By JJ CONRAD
OTT Co-Host/Blog Editor
I’ll start with one simple message to Jets’ general manager John Idzik: The honeymoon is over.
After bringing the Jets out of salary cap hell in his first year on the job, freeing up over $40 million to work with this past off-season (and receiving universal praise from an oftentimes uber-critical fan base), it appears the former Seahawks’ capologist is now being examined more closely under the bright New York microscope.
With a surplus of cap space and an abundance of draft picks (12), the 2014 off-season was supposed to be the year when Idzik made his moves and brought the Jets back to being, at the very least, playoff contenders. But even with $40 million to work with and 12 draft picks at his disposal, the Jets are still trying to force feed the ball to the likes of David Nelson and Greg Salas.
After failing to (really) address the cornerback position and, to a lesser extent, the wide receiver position (Eric Decker notwithstanding) this offseason, the Jets sit at a lackluster 1-3 on Oct. 1 — in last place in arguably the worst division in football — with over $20 million in cap space ($21.2 million, to be exact) being virtually wasted this season.
While all that unspent money will carry over into next off-season and the Jets will certainly need some of that cash to lock up superstar DE Muhammed Wilkerson and other blossoming young talent longterm, there were still potential cap-friendly moves to be made last offseason and Idzik essentially sat on his hands — unless you were satisfied with cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who went AWOL this preseason and was later released, being the Jets’ top defensive offseason acquisition.
With Jets fans agonizing each week watching the likes of Jordy Nelson, Alshon Jeffery (alongside an ailing Brandon Marshall) and Golden Tate (alongside an ailing Calvin Johnson) torch the Jets’ patchwork secondary, potential offseason signings like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Giants), Vontae Davis (Colts), Aqib Talib (Broncos) and even former Jet Antonio Cromatie (Cardinals) are all playing well for their respective teams. They all, among a few others, could have been had.
Though Jets fans had collectively had enough with the risk-taking and headline-grabbing GM Mike Tannenbaum, at least his teams reached back-to-back AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010, thanks in large part to splashy moves made in free agency and the draft. Idzik has been the anti-Tannenbaum up until this point in his time in New York and the conservative approach has resulted in a 9-11 record since the start of the 2013 season — and let’s be real, last year’s team was a five- or six-win squad masquerading as an 8-8 one.
And there is a much broader picture surrounding this issue as well. John Idzik inherited Rex Ryan as head coach when he took the job two years ago. Rex is not his guy, and he’s one of the only general managers in the NFL that didn’t get to choose his own head coach. He may very well plan on spending the abundance of unused cap money in the future, but it probably won’t be for Ryan, who will likely be used as the scapegoat if things continue going south and the Jets miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year. It’s almost guaranteed Idzik will be back next year; no NFL GM is hired and fired within a two-year span without ever getting a chance to pick his own head coach.
And there in lies one of the central-most problems within the Jets’ organization. Whether you believe Gang Green’s biggest problem is Geno Smith, or Rex Ryan, or Marty Morningweg or John Idzik, I believe Rex Ryan is the best at what he does than any of the others. Only thing is, Rex is coaching for his job this season and might not survive another year of missing the playoffs.
You can all but ignore Rex’s contract extension that he received from Idzik at the end of last season; there’s no doubt Rex is on the hot seat right now and that’s unfortunate because we saw what he’s capable of doing with a team that has been properly assembled (’09, ’10) — even with a rookie and second-year Mark Sanchez running the show.
Is it Rex Ryan’s fault that after Eric Decker (in and out of the lineup with a hamstring injury) and Jeremy Kerley (best utilized as a No. 3 in the slot), Geno Smith doesn’t have another legitimate NFL wide receiver on the roster?
How much would Steve Smith (3 years, $12.5 million) help the Jets — and, more importantly, Geno — right now? How about DeSean Jackson (3 years, $24 million)? We got an up-close look at Golden Tate (5 years, $31 million) last week and he could have been had for just over $6 million per year. Same goes for Emmanuel Sanders (3 years, $18 million) and, former Giant Hakeem Nicks, could have been had at a bargain price at one year, $3.5 million.
