By Jeff Capellini
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/WFAN) — You’ll probably be reading a lot of stories and columns like this one until the NFL works out its collective bargaining agreement.
It’s actually a fairly fun time to be a writer because we have temporary license to create crazy scenarios that in all likelihood are not feasible. But, given the fact that we don’t know what the salary cap will be next season — or if there will actually be a next season — that doesn’t mean that fans and media shouldn’t speculate on what the Jets should do in preparation for the next time the team actually takes the field.
To me, despite the Jets’ apparent needs on the defensive line — as in the need to find a do-it-on-his-own pass rusher and the desire to get younger — they can fix the problem to a degree in this win-now league by basically de-emphasizing the need to get to the quarterback.
Now, I realize that sounds like insanity considering the fact that the Jets’ biggest problem in 2010 was pressuring the quarterback, but you saw what team defense is all about during the divisional round playoff game against the Patriots up in Foxborough.
The Jets sacked Tom Brady five times, a stunning statistic considering their constant failures to put significant pressure on basically every quarterback this season. The game plan put together by Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was brilliant. That said, a hybrid of the same plan didn’t work too well the next week in Pittsburgh because the Jets failed to tackle and forgot about Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to make something out of nothing.
Part of that is correctable without making a single move in the offseason. The other part can be fixed simply by remembering the vast majority of NFL quarterbacks don’t have the tools and smarts of a Roethlisberger. That said, though, to get to the Super Bowl the Jets have to deal on a yearly basis with Brady, Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and improving Joe Flacco, so why leave anything to chance? Why have just one elite defensive back when you can have two?
If the Jets were to say goodbye to Antonio Cromartie, who has all the talent in the world but is often a bigger headache than he’s worth, and they somehow decide to target soon-to-be 30-year-old Nnamdi Asomugha they rest easier knowing they have the 30th pick in the draft. They also wouldn’t need to break the bank for a pass rusher, one that will likely not be at the level of a Julius Peppers but will have to be paid comparatively because the supply this offseason on the market doesn’t come close to matching the demand.
The problem with Asomugha is money. And we can all thank Al Davis for making it very hard for any NFL team to sign this guy. Largely viewed as one of the top two or three cover corners in the NFL, Asomugha is certainly on the level of a Darrelle Revis, but the contract Davis gave him — a three-year deal that made him the highest paid defensive back in NFL history — was so complex and out there even Davis realized the final year wasn’t worth it after he saw his team go 13-19 the first two seasons with Asomugha shutting down opponents’ top receiver.
If the Jets decide that Asomugha is a vast upgrade over Cromartie, which he is both on the field and in the community, General Manager Mike Tannenbaum has to turn Rex loose. He’ll need his highly respected coach — a guy Asomugha has reportedly already said he’d want to play for — to sell the all-world corner on the following realities:
First, at present, no defensive back is worth the average of the top five highest-paid quarterbacks or $16.875 million, which is what the Raiders would have had to pony up if they had picked up his option for 2011.
Second, the Jets are a player or two away from winning the Super Bowl. If Ryan appeals to Asomugha’s sensibilities, inflates his ego but at the same time convinces him that in the grand scheme of things the guy will be the difference maker between winning a championship or not, maybe the player who was a finalist for NFL Man of the Year, as we saw on Sunday, will let that override any desire he may have to be once again the highest paid at his position.
Lastly, if Ryan and Tannenbaum can sell Asomugha on the idea of forming likely the greatest DB tandem in NFL history alongside Revis it will only lead to prolonged excellence for the next few years.
If the Jets were to sign Asomugha they wouldn’t need to go crazy for a pass rusher. They could franchise linebacker David Harris and deal with him next year. They would have the best secondary in the game, one that would force opponents to throw to third receivers and tight ends all day. I realize that was a problem this past season, but you also had to throw in No. 2s catching their fair shares of balls while we waited for Cromartie to jump a route. The middle of the field would instantly become clogged and the opposition’s vertical game would be rendered null and void. The air would be completely taken out of the ball.
If they only have to worry about a third receiver or the Gronkowskis of the world the Jets have enough able-bodied guys — Kyle Wilson, Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman come to mind — to handle those responsibilities.
In addition, the Jets already have a stout run defense. You throw Asomugha in the mix and you have entered at worst coverage sack utopia and at best the land of three and outs. Now, would it be the same as acquiring an elite pass rusher who would command double teams that would open lanes for Ryan’s army of blitzers? No, but I believe the legendary secondary approach would be just as effective. Mostly because the Jets have enough talent throughout the defense to adapt to anything and because Ryan is a scheme genius. Plus, serious pass rushers are not as readily available as Asomugha is. He’s just sitting there.
Sell him on the notion of what being a Jet is supposed to be. Convince him he has a chance to become part of something elite and with shelf life. This is the type of currency Tannenbaum and Ryan have already bought with many players. Asomugha’s perception of his resume or his past contracts shouldn’t play into their plan. They just need to follow the company line, the same one that has gotten the Jets within a half in each of the past two seasons of getting to the biggest game there is:
We’re going to win the Super Bowl soon. Don’t let the train go by.
Is this whole notion of signing Asomugha a long shot? Maybe. But if we’ve learned one thing about Mr. T and Rex it’s that you can never discount anything. As currently constituted the Jets don’t need to go out and improve their offense short of doing their best to bring back Santonio Holmes and/or Braylon Edwards. A killer defense is the only thing that will offset the unpredictability of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
No move is too crazy or ever dismissed without serious thought. That’s why you’ll soon be hearing about guys like LaMarr Woodley and Haloti Ngata, each of whom would also more than satisfy the Jets’ needs but who are also not pure pass rushers. If you think Asomugha will be too expensive, I got news for you: if they both don’t get franchised they will break the bank on the open market.
But, again, this is a fun time, one where Monopoly money and no restrictions come into play. All we’re doing now is speculating. I just chose to go first. To me, Asomugha should be the guy.
He is one that, if indeed the CBA is hammered out soon, needs to be strongly considered because his upside is off the charts.
More columns by the “Green Lantern“
Agree with the Lantern? Think he’s way off-base? Tell us about it in the comments section below.