowd from making life unbearable against the Broncos. The Jets players are already beginning to crack from the pressure with Smith yelling an obscenity to a fan and Wilkerson admitting it hurts to hear the crowd saying they are not doing a good job.
But this is a team wide failure right now. Replacing one man is not going to make a difference. The Jets need a change in approach and mentality. Most of these guys only know the Jets from 2011 onward. There are limited quality veterans with experience to pull on from other coaching staffs that can help overcome some of the weaknesses that may exist in the Jets program. That’s wasn’t the case in the years where the Jets were successful with Rex leading the way. Unless Rex can find a way to quickly change the next logical step for the organization is to force the change by finding a new coach. Let’s hope he finds something in San Diego next week. Go Jets!
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.