By Jeff Capellini
For all that we think we know about John Idzik, the truth is we really haven’t scratched the surface.
During his year-plus as the Jets’ general manager we’ve been told time and again that he’s hell-bent on building this franchise through the draft and will only spend significant money for players that fit into his plan.
And for the most part, that which we’ve been beaten over the head with has, indeed, been the case.
However, it’s that little bit of mystery wrapped in inconsistency about Idzik that leads a person like myself to think he’s totally capable of making the type of move that will allow for a temporary departure from his master plan to build from the ground up in an effort to make the Jets immediately better.
While the fan base watched in horror as the first few days of free agency came and went with just one significant signing, despite the Jets seemingly needing several more significant signings, by the time all the best players had found their new homes for 2014 and beyond Idzik had still managed to not only sign wide receiver Eric Decker, the consensus top wide receiver on the open market, but also Michael Vick and Chris Johnson, arguably the best available players at their respective positions.
I don’t know about you, but when I look at Idzik’s albeit brief track record I don’t see this conservative shrew determined, come hell or high water, to make sure the Jets are perpetually tens of millions of dollars under the salary cap on a 10-year crusade to respectability. I see an executive who is attempting to be fiscally responsible, while at the same time open to more aggressive ideas.
If he isn’t then why did he sign Chris Johnson, who despite his production is closing in on 30, the graveyard age for NFL running backs?
Because he makes the Jets better now.
So, that said, I’m here to suggest Idzik take another calculated risk and at least contemplate making a move that doesn’t really mess with his long-term goal, and fits both the Jets’ needs and financial parameters. This trade would accelerate the revamping process, allow for recently drafted players to learn from a star and develop at a more humane pace, and instantly transform the Jets from a team supposedly on the rise to one that could be feared.
The target in question is Andre Johnson, who despite his age is still every bit the elite wide receiver he once was.
The Jets would be fools not to at least think about this.
Now before you lose your mind, I do realize that Johnson is 32, an age that would normally scare off any team that isn’t a player away from being a Super Bowl contender. I also know that he’s due in the neighborhood of $31 million over the next three years, a frightening amount of money for teams watching every dollar. He’s also disgruntled, which is usually a giant red flag.
But none of that should apply to Johnson because he’s shown no signs of slowing down. He still produces at an all-world level and, in his own words, is annoyed for what can be construed as the right reason.
He desperately wants to get back into the playoffs.
Does that last part sound familiar?
The Jets have missed the playoffs the last three seasons and despite what you may be brainwashed to believe about rebuilding, there’s really no conclusions to draw from the most recent free agency period to suggest that the Jets have abandoned a win-now mentality. Sure, they botched cornerback. I think if a gun was put to Idzik’s head he’d say he would probably have handled addressing the position differently if given another chance. That wouldn’t necessarily mean throwing insane money at B-level corners in the hope of one suddenly becoming a true lock-down nightmare, but he might have been more aggressive.
As it stands, the Jets now have a bunch of corners that will be armed with broken pool cues during camp under the watchful eyes of one Rex Ryan. I sense that Ryan will find a way to get the most out of whomever he decides to start opposite Dee Milliner and in nickel and dime packages.
But the Jets really have to start taking the pressure off of their defense and get into the swing of how the 21st century NFL truly operates. Decker was the first piece to a puzzle that also included underrated Jeremy Kerley and surprising David Nelson. Throw in behemoth rookie tight end Jace Amaro, unspectacular-but-decent Jeff Cumberland and the pass-catching abilities of Chris Johnson out of the backfield and the Jets as catchers of the football should be much better than last season.
Add Andre Johnson to that mix and the Jets have the potential to be much, much more.
The natural fear here is two-fold. It revolves around age, as in the fact that Andre will be 33 by the start of the season, and cost, meaning a misguided belief that his current team, the Houston Texans, will somehow be in this position of strength to demand the moon and stars from any team that’s interested in talking trade.
Johnson is coming off his fifth career 100-plus reception season. He finished with 109 grabs, which included 20 of at least 20 yards, and 1,407 yards total, the fourth-most of his stellar 11-year career. And he did it catching passes from three different quarterbacks.
If you want to include his stats from 2012, Johnson has 221 catches for 3,005 yards, while playing in all 32 regular season games.
And while it would be wrong to completely rule out a decline eventually settling in, he’s given absolutely no indication that his fall from grace will happen any time soon.
Next, look at the Jets’ passing offense from last season. The biggest knock on the offense, even more so than the fact that Geno Smith was a rookie, was the wide receivers having all kinds of problems getting separation and, when they actually did, not being the greatest route runners.
Johnson has 927 career receptions during what has shaped up to be a Hall of Fame career. There’s never been a route he hasn’t run or a corner this side of perhaps Darrelle Revis he hasn’t been able to outwit. At his current pace, averaging 1,151 yards per season over the next two seasons, Johnson would be within ear shot of Randy Moss, Isaac Bruce and Tony Gonzalez, three of only five players in NFL history to crack 15,000 receiving yards.
Add him to Decker out wide and Kerley in the slot and the concerns about the Jets’ problems getting receivers open should be lessened considerably, perhaps to the point where you’d be shocked if there actually isn’t someone running free on nearly every play.
As for the misconception that Johnson would cost and arm and a leg to acquire, think about what the going rate has been in the past for someone of Johnson’s ilk. On March 14, 2012, just prior to his 28th birthday, Brandon Marshall was shipped from the Miami Dolphins to the Chicago Bears for a pair of third-round picks. If you pro-rate the now-30-year-old Marshall’s career to 32, which Johnson is now, the statistical comparison would be strikingly similar in receptions, yards, yards per catch, 20-plus-yard receptions and touchdowns.
When factoring in the Jets’ need, their salary cap space, the Texans’ apparent rebuilding philosophy, Johnson’s angst about his current situation and the value of draft picks in this league, I believe Idzik could get him for something similar to what the Bears gave up for Marshall. Perhaps the perception of Johnson’s age and the fear of decline could play to the Jets’ advantage as well, though probably not as much as many would think, given the fact that so many people around the NFL know what Johnson still is and can be.
But, still, the asking price shouldn’t be outlandish, given all the factors I’ve presented.
The Jets’ powers that be need at the very least to have a meeting and perhaps make a call to Houston. They’d probably be smart to duct tape offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to a chair, because I can’t imagine a scenario where he wouldn’t jump out of his skin to add a talent like Johnson to his receiving corps.
At this point, as far as Johnson is concerned, age is just a number. If understandably concerned about his big price tag, perhaps the Jets can float the idea of a contract restructure as well. The point is, due diligence here is needed.
The Jets already have arguably the best receiver in the AFC East on their roster. Imagine adding a motivated Andre Johnson?
To me, it’s a no-brainer.
The question is — is Idzik the guy we think he is or someone else entirely?
It’s time to find out.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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