When it’s come to writing about touchy and/or controversial points in my editorial style posts, I come in with an open mind, and generally play devil’s advocate. You saw it when I defended John Rocker’s steroid comments, defended Geno Smith and EJ Manuel, when I voiced my support for the Redskin name, when I ran a big risk by voicing my opinion on gay athletes like Jason Collins and Michael Sam, and most recently, my defense of Jets general manager John Idzik’s offseason strategy. Now, I step into yet another touchy subject: Michael Vick.
We all know the story, gifted athletic quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, had a couple minor incidents early in his career, then in 2007, it was discovered that Vick had financed a dogfighting operation out of a Virginia property he owned, as well as personally killing dogs. Long story short, he was arrested, incarcerated for 18 months, let go, found himself back in the NFL, resurrected his career, and on March 21st, signed a contract with the Jets.
The feeling that I get among Jets fans is that it’s a mix of support and outright disgust. Some people like the idea of Vick stepping in as either a mentor to Geno Smith, or an insurance policy should he get hurt or have another meltdown. Then of course there are those who feel that the signing of Vick prevents them from being Jets fans, period. There have been plenty of comments on Facebook, Twitter, any social media site or comment board has a good amount of fans saying that they will “boycott the team unless the Jets cut that ——–” and that “I love dogs, I loved the Jets”. Pretty much, the idea here is that Vick is a bad idea because of something he did in his past which was off-the-field.
As a pet owner, although it’s cats, not dogs, that I like, when I heard what Vick had done in 2007, I was appalled, disgusted, and disturbed. Animals do not deserve to be treated that way, and for people to finance an operation and also personally kill animals for sport is vile. I was glad that he was going to prison. So what if he had game changing speed or a good throwing arm? The man let his off field actions speak louder than his on field actions, and unfortunately those off field actions involved killing animals.
When Vick was released from prison in 2009, I was slightly apprehensive. 18 months for killing multiple animals was a slap on the wrist, but apparently it changed him. A man who was once viewed as a moneymaker, a marketing boon was now a pariah, broke and abandoned.
When Vick signed with Philadelphia, I had no opinion. Yes, he had found a team that was perfectly willing to let the past be the past and see what he still had in the tank. Granted, it was Philadelphia, the same city known for booing Santa Claus, throwing batteries, booing and cheering injured players, having the most unruly fans (I can attest to that, having nearly gotten crushed by a throng of rabid Phillies fans who wanted Jim Thome’s autograph), and essentially being the cesspool of North American sports, but still, if he could make it back in Philadelphia, then he could make it anywhere. What ended up happening showed that Vick still had his athletic traits in him. He brought Philadelphia to the playoffs in 2010, and completely torched the Washington Redskins along the way on Sunday Night Football, just in case people forgot, and served as an effective replacement for Donovan McNabb and failed franchise savior Kevin Kolb.
Off the field, Vick rehabilitated his image, becoming an advocate against animal cruelty, returning to his former status, essentially the protests that Vick was an animal killer were pretty much silent, save for one game in Oakland, and a few bad-taste jokes, as well as the infamous “Hide your Beagle, Vick’s an Eagle” from opposing fans.
Vick also matured on the field. When he got hurt in 2013, and Nick Foles took his stead, he showed his support for the move. Now, to be displaced by a young quarterback is obviously not fun, but for Vick, who had been viewed somewhat as a character concern, the fact that he took it in stride really showed growth.
I find it particularly odd now that Vick has signed with a new team, that people are bringing back the past, and that people are so upset. Then again, signing with a team in the largest media market is obviously going to have its share of polarizing opinion. Detractors and so-called fans are now ripping the team to shreds, dropping their allegiance because they still can’t cope with what he did a long time ago. Is it that hard to move on? Has he permanently earned the epithet Dog-killer despite the fact that he’s paid his debt to society?
Let me give you my feelings on the situation. I forgave him a long time ago. However, I’m not going to forget what he did. Some people have told me that there are two things that are unforgivