The New York Jets have regressed this offseason as if certain situations fall into place, 2016 might be a year of complete and utter disappointment.
The Jets are coming off of a 2015 campaign that resulted in ten victories, unfortunately the ten wins were not enough to qualify them for an appearance in the NFL Playoffs. The Jets don’t get the benefit of playing in weak divisions such as the NFC East, a division that fields such poor teams that one can argue that NCAA Division III college football teams could beat them on a weekly basis. The AFC East has been dominated by the New England Patriots for many years, and with the bar set so high, the Jets management, players and coaches all need to work extra hard to even have a chance year in and year out.
Unfortunately, the Jets have proven they simply just don’t get it. Thus far instead of trying to build off a 2015 season that produced ten wins, they have made many poor choices that will send them to the bottom of the AFC East come 2016.
Jan 3, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) is helped off the field as head coach Todd Bowles looks on during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Bills beat the Jets 22-17. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Since breaking into the league in 2011, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has been an absolute nightmare for opposing offenses to deal with. Whether it was him sacking a quarterback (36.5 sacks in his career), tackling a running back in the backfield or forcing fumbles, Wilkerson has been the complete package at his position. Unfortunately for Wilkerson, his 2016 season ended about as bad as the Jets season did.
Not only did the Jets lose to the Buffalo Bills by a score of 22-17, but Wilkerson left the game in the 3rd quarter with a broken leg. The Jets decided to use their franchise tag on Wilkerson which would guarantee him $15.3M for 2016. Unfortunately for a man the size of Wilkerson, who is coming off a broken leg in the Jets season finale against the Bills, it would be a lot to ask for him to play at the same level as he was playing at before the injury.
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With the Jets tying this much money into Wilkerson, this ultimately lead to them losing Damon Harrison to free agency. Letting Wilkerson walk, or perhaps limp, depending on the progress he has made since breaking his leg, would have been a better decision by the Jets.
It looks more and more convincing he’ll leave next offseason anyway due to his frustrations with contract negotiations with the Jets as it’s only a matter of time.
Harrison was hardly mentioned as a priority going into the 2016 free agency period, but the Jets would have been smart to have made him a priority.
Harrison was truly the unsung hero of the Jets’ defensive line. With the nickname “Snacks” he feasted on opposing running backs trying to break runs through the middle of the field. Harrison also drew lots of attention from opposing offenses, which made other defensive players have an easier time handling their assignments.
Harrison started all 48 possible games since 2013 and in that time he factored in on 193 tackles (105 solo). With the Jets tying so much money into Wilkerson, this left no money to re-sign Harrison, which lead to him signing a contract with the New York Giants for $46.2M over the next five seasons. The Jets have nobody on their roster that can even come close to filling Harrison’s shoes.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick began the 2015 season as the number two quarterback on the Jets’ depth chart. Sadly, it took a knockout punch to the obvious weak jawed Geno Smith for Fitzpatrick to even get a chance to be the starting quarterback of the Jets. Fitzpatrick responded by having a career season. He threw for 3905 yards, 31 touchdowns and also collected 270 yards rushing.
Dec 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) throws a pass during the first quarter against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
He even lead them to ten victories, which exceeded many “experts” predictions. How do the Jets reward the fine efforts by Fitzpatrick? By offering him a contract for far lower than what lots of mediocre quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick and Sam Bradford are getting. Fitzpatrick is rumored to be seeking a deal that would pay him $12M per season over the next two to three seasons (depending which rumors you read) as does not owe the Jets anything.
It was pathetic that he was even number two to Smith in the first place, but sadly, this move by the Jets seems to be getting lots of support from fans. This is the same fan base from the 2009-2014 season that booed endlessly when the likes of Mark Sanchez, Smith and Michael Vick all played quarterback at a very below average level. In fact, below average is a generous way to assess their play, they were plain and simply awful.
Last season featured an offense that had a quarterback that seemed to at least have an idea how to play the position. It was nice seeing a six yard pass thrown accurately and completed. How quick do Jets fans forget how bad the quarterback play was for such a long period of time. The Jets’ brass bragged about “Plan B” for months but as expected it was never anything more than hoping Smith can replicate what Fitzpatrick did last season.
Their current depth chart at quarterback is Smith, Bryce Petty, and the newly drafted Christian Hackenberg, whom had some less than stellar performances while in Penn State last season. Smith is simply awful. He had an 11-18 record as Jets’ starting quarterback in 2013 and 2014. In those two seasons, he threw 27 touchdowns, 35 interceptions and lost 8 fumbles as well. Do Jets fans remember this?
Now the same fans that were booing and begging Rex Ryan to remove Smith from the game each and every week during the 2013 and 2014 seasons are now all of a sudden going to say this guy is the savior of the Jets this upcoming season because we don’t want to “overpay” for a “journeyman” quarterback that is just a “bridge” for the future. There is still time for the Jets to come to their senses and offer Fitzpatrick a fair deal.
Fitzpatrick has made a lot of money in his NFL career and is a graduate from the University of Harvard. He is not an idiot and certainly does not need the Jets. The Jets can deny it all they want, but they absolutely need Fitzpatrick back at quarterback faster than a New York minute. The Jets and their fans are in for a very disappointing season if Smith is indeed the starting quarterback.