It's been forever since I've posted, but, now that the owners and players have signed a 10-year collective bargaining agreement, it's time to get back to brass tacks. I will say that I have enjoyed the unintended comedy of going over my last post from three and a half months ago. At that time, it looked like the players had cornered the owners and forced them in court to allow football to continue. It turned out we had to face three more months of lockout. Thankfully, we're done with talking about lawyers and litigation, since blocking and tackling is more exciting.
The Jets open their preseason schedule in Houston against the Texans next Monday with some significant additions and subtractions. So much has happened since the 32 NFL teams have been allowed to sign players that each team has faced multiple huge plot twists virtually every day. We'll start with the bad news...
Brad Smith, Buffalo
Brad Smith became a luxury from the moment the competition committee decided to move the kickoff to the 35-yard line. Expect touchbacks to greatly increase, which will diminish the impact of a big-play kick returner. Plus, Smith never developed as a receiver the way the Jets had hoped. I like Brad Smith a lot (like most Jet fans). He produced big plays for us, but, at 4 million a year, the cost was too steep.
Drew Coleman, Jacksonville
Drew Coleman has been a target of ridicule for many Jets fans over the last several years, as he has struggled to cover in our scheme. He found new life last year as a slot corner who could get to the QB in an overload blitz, but Mike T. was never going to pay Coleman what he wanted.
Braylon Edwards, San Francisco
Most Jets fans wanted to see Edwards back in green and white in 2011. Since his signing with San Francisco it has been revealed in several media outlets that he felt he deserved to be paid like Santonio Holmes. The NY media has had fun with the whole, "You could have had Braylon for $500,000 more than you paid Plaxico" meme, but that is pure BS. Edwards was never going to play for the Jets for $3.5 million a year. He felt he needed to be somewhere closer to the $10 million that Holmes got, and he wasn't going to take too much less from the team that knew him well. Braylon fits what we do so well, but, of all the knuckleheads we've taken on over the last few years, only Braylon continues to screw up regularly. There was the mid-season DWI last season, followed by one of his crew stabbing someone with a fork (or some other such nonsense) after he learned he wouldn't get the offer he wanted from Mike T. and Woody.
I hope we don't miss him too much, but he was a solid guy on the field while he was here.
Jerricho Cotchery, Pittsburgh
The biggest surprise of the offseason so far (at least to me) has been Cotchery asking for and getting his release from the squad. Jerricho managed to keep exactly how upset he was about his role with the team a secret through all of 2010. When the Jets elected to let Edwards go and decided to sign Burress, Cotchery told Tannenbaum and Ryan he wanted out, which they obliged (out of respect). It took onions for our front office to roll the dice this way without knowing who they could get to fill the void.
Shaun Ellis, New England
This one hurts to type. Shaun Ellis was the last piece left from the Jets four first round picks back in 2000 (John Abraham, Anthony Becht, and Chad Pennington were the other three). Ellis is 34 and his best days are probably behind him. He could have been a key guy in the rotation of DL for 2011, but Mike T. felt like he wasn't worth more than the $910,000 they were offering him. The details of the deal that Ellis signed with Belichick and the Pats haven't been released, but, since a substantial portion of the fan base will never look at him the same way again, I hope it was worth it for him.
Edit-It has since been revealed that the Pats are paying Ellis about $4 million for 2011. I think most people would choose $4 million over $910,000, so it's a little difficult to blame Ellis for taking the money.
I won't spend a paragraph on Steve Weatherford, Kellen Clemens, James Ihedigbo, and the rest of role guys who won't be back. I don't think that any one of these losses will hurt the Jets too much. On to the positives...
Holmes was the main target of Mike Tannenbaum throughout the offseason, so it was a major relief when they locked him up for 5 years and $50 million. He supposedly left money on the table to stay with the Jets. Holmes is going to be the key receiver for the development of Mark Sanchez. He is an outstanding route runner and is a dangerous YAC guy. I'm very happy he's still a Jet.
