By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Without question, the biggest hot button topic this offseason will be the fate of Peyton Manning. No matter how much you try to change the subject or focus on something else his status will continue to linger until it doesn’t. It’s that simple.
The Jets have been mentioned prominently as a possible landing spot for the four-time MVP once he’s released by the Colts, which everyone on all sides of Indianapolis and many parts in between figure is a certainty due to 28 million factors. While owner Jim Irsay can talk until the cows come home about how he and Manning are this united front against all those who seem to think they know that team’s business better than its front office does, it’s just hard to fathom that Indy will keep this soon-to-be 36-year-old quarterback, regardless of just how special he is to that city.
The math is simple. As you’ve probably heard Manning is due a payment the equivalent of the economy of a small country during the first week of March if he’s to stay with the Colts. Add that to the facts that this same quarterback is coming off three neck surgeries, which forced him to miss the entire 2011 season, and that his absence directly led to the Colts going 2-14 and securing the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, a selection that figures to be can’t-miss quarterback Andrew Luck out of Stanford, and it really doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict Manning will be playing elsewhere in 2012.
The question is where?
Well, I could spend all day going over the possibilities — from the deep pockets in Washington to the desperation in Miami or, perhaps a few other cities that may not be mentioned prominently at this point but could become players during crunch time — but, really, in these here parts Florham Park, N.J., is the only location that matters.
But I’m here to tell you the Jets are a bad fit, and not for the most obvious reasons.
Jets ownership and much of the fan base is obsessed with winning a Super Bowl title. They would sell their soul to whatever form evil takes on any given day to be part of Giants country right now. I can’t say I blame them because it has been, after all, 43 years since New York’s other team last lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But part of the reason why the Jets have been unable to get over this agonizing hump is because of scenarios just like this one. The Jets’ biggest problem over the last four decades has had as much to do with a lack of team-wide identity as it has poor coaching, even poorer execution and, at times, a lack of talent.
And though the Jets fan really has nothing to complain about over the last 15 or so years, he’s being led around by a franchise that has been equally as ambitious, but unable to put the pieces together over a full season due to the lack of a tried and true blueprint.
When I say identity, I mean that which a team is known for, and not just for part of a season. When Rex Ryan took over as head coach prior to the 2009 season he started to install an identity, and it had nothing to do with trash talk and bravado.
The Jets had seemingly found themselves as a team built on defense and a power running game, two things that will guarantee consistent playoff appearances. And while it’s true a team’s quarterback is the lifeblood and brain center of the entire operation, he can be worked around if he’s not elite, which is precisely the case with what should happen with Mark Sanchez.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Sanchez is the long-term answer, but I have said repeatedly that this quarterback deserves a chance to show the world what he’s made of with a new offensive coordinator and perhaps a few upgraded pieces at the skill positions. Well, the Jets now have their new offensive guru in Tony Sparano, a man who may not scare the living daylights out of opposing defenses, but one who is a perfect match for the identity Ryan has tried to install since he took over.
The running game, period.
When Sanchez had the running game and stellar offensive line play in 2009 and 2010 the Jets were the real deal. Sanchez was a much better quarterback, a more responsible quarterback and most importantly a more confident quarterback. And he did all this as a very young player with very little experience, even at the college level. This past season the Jets initially deviated big-time from what had been working out of some misguided belief that their quarterback had to be the physical leader on the field. You all saw what happened as a result. Sanchez had career-high numbers, but walked away with less respect than he had garnered the two previous seasons.
Now you could say the Jets reached when they traded way up to draft Sanchez. You could say this kid has been in over his head since the start. But I’d counter by saying the fact that he can certainly play, and play at a high level in this league, has already been proven.
As long as the Jets have had that identity to help him along the way.
I’ve been very careful not to express an opinion on Manning on Twitter. I’ve simply stuck to the facts, which has made me as boring a reporter and opinion supplier as there has been over the last few weeks since the notion of Peyton to the Jets has gotten legs. I’ll admit I’m intrigued by the idea of a healthy Manning coming in and going head-to-head with his brother across town for all the back-page headlines in pursuit of the Jets’ second championship.
