Dec 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets fans celebrate an overtime victory over the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. New York Jets defeat the New England Patriots 26-20 in OT. Mandatory Credit: Jim O
When it comes to the New York Jets, in order for them to achieve consistent success, it’s about accepting the harsh reality of what the franchise is truly about and committing to a plan for long-term results.
While Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets figure out what they are doing with the quarterback spot, the rest of the roster still has holes that need to be addressed to make this an offseason that can set this team up for long term success.
Lets face it, even if Fitzpatrick comes back, he isn’t the long term solution at quarterback. What is a long term solution however, is the many other holes that need to be filled by astute offseason planning and signing the right guys to keep the Jets building a team that can compete for years to come without worrying about always being in salary cap purgatory.
How to build a consistent winner?
Look at any consistent franchise in the NFL and they have a detailed plan on what is needed from draft strategy, to free agent signings, to age minimums and maximums along with salary cap projections for each position. This article will deal with the basics of that organizational philosophy in picking a system and using the draft and free agency to fit that.
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In my next article around this subject for The Jet Press, I will also detail what it would look like to build a roster from the ground up, considering a organizational philosophy and the categories I’ve highlighted above (age, salary cap, etc).
While this plan I believe can work in any organizational system, the Jets find themselves in a unique position because of the history and events that has produced.
Sometimes (and I deeply believe this has affected the Jets) an organization can build up an aura that needs to be broken.
This article will deal with that as well as “off the field” issues and attitudes that need to be addressed.
So here is my plan for what it will take for the Jets to go from inconsistent to consistent success. These top five ways will finally put the Jets in a position of long-term success they haven’t had in a very long time.
Next: 5. Be honest with the fans about their history
Nov 22, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New York Jets owner Woody Johnson talks with Jets fans prior to a game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
5. Be honest with the fans about their history
Please, no more “Play like a Jet” cries from head coaches. Speaking as someone who has only seen failure after failure and broken promise after broken promise, the term “Play like a Jet” always was a warning sign. Whatever the hope and expectation was for that new coach or regime, using the term “Play like a Jet” was always a great indicator that the person uttering those tragic words was a complete novice who you couldn’t trust to put a stamp on an envelope.
The truth is this franchise has been a disaster. In order to understand where I’m coming from I have decided to limit Jets history to everything SINCE THE MERGER. Yes, that eliminates the first four Super Bowls and the Jets only Super Bowl appearance and win in a game that forever changed the landscape of the NFL, but listen to my reasoning.
The playoff system starting with the 1970 NFL season and what it takes to reach the Super Bowl is the same for both leagues and all teams involved. When you had the AFL and NFL separate, the AFL division winner (as with the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Raiders and Jets in the first three Super Bowls) only had to win ONE playoff game to advance to the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile the teams in the rival NFL had to play a divisional round and championship round before advancing to the Super Bowl. Since I believe everyone should be judged by and under the same criteria, that’s why I’m starting with the merger because the rules to advance to the Super Bowl are the same for everyone.
Since the merger, of the 26 teams that entered the NFL, every franchise, minus the Jets and Lions, have won at least four divisional titles. The Detroit Lions have won three and the Jets have won the fewest with two. In addition to that, since the merger, every one of the 26 franchises that entered the 1970 season as part of the NFL with the exception of the Jets and Lions have either hosted a conference championship game or finished with their conferences best record.
Even the Cleveland Browns – who missed THREE FULL SEASONS from 1996-98, have hosted a Conference Championship Game (Lost to Denver Broncos in 1986 – after defeating the Jets in the Divisional Round in perhaps the most painful loss in franchise history).
While the Chiefs and Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchises have also never hosted a Conference Championship Game since the merger, they both have finished with their Conferences best record. The Chiefs finished with the best record in the AFC in the 1995 and 1997 seasons (only to lose to the Indianapolis Colts in the 1995 Divisional Round and the Broncos in the 1997 Divisional Round), while the Oilers/Titans franchise finished with the AFC best record in 2008 (only to lose to the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round).
The coaches and front office cannot sugar coat this pathetic history anymore – and it only infuriates the true long suffering fans who know better – so PLEASE, no more references to “Play like a Jet”. Accepting the fact that the Jets history has been not just bad, but among the two worst in the NFL since the merger – makes me feel that they are beginning to understand just how desperate fans are for a winner, and the urgency that no more time is wasted.