After a torrid affair with Nnamdi Asomugha (which ended with Tannenbaum seduced and abandoned), the Jets convinced Cromartie to come back, giving him $32 million reasons to stay over the next four seasons. Cromartie has occasional lapses, but he is an elite athlete and can man cover as well as nearly everyone in the league. I've always felt that, of all the positions on the field, offensive line continuity is most important, with the secondary a close second. It should help our defense tremendously to have a full season of Revis and Cromartie.
I'm still uncertain of the impact that Plexiglass is going to have in NMS this season. I've heard all of the interviews with Burress, both before and after the signing, and he seems genuinely sorry for what he did to himself and how he hung his teammates out to dry with his immaturity. There's no doubt that if Burress is healthy and still has his legs under him that he can help us, not just in the red zone, but all over the field. I thought it was very unusual for the Jets to guarantee him $3 million without even working him out. Since practice began Burress has been nursing a sore ankle, which has done nothing to build up my confidence in this particular transaction. I have faith in our braintrust that they've done the right thing, but I feel like if I heard about this scenario happening with another team, I wouldn't have that much confidence in everything working out well for the Jets and Burress.
Mason has been as consistent a WR as there is in the AFC over the last decade, and he should be a welcome addition to our WR corps. For young guys like Jeremy Kerley and Scotty McKnight, being able to see a veteran like Mason work and demonstrate what it takes to be a pro everyday in practice is great for their development. Mason was productive in Baltimore last year, and if he's healthy, he's a better player than Cotchery. The Jets rolled the dice with their receiving corps; if the moves pan out, this is a better group than the one they had last year.
Brodney Pool and Eric Smith
Pool played pretty well down the stretch last season after looking lost the first half of the season. He's a bargain at the price we paid for him. As for Eric Smith, any guy that can knock the Patriot off of Wes Welker's head is a guy I want to keep. Before free agency began, I thought that Dwight Lowery might get a chance at the starting job. I'm glad we were able to keep both guys without having to overpay. We also brought back role guys like Wayne Hunter to play RT, and Rob Turner to back up on the OL (and start a daily fight at training camp, apparently). Nick Folk will handle the kicking duties again for the Jets in 2011.
Here's a few more things to think about as the preseason opener approaches...Rex Ryan can talk up a rookie as well as anyone to the NY media, but he seems to have some faith in the progress of Kerley, Kenrick Ellis, and Muhammad Wilkerson. If the Jets make a deep run again in 2011, at least two, and probably all three of these rookies will have to play an important role. Westhoff has all but handed the PR and KR jobs to Kerley, and Wilkerson's progress made Shaun Ellis more expendable. This is a way of life in the NFL, as the next guy up has to be ready to contribute.
Much has been made of the upheaval in the Jets receiving corps, but the most important aspect of the passing game (in my eyes) will be the continued development of Dustin Keller. When Keller was playing well in the beginning of 2010, the Jets offense was most effective. When Santonio Holmes came back from his suspension last year, Keller seemed to get lost in the shuffle of an inexperienced Sanchez trying to keep everyone happy. Now entering his fourth season and facing a contract year, I expect Keller to make a leap forward in the quality of his play.
But...not as big a leap as I expect from the Sanchize. I can wax poetic about the Jets offseason from now until the cows come home, but the Jets will rise and fall with the progress of their third year signal caller. Sanchez has to be more efficient to avoid the problems the Jets have had scoring points over the last 2 seasons. I'm fairly certain that Brian Schottenheimer's job probably hinges on significant improvement from Sanchez in year three. Like most Jet fans, I have confidence in Mark Sanchez turning a corner in 2011 and becoming more of a playmaker and less of a game manager under center. If he's able to make the move from caretaker to weapon and the 2011 New York Jets can stay reasonably healthy, we will be in a much better position to host games in January in the postseason, with a trip to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl at stake.