At 3-6 things look like they are only getting worse for the New York Jets, as they have looked inept on offense and continue to shoot themselves in the foot on Special Teams. The question probably at the forefront of most fans minds is "how could this happen?" How the mighty-looking have fallen after back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances and looking competitive for most of last season, the Jets have looked just abysmal and now according to various reports the locker room is once again fracturing. I have a theory so play along and let's see if we can't come up with some answers:
Big Bets Going Bad:
Organizationally, the Jets have made some pretty big gambles on certain players and even seasons, many of which were very short-sighted. The first of which was the bet that the organization made on the 2010 season, coming off of an improbable AFC Championship Game run, Mike Tannenbaum and Company, hamstrung by the quirky final eight plan rules surrendered a number of draft picks in order to bring in some big name talent in Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes, both of whom were in the final years of their respective contracts.
Going into 2010, almost a quarter of the roster were on one-year contracts or in walk-years a la Cromartie, Holmes, and Braylon Edwards. The Florham Park "think tank" put all their chips in the middle on a Super Bowl run in 2010 and for a while it looked like it was going to pay off until the defense suddenly forgot how to tackle against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. The gamble failed: No Super Bowl and a roster destined for some serious turnover (more than the organization even expected). Oh, that's right, there was also a little lockout that truncated the whole free agency process.
This is not an allusion to my post from last week but mere matter of fact: The 2011 off-season was a matter of simple math for the Jets. They had "x" amount of guys that were set to be free agents and only "y" amount of cap room with which to work with. There were decisions to be made and make them they did, allowing Braylon Edwards to walk in favor of Santonio Holmes, unsuccessfully courting Nnamdi Asomugha and giving Cromartie a long-term deal. In addition they re-signed David Harris to a long-term deal. These were all moves that seemed like the right decision at the time.
However, the Jets allowed some key contributors to walk including special teams ace and wildcat quarterback, Brad Smith who, in all fairness, did receive a contract offer that far outweighed his value from the Bills. Instead of opting to draft a "number one" type wide receiver or court a younger one like Steve Breaston via free agency, they opted to scour the New York penal system and signed the recently incarcerated Plaxico Burress, who hadn't played a down in almost three years to that point. The most egregious move was signing the almost-40 Derrick Mason who proved to be a locker room cancer. All the flux at the wide receiver position is believed to have been what prompted one of the key character guys and sure-handed YAC machine in Jerricho Cotchery to ask for his release.
For all of the aforementioned moves, none was worse than re-signing career backup Wayne Hunter to take over for one of the best Right Tackles in the league, Damien Woody, who sailed off into retirement following an Achilles injury. I don't feel the need to tell you how last season turned out for Hunter and yet, the organization saw enough in him to bring him back for another season and then promptly jettisoned him when they found what they already should have known - he isn't good enough. The protection was abysmal and the weapons around then third-year starter, Mark Sanchez decreased markedly in terms of talent.
The gist of this recap is that instead of building through the draft and opting to construct a team built for long-term success, the Jets put most of their eggs in the 2010 basket and it backfired. In fact, the Jets have made the fewest draft picks out of any team in the league since 2006, instead trading them away for guys like Braylon Edwards who was essentially a two-year rental. When you have fewer draft picks, you need to hit on a higher number of said picks in order to not set the team back while continuing to build depth, which leads me to my next point.
Like most teams the Jets have had their ups (2006, 2007) and their downs (2008, 2010) when it comes to the draft but it has been exacerbated by the dearth of draft picks they've had. Bill Polian's philosophy when it comes to drafting is that the top 12 teams in the league will hit on about 64% percent of their draft picks whereas the bottom 20 teams will typically hit on about 57% of their respective draft picks when given a full complement of picks. Well, unfortunately the Jets have rarely had a full complement of picks since 2006 and as such have had to "hit" or be right on a higher percentage of them.
Three years out is the standard barometer to determine whether or not a draft pick is a productive player or a bust. Using that formula (and I guess this may be subjective as to whether a player is productive or not), I calculated that the Jets from 2006-2010 have only "hit" on about 48% of their draft picks. This has undoubtedly hurt them because that is how you build depth and how you build sustained success and, for as awesome and great as 2009 and 2010 have been, two years is not sustained success. The Jets had three consecutive drafts from 2008-2010 where they had less than a full complement of draft picks and the mistakes they made in those drafts have been exacerbated.
Regardless of what your current opinion of him is, Mark Sanchez has arguably been one of the Jets biggest draft miscues. The Jets traded up to get him and paying him like a top-flight quarterback when he has performed closer to the bottom third or fifth. I mean the team hasn't done him any favors, in fact they even wrote the book on how to not develop your franchise quarterback and that's a huge factor we'll get to later. That said, in year four - as I know Bassett will agree - I think we have seen enough of him to know that he will never live up to both his draft position and salary. Couple that with the fact that they drafted a colossal bust in Vernon Gholston, two consecutive years of over-drafting players in the top-six will set any team back, especially the Jets.
The last point I'll make about the draft is the fact that despite their lack of picks, the Jets have still decided to draft less-finished, raw, project players in hopes that their raw skills will ultimately develop them into a first-round type talent. Well, anyone who has ever seen Vlad Ducasse play will probably agree that it has yet to work out for them. Perhaps it does take longer for guys like Ducasse and Stephen Hill to develop into NFL-caliber players but that means you also need to draft more finished talent to play key roles while the others develop.
Ruining the Quarterback:
Yes, it's the elephant in the room. Mark Sanchez, the guy they drafted to be the team's franchise quarterback, has been an enigma wrapped in a riddle and it has frustrated most of us when he wasn't going out and winning playoff games. In his first season, the Sanchize looked every bit like the guy who would have a bigger NFL learning curve after only playing for a season in college but he had his moments. Oh and he also played pretty well in the playoffs especially in the AFC Championship Game against Indianapolis.
Year two was the one that gave us all hope, he showed such an improvement that it conjured up visions of what could be a long and fruitful career of sustained success. In 2010, he had arguably one of the best receiving corps in Jets history with "The Flight Boys" (Cotchery, Holmes, Edwards, Smith, and Keller) and a formidable running attack led by a rejuvenated LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. Sanchez cut down the turnovers dramatically, was diligently going through his reads, and was performing in the clutch, leading a number of come-from-behind victories. The then second-year quarterback went into Peyton Manning and Tom Brady's houses and outperformed them en route to another AFC Championship Game where they fell short. After the loss in Pittsburgh, the future looked bright for Sanchez but things would change in a hurry.
In years three and four the Jets systematically stripped Sanchez of any and all offensive weapons, replacing reliable play makers with aging headcases in 2011 and neophytes and journeymen in 2012. Oh, and I almost forgot, they brought in another quarterback to siphon away snaps from him and mess with his head. 2011 hurt his confidence and the acquisition of Tebow coupled with perhaps one of the worst supporting casts in all of football seems to have officially ruined him past the point of no return. At this point there is no turning back and I'm afraid nothing will fix it and it is unfortunate but he is making self-described rookie mistakes and is statistically among the worst QB's in the game.
When you think about it, the Jets recent struggles aren't much of a surprise if you take a close look back at it but the question now is who to blame. Unfortunately for us we will never know which personnel moves were perpetrated by the people whose job it is to do such things (Tannenbaum) or whether Woody has had a larger hand in all of this than we realize. Here's the bottom line: If this gets any worse (which, although it doesn't seem possible, it probably will) then someone will be held accountable but who it will be is really anyone's guess.
When the post-mortem of this season is written the specter of Tebow will loom large but as we've seen the problems go way deeper than that.