Who wouldn’t be?
But the idea of the Jets going after this guy just seems like yet another example of this franchise spinning itself dizzy and then trying to run around. You’ve seen kids do it. Ultimately they run kind of on a slant before crashing to the ground. The Jets have made a living out of doing this for far too long.
It’s not about going after the player that many would say is a savior or the best available at his position, which Manning, even now, would likely be considered. It’s about doing so without a framework of what already works to fall back on. The Jets simply do not do many things in a manner that would keep you at ease should their quarterback struggle. They are not going to be confused with the Ravens and Steelers, teams that overcome adversity with crushing defense, but they are a lot closer to being just that type of team than you think.
And that’s the crux of this.
Signing Manning, should he become available, likely wouldn’t be this Herculean task, if you believe what’s been reported. Stories have surfaced citing people in the Manning camp saying he’d be okay with a “prove it” or backloaded contract, which, if true, would likely drag as many as 10 teams into the bidding process.
But I just think the Jets should pass on this Band-Aid, because that’s what it would be. General Manager Mike Tannenbaum and Ryan should be sitting a room right now at the team’s training complex working up scenarios to draft and sign the best defensive players they can find, to infuse youth and speed to Rex’s proven schemes, while working up a plan to fix right tackle, add more depth to the offensive line and find a wide receiver that cares more about his team than himself.
I’d just rather see the Jets, for once, stick to their convictions. They shouldn’t just knee-jerk their way around building a team, regardless if the calendar says another year has passed since Joe Namath did his thing. When they traded for Brett Favre prior to the 2008 season much of the fan base couldn’t help but have delusions of grandeur. The same will be the case should they land Manning, a player that is just as much a wildcard as Favre was, albeit for a different reason.
I’ll be honest, I believe Manning when he says he’s going to come back and play at a high level, but you’d be foolish to just take him at his word. Not because he’s just selling you a bill of goods, but because the Jets, as evidenced by Sanchez often running for his life in 2011, can offer no guarantees that Manning would be protected better, even if they do replace Wayne Hunter and get bounce-back seasons from guys like D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Brandon Moore, and get a full 16 games from Nick Mangold.
The fact is nobody knows for certain and will continue to not know if Manning can take the hits. Sure, he has the quickest release you will ever see, but even if does get the ball away in true Manning fashion consistently does that mean tight end Dustin Keller will be up to the task? Does it mean any of the Jets’ current skill guys have the vernacular to speak at Peyton’s lofty level? Do you honestly believe Shonn Greene can be like Edgerrin James as a receiver out of the backfield?
And what of Sanchez? What would be done with him should Manning come aboard? Could you with a straight face ask him to become the East Coast version of Aaron Rodgers and sit on the bench like a sponge watching Manning do his thing? In theory that’s a fine idea, but as we all know egos and agents don’t allow this type of thing unless you are a rookie, and even then it’s a hard sell for some.
The Jets have to ride on Sanchez’s wings, but more as a commuter jet, not the Airbus that the defense and running game with a few tweaks, can become. They owe it to themselves to stick to their own ideals, come hell or high water. Bringing Manning here ups the ante on pressure, something this team of late has shown it can’t handle. The Jets need to go at their own speed, not at the velocity a good percentage of their fans are asking them to reach.
The Jets do just fine when they are in their comfort zone, running the ball 35 times a game and relying on a defense that’s still very good, but just needs a tune-up.
Fight the urge to scream about winning a title now. Don’t cave in to the glorified quick-fix. Build something with your own two hands and hold it close to your chest.
For once the Jets truly become known for doing this or that exceptionally, the rest will fall into place.
If it doesn’t, you try again knowing who you are, not who you think you are.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini
Do you think Manning is the answer? Should the Jets just ride out the Sanchez experience? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below. …