Columnist and TheJetsBlog podcast co-host Corey Griffin takes a look at the Rex Ryan contract extension from Thursday.Take a bow, John Idzik. You deserve it.
In a time where Jets fans have nothing to digest but draft speculation and other teams playing football, you’ve given us something substantial to chew on. But more importantly, you’ve done something that’s very difficult for any NFL executive to achieve.
You’ve put yourself in a no-lose situation.
Rex Ryan’s contract extension Thursday was everything Idzik could’ve wanted it to be, and more importantly, not everything Ryan would’ve preferred.
The immediate appearance of a reported “multiyear extension” publicly gives Ryan an air of credibility and support from within the organization. It allows the Jets assistant coaches with at least the appearance of long-term stability and helps erase the black eye of a year-to-year contract situation with the head coach. Whether this convinces Karl Dunbar to stay and coach one of the best defensive lines in football is uncertain, but it certainly helps more than the amorphous situation the team presented at their year-end news conference.
Also worth noting is the boost the extension will give Ryan and Idzik in free agency. Sure, scores of anonymous (and some on the record) players would “love” to play for Rex, but there’s a reason why most coaches don’t stick around as lame ducks. The players Idzik wants, the guys who can help make a week-in and week-out difference on the field and who aren’t just for-pay mercenaries, are going to weigh the status of the head coach along with the size of the contract. The appearance of Ryan having multiple years in Florham Park at least will help make their sell job stronger.
But dig a little a deeper and Idzik’s other motives begin to show.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the deal is essentially a one-year extension with other non-guaranteed years tacked on as “window dressing.” It’s a power move by Idzik. It’s the equivalent of giving your dog a treat for learning to “sit” and “roll over” at your command. Sure, he gets to chew on that wonderful little thing for a while, but Rex knows he has to perform if wants to keep getting them.
It also gives Idzik cost-effective flexibility. If Ryan performs again in 2014 and the Jets reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season, Idzik has one of the 12 best head coaches in the NFL under contract for multiple years at a reportedly heavily-incentivized rate. And if the Jets miss the playoffs – if that truly is the line of demarcation for Ryan’s job status – Idzik can move on from the incredibly-popular coach without costing owner Woody Johnson a Rob Chudzinski-sized hunk of dead money – and, more importantly in Johnson’s eyes, any bad headlines.
Most importantly, Ryan’s extension drew a line in the sand not just for the coach, but for his quarterback as well.
Fairly or not, Ryan’s fate has been inexorably tied to that of his unproven quarterback ever since Smith was drafted. And despite a positive showing in the final four games of 2013, whether Smith can be a good NFL quarterback remains uncertain. If the Jets were to have cut bait with Ryan after the season, there stood a good chance offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would’ve gone with him. In today’s NFL, where QBs are expected to deliver by year two, putting a quarterback as developmental as Smith in two offensive systems in two years would’ve been tantamount to failure.
By extending Rex for this year, Idzik has strengthened the bond between quarterback and coach. If Smith progresses in his second full season, there’s a decent chance the Jets will be better than they were in 2014, which could be enough to make the playoffs in a potentially-uneven AFC. If Smith fails to progress and his struggles help torpedo the Jets’ playoff chances, Idzik will have the option to make a clean break from both coach and quarterback while continuing to build up the talent base he inherited.
While there certainly weren’t many attractive options in the 2013 quarterback class or 2014 coaching group (Jay Gruden, anyone?), 2015’s group could include San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase – not to mention the looming specter of potential No. 1 pick Jameis Winston.
All of this is to say that absolutely no one knows how the 2014 season will play out for Ryan, Idzik or the Jets. Yet Idzik has given himself the option to start over at the two most important positions in the NFL with almost no blowback despite being two full years into his rebuilding plan.
That’s a pretty savvy move for a guy who’s less than 365 days into his GM career.