By Kristian Dyer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – As another Jets season closes, the slow march to another offseason of uncertainty and likely upheaval begins. It wasn’t supposed to end this way, though the Jets still have a glimmer of hope and must win on Sunday combined with Tennessee, Cincinnati and either an Oakland or Denver loss to capture a Wild Card berth.
At best, the Jets will finish 9-7 and for a third straight year be the sixth seed in the playoffs. Four months ago, fans and pundits were talking an AFC East title and possibly a Super Bowl appearance. Now, the Jets are planning to join the snowbirds in a warmer location and quarterback Mark Sanchez is upping the max on his credit card.
After all, Kate Upton awaits.
But the Jets need to consider their offseason shopping list, the job done in anticipation of this year by the Jets brain trust of general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan was woefully inadequate. Praise was heaped on this duo for the Jets re-signing a number of their own free agents but the painful truth remains: the Jets stood pat while others around them got better.
And a sideways step in the NFL will often get you blindsided.
Santonio Holmes, the big name re-signing of the year who inked a five-year deal worth $45 million, is on pace to put up worse receiving numbers than last year, when he missed four games due to a league suspension. Eric Smith did nothing to justify his big number deal and Wayne Hunter has been the whipping boy for the failures of this season with a lackluster showing at right tackle. The only names who resonated among the deals made last August were linebacker David Harris and wide receiver Plaxico Burress.
Last year, they addressed needs and brought in a variety of talented veterans. Some moves worked, some didn’t but at least the Jets looked honestly at their roster to make moves.
Nowhere else on the field did the Jets make an upgrade, and it certainly didn’t come via the NFL Draft either.
They got limited contributions from two of their six draft picks in Muhammad Wilkerson and Jeremy Kerley. Two more in running back Bilal Powell and Kenrick Ellis had the majority of their time on the ineligible game day list rather than contributing anything of real lasting value on the field. And Scotty McKnight and Greg McElroy spent the bulk of their season injured.
In a league where return on investment means everything, the Jets were very much a Ponzi scheme.
They built themselves up to be winners before even a single snap; they were talking about their Vince Lombardi dreams and how this team was supposed to be the best they’ve ever assembled. After consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances, the next step was seemingly dead ahead. Instead, it was dead on arrival.
The Jets didn’t just achieve status quo this offseason, they regressed. Areas of need along the defensive line were not adequately addressed, the secondary didn’t add the pass protection safety it needed and the offensive line showed little depth. Instead, what emerged was a team that was top heavy and lacked the flexibility to adjust to a grueling 17-week NFL season.
Part of it is that the Jets, through their head coach, build up their players so much in the media with nothing but coddling remarks that they are oddly forced because of their on-record quotes to re-sign them as free agents. It is a vicious cycle and philosophy that finally came full cycle to hurt the Jets this year.
And it might get worse.
This team might be a tough sell for free agents this offseason, the luster now off these Jets just a little bit. Likely missing the playoffs for the first time under Ryan, he now looks a bit unhinged after a week of attacking the Giants and his bold predictions and bluster has now fallen flat. It’s only been hot air from Ryan since August, with no ring to back up the talk. Question marks exist at quarterback where third year starter Mark Sanchez hasn’t gotten better and the defense, two years removed from being the best in the league, appears to have been figured out by the rest of the league.
The Jets do have a core in place of talented players – there are three Pro Bowlers on this team after all and some of the pieces around this group are still on the right side of 30 – but many other players the Jets have counted on this year are quickly fading or just still too raw. Moves need to be made and now.
Sitting idly without an infusion of talent, much like this past year, would be just another year of regression.
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer
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