Next: 4. No more Joe Namath as Mr. Jet
Feb 6, 2016; San Francisco, CA, USA; NFL former player Joe Namath on the red carpet prior to the NFL Honors award ceremony at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
4. No more Joe Namath as Mr. Jet
Yeah this is drastic and takes away our ONLY claim to fame, but to a fan that has only known utter disappointment and humiliation, Super Bowl III might as well be legend or a myth. What we have seen as fans has been so foreign to anything representing a Super Bowl Champion that I literally cannot picture in mind that happening. You know how some people view the moon landing as staged? That’s exactly how I feel when the Jets reference Super Bowl III.
Joe Namath also fits in perfectly to that disbelief. His career and statistics overall are, if not downright bad, at BEST mediocre. A career losing record as a Jets quarterback at 60-61-4 and 45 more interceptions than touchdowns makes it that much more embarrassing when fans claim Namath as the best player in team history.
While I really like Namath as a person and think he has done a wonderful job at being Mr. Jet, to me it signifies just how embarrassing this franchise has been that a player with career numbers that poor always is trotted out to represent the best we can do. Yuck!
Next: 3. Don't embellish mediocrity, stick to a plan
Nov 9, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Young fans of the New York Jets react during the second half of the NFL game between the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Steelers 20-13. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
3. Don’t embellish mediocrity, stick to a plan
One thing that enraged me as a fan was seeing how the Jets organization constantly patted themselves on the back for “reaching consecutive AFC Championship Games” in 2009 & 2010. BIG DEAL! If the prize was winning a divisional round, then yes, the Jets accomplished a lot those two seasons.
However, that was not the objective and the perspective and objective of the Jets recently has been to brag about the very little that they accomplish. Fact is when you only win two division titles in 46 seasons, you become desperate to celebrate anything.
When I think of long lasting success in the NFL I think of a franchise like the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, they have been blessed with having a Ben Roethlisberger as their quarterback since 2004, but also they have only employed THREE head coaches since the merger, Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. More importantly, the Steelers, from top to bottom, formulated a plan, drafting and free agent strategy and while they might alter it depending on how the game changes, they always stick to the same premise.
Look at the recent history of this team. Since Joe Walton was fired, only one Jets coach or general manager has lasted longer than six seasons, and that was Mike Tannenbaum, who lasted seven seasons (2006-12). The longest tenured coach was Rex Ryan, who lasted six seasons. However, even with those two, the organization was a running team, then with Brett Favre a passing team, then with Mark Sanchez and Thomas Jones a running team again, then with Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes a passing team again…and on and on and on.
If this franchise wants to join the elite level of consistency they need to formulate a plan, STICK TO IT and repeat.
Next: 2. A strategic draft plan
Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Leonard Williams (Southern California) poses for a photo with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected as the number sixth overall pick to the New York Jets in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
2. A strategic draft plan
Some teams like to draft the best players, some like to draft specific on need. What I think leads to long term success is knowing how to use your picks. First thing is I would never want more than eight picks on any draft. Why? Because that creates problems down the road when you need to replace and add players. Competition in training camp is always good, but you don’t want to find yourself in a spot where you overdraft one year and wind up cutting a player that you could have turned into another useful draft pick down the road.
Second thing is understand how to use the draft. The first three rounds are where you draft your impact players or players you are looking to make be difference makers and immediate starters. If you find yourself with many needs, combining a 4th and 5th round pick with a veteran you don’t have future plans with for a 3rd round pick might be a better option for you.
A perfect example of that was when Jimmy Johnson traded away Herschel Walker and rebuilt the foundation for his Dallas Cowboys team – not necessarily with the picks they received from Walker, but from trading those picks as well. Rounds 4-7 are guys that you draft for speciality needs (a speed specific wide receiver, situational pass rusher, long snapper, punter, special teams player) and depth.
There are some times you might wind up with a Tom Brady, but most likely that won’t happen. These rounds you also generally want to scour for intelligence, guile and determination over strict athletic ability. However, there might be a case where you have a freak of nature athletic talent drop in your lap, which are always great to take a flier on if they truly have a heart to prove people wrong for overlooking them.
How this applies to the Jets in 2016:
First lets start at quarterback. If the Jets decide to the price tag is too high on Fitzpatrick (lets all hope the Jets don’t do this) then most likely that would force them to use their first round pick whomever they view the best quarterback prospect to be. However, at that point the 20th pick is just as capable of producing a franchise quarterback as the later rounds, so not only would not re-signing Fitzpatrick affect the quarterback position, it would weaken the overall team as well.
This is what I mean by the “Same ‘Ol Jets syndrome” which is not having a long term plan that is beyond this season. Signing Fitzpatrick to a two-year deal would allow three things to happen.
1. Allow the Jets to fill much needed holes with the first 2-3 rounds of the draft
2. Allow Bryce Petty the time to progress naturally and see if he can eventually be the Jets starting quarterback of the future
3. In my opinion, give the Jets the chance to use a 3-4 round pick on whom I think is the best fit for the Jets system at quarterback where he can sit and learn behind Fitzpatrick and Petty, and that is Christian Hackenberg out of Penn State
Depending on what they decide to do up front with D’Brickashaw Ferguson, an effective offensive lineman who can step right in and start needs to be considered, although I’d rather pick one up via free agency (Kelvin Beachum would have been perfect, but the Jets let him get away).
Germain Ifedi (Texas A&M), Taylor Decker (Ohio State) and Jason Spriggs (Indiana) come to mind for immediate starters, but two players Jerald Hawkins (LSU) and especially Shon Coleman (Auburn) are guys, who if they slip to 3rd-4th round would definitely be worth taking if they drop (Coleman has a great story surviving cancer.)
If the Jets decide to go with offense or outside linebacker in the first three rounds, there are a slew of them they could take to develop or even find a gem that could make an immediate impact. Players like Tyler Matakevich (Temple), Nick Vigil (Utah State), Blake Martinez (Stanford) and Scooby Wright III (Arizona) would fit the bill nicely in back up roles and on special teams.
As far as outside linebacker in the first round, either Myles Jack (LSU), Darron Lee (Ohio St.) and Leonard Floyd (Georgia) would all be great fits if they are still available. Depending on where the Jets go in free agency at the position, Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame) would be a possibility, but most likely those at the draft want someone that can produce in 2016 which Smith couldn’t. Outside of the first round, players like Su’a Cravens (USC) and deeper into the 3rd and 4th round with someone like Deion Jones (LSU) would be a great fit.
On offense, Tyler Higbee would be a great fit for tight end later in the draft and because of the signings of Khiry Robinson and Matt Forte, this allows the Jets to use a later round pick to draft a trait specific running back, wide receiver or the best quarterback still around.
Next: 1. A strategic free agency plan
Dec 6, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan before a game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
1. A strategic free agency plan
Never – and I repeat NEVER should you consistently base rebuilding your team on free agents. Teams with a lot of salary cap space one year generally tend to overspend on free agents, then find themselves kicking themselves because they wind up in salary cap purgatory.
Look at the teams that consistently win – the Steelers, New England Patriots, Ravens, Green Bay Packers…how often do they break the bank on multitudes of free agents? Hardly ever. What you need to look for in signing free agents are guys that are coming off rookie contracts or veterans that have been given up on coming off injury plagued seasons. Unless you are talking about a potential franchise quarterback like Drew Brees in 2005 when the Saints signed him, very rarely do high priced free agents come over and do anything other than present eventual salary cap issues.
How this applies to the Jets in 2016:
Many ways, really. At quarterback if Fitzpatrick is not re-signed, then cue up “Send in the Clowns” cause it will be a very, very rough 2016 season. That leaves the Jets having to go back to (in my best Punch Out! video game voice) “Right Hook!” Geno Smith, a unproven not ready Bryce Petty, or one of the many unknowns like Josh McCown, Colin Kaepernick (if they can trade for him), Matt Cassel, Ryan Mallett or Brandon Weeden.
At linebacker the Jets can rebuild through guys coming off rookie contracts. Guys like Zach Brown, Courtney Upshaw, Donald Butler, Craig Robertson, Bruce Carter and Mike Morgan are all guys I’d love to see brought in that wouldn’t break the salary cap for years to come. More than ever, linebackers need to be fast and capable of covering running backs coming out of the backfield, along with tight ends.
As far as the offensive line, the pickings are bit more slim and risky. Guys like Don Barclay, Nate Chandler and Charles Brown would come cheap and with something to prove, but are a huge unknown and would be part of a numbers game. Older players like Louis Vasquez and Jahri Evans would be a quick fix and good fit, but short term answers only for a year.
At the end of the day, these are ways to achieve consistent and above all else long-term success for the Jets. When you are one of four teams around at the merger to have never PLAYED in a Super Bowl (Browns, Lions and Chiefs are the others) you need to look at every aspect of why you haven’t achieved anything of substance over what amounts to almost a half-century.
I’m not looking to get pats on the back and be carried off on peoples shoulders. My only concern is seeing this team win, and I’m very confident that using these methods would be a great start. I for one, am sick and tired of seeing my hopes dashed year after year because this organization lacks patience, consistency and makes promises it can never keep.
Make sure you look out for my next article which goes into detail about how to build a roster that can consistently win, that spells out what to look for as far as playing style, age and salary cap expectations only available at The Jet Press.