A lot of the blame has been geared toward the turnover-prone Smith, but with a less-than-100 percent Decker nursing an ailing hamstring since training champ, there’s not much — once again — for Smith to work with. The turnovers are a problem, one that needs to be addressed, but seldom do we see Jet receivers getting much separation from their respective defenders.
Aside from Idzik’s questionable and painfully-conservative approach in free agency, the draft — as it looks today — might have been an even bigger train wreck (perhaps you could say it was Off The Trax?).
Round 1, S Calvin Pryor — A possibly injury-prone, run-stuffing safety that has struggled in pass coverage. Yes, that’s exactly what you need in today’s pass-happy NFL. Pryor, by the way, was selected with the No. 18 pick, ahead Saints WR Brandin Cooks (20) and WR Kelvin Benjamin (28).
Round 2, TE Jace Amaro — A player who I like and is playing better as of late, though is still behind Jeff Cumberland on the depth chart and only plays about 30 percent of offensive snaps. At the time of the draft, there were rumors of the Jets attempting to trade up in the second round for USC WR Marquise Lee (Eagles WR Jordan Matthews was also available early in the 2nd round). The trade up obviously didn’t happen, even though Idzik had 12 (!) picks to work with — more than enough ammunition to be aggressive.
Round 3, CB Dexter McDougle — A cornerback who missed almost all of his senior year at Maryland with a fractured shoulder blade and was placed on the IR this summer after tearing his ACL in camp.
Round 4, WR Jalen Saunders — A 5-foot-9 receiver out of Oklahoma, essentially a glorified punt returner (basically a Jeremy Kerley clone), who had a crippling muffed punt against the Bears two weeks ago. Saunders was subsequently cut this week.
Round 4, WR Shaq Evans — Placed on IR with a shoulder injury in training camp.
Round 4, OG Dakota Dozier — Has been inactive for every game this season, even with current starting guards — Brian Winters and Willie Colon — underperforming.
Round 5, LB Jeremiah George — A speedy linebacker who looked very promising in preseason who was stashed on the Jets’ practice squad. He was recently signed off the Jets’ practice squad by the Jaguars. So, he’s now gone.
Round 6, CB Brandon Dixon — Looked terrible in preseason against backups and was eventually cut on Aug. 30.
Round 6, WR Quincy Enunwa — Currently on the Jets’ practice squad and did not receive a promotion even after Jalen Saunders was cut and David Nelson was injured. The Jets signed T.J. Graham and Chris Owusu instead.
Round 6, LB/DE IK Enemkpali — Currently on the Jets’ roster, though has been inactive for all four games.
Round 6, QB Tajh Boyd — Cut.
Round 7, LB Trevor Reilly — Currently on the Jets’ roster, serving as a special-teams contributor who gets a handful of defensive snaps per game.
To recap: Idzik’s draft class of 12 has produced one starter (Pryor), another contributor (Amaro) two placed on IR (McDougle, Evans), four either cut or no longer with the Jets (Saunders, George, Boyd, Dixon), one on the practice squad (Enunwa) and three who have been non-factors this season (Dozier, Enemkpali and Reilly).
Not exactly a ringing endorsement on Idzik’s ability to evaluate talent — something he did very little of while working in Seattle under general manager John Schneider. And had Idzik addressed more team needs via free agency in the offseason, there would have been fewer holes to fill in the draft, allowing him more flexibility to move up and grab a difference-maker — not settle, or possibly even reach, for Dexter McDougle, Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans.
With the Jets traveling cross-country to San Diego this week and Peyton Manning and the Broncos coming to town the following week, the prospect of the Jets starting 1-5 is becoming a very real possibility.
It could become a lost season in New York before we even get to the halfway point, though the underwhelming AFC East could keep things interesting.
Whatever happens in 2014, though, John Idzik will likely survive it. Rex Ryan, on the other hand, might not be as lucky.