Nobody likes to be wrong about anything. It damages credibility, and it effectively makes critics and detractors of an opinion look like geniuses, no matter how stupid they sound.
In an earlier post this year, I wrote that John Idzik’s wait and see approach needs to be put into motion before it’s judged. I also said that Jets fans are impatient and want results now through splurging heavily on free agents. Clearly, I was wrong
It’s been ten weeks, and clearly the strategy has failed. The highly vaunted 12 man draft class is a joke, with only first and second rounders Calvin Pryor and Jace Amaro contributing. Three players are barely contributing, two players are on injured reserve, one is on the practice squad, but could be cut because of a legal situation, two are on different teams, and one is out of the NFL.
If the draft class isn’t any indication of abject failure, the free agency moves are pretty close. Eric Decker is pretty much answering many detractors’ opinions that he is not a number 1 wide receiver and he was a product of Peyton Manning’s system. Breno Giacomini, the former Super Bowl champion guard, while not dealing with the injury issues that plagued him last year, is still dealing with the penalty issues that have plagued him. Chris Johnson has also shown that his 1000 yard days are behind him, leading Chris Ivory to be the top ballcarrier in what was once a dangerous backfield. Michael Vick, while thought to be a safety valve should Geno Smith falter, has failed to jump-start the offense when it was needed most. And last, but in no way least, is Idzik’s handling of the secondary.
Idzik felt that he could game the system by lowballing the cornerbacks, using their deficiencies and a weak market to save money. Unfortunately, in football, there is no such thing as a bargain. Idzik watched as the top cornerbacks, first Vontae Davis, then Darrelle Revis, then Alterraun Verner, then Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, then Carlos Rogers all get the money that they felt they deserved. And it’s not like they’ve failed in their new settings, they’ve made Idzik pay. Idzik was left with his proverbial dick in his hand, forced to finally show his hand by signing an injury prone journeyman named Dmitri Patterson. Patterson was, at most, a band-aid. He was a second string cornerback forced into a first string role, and even when he was presented the opportunity, he failed miserably. Even when the situation got especially dire, that was, when 2013 first round pick Dee Milliner suffered a high ankle sprain and 2014 third round pick Dexter McDougle suffered a torn ACL, Idzik refused to address the situation, forcing coach Rex Ryan to convert safety Antonio Allen into a cornerback and play him against arguably one of the league’s best receivers in AJ Green. Things got even worse when Patterson went AWOL in the third preseason game, and then was released because of his disappearance, leaving Ryan to work with a backup cornerback and the converted safety in week one. Four weeks later, the Jets are 1-4 in a very winnable AFC East, and there is pressure from the fans to fire Ryan, tank the rest of the season, and grab either another quarterback like Marcus Mariota or another wide receiver like Amari Cooper. The media is also on the Jets’ back, with the New York Daily News putting a “Bring Back Tebow” on their Monday Morning sports page.
I am not a conspiracy theorist in any way, but the signs seem, née point to Idzik deliberately doing this to get his way. Think about it. Idzik did bare minimum. Decker was the big signing that was supposed to satisfy both his boss and his underlings, not to mention the fan base. So was Johnson. In a very good analogy, it’s like he remodeled a house, but forgot to put in a security system.
So why is Idzik doing this? We saw him at the end of the season hugging Ryan, looking pleased. Certainly there is some compatibility between the football equivalent to the Odd Couple, the conservative Idzik and the loud and boisterous Ryan?
You could not be any more wrong.
In football, when a general manager comes in, he is usually allowed to pick his guy to coach. Idzik, and pretty much every other applicant for the Jets GM position last year, was not given that freedom. They were told they had to stick with Ryan for at least one year. This is what scared off many general managers for the Jets, but Idzik signed. Last year, Idzik had an excuse to make no moved and rely on the draft, as his predecessor had driven the team to a precarious perch on the Salary Cap cliff.
This year, Idzik has no excuse. Despite all the moves he has made, the team is still $21 million under the cap. Their best player, Muhammad Wilkerson, a product of the Mike Tannenbaum regime, is in line for a new contract, and Idzik has made no effort to sign him, despite having the opportunity to avoid a positional benchmark when JJ Watt resigned with the Houston Texans. In addition, he does have time to at least slightly rectify the situation by acquiring a cornerback or wide receiver by trade. Unsurprisingly, no moves have been made.
Idzik knows that nothing short of a train wreck of a season will give him any excuse to cut Ryan loose, and like a Rube Goldberg machine set in motion, Idzik’s strategy is paying off. Unfortunately for him, that plan became too obvious this past Sunday against the Chargers.
If you think about it, before yesterday, Idzik’s hypothetical plan was stealthy and deliberate. Here’s how it hypothetically could have played out:
1. Play out the 2013 season with Ryan. If he failed spectacularly, then Idzik would get what he wanted: his own coach, and complete autonomy on personnel decisions. If he succeeded, roll the plan to the following season. Woody gives Ryan a short term extension, allowing the clock to run for Idzik’s full plan.
2. Play the market. Appease the fan base, the media, and ownership by making the big splashes, but deliberately whiff on the talent that the Jets really need in order to compete. Because Idzik is a draft man, he knows that the NFL experts will give him a pass on his first real try. When the media and the fans catch on, pretend to rectify the situation by signing a cornerback.
3. Play the draft. Distract Ryan by getting him a secondary player he didn’t need (Pryor) despite there being both a top flight WR (Brandin Cooks) and cornerback (Darqueze Dennard) available. Add yet another offensive player to make it look like he’s finding value low, then a cornerback in the third round. Pretend that there was a deal in place in order to get another Wide Receiver (Marquise Lee) but Jacksonville wouldn’t budge. Use the fourth round to get patchwork Wide Receivers, that way the fan base and the media can be put somewhat at ease.
4. Let the draft picks fail, let the free agents fail, and handcuff Ryan into using Geno Smith despite Smith showing regression. Hope that the Jets continue to lose by a touchdown or less, that way Ryan has the excuse to keep Smith in. Even if the better solution is Vick. The plan becomes obvious when the Jets get blown out by the Chargers, opening the eyes of NFL analysts, media personalities, and fans to realize what’s going on, but too late. Nobody will be taken seriously. Idzik could just casually brush them away and not fear consequence.
5. The Jets crash and burn, like Idzik wants. Ryan, despite at least trying to work with an empty talent cupboard is clearly the scapegoat, and is fired. Idzik gets Seahawks DC Dan Quinn in as coach, kicks out the old regime, and builds the Jets in his own image, a sort of “Seahawks East” if you will.
As insane as it sounds, it seems that based on what has gone on, Idzik is playing this game. Nobody’s luck is that bad, and Idzik is not a stupid man. He wants something done, and he’s getting it done.
If this is true, then Woody Johnson needs to address the situation immediately. He needs to force Idzik and Ryan to work together again, or fire Idzik and find a general manager who is more compatible with his coach and who wants to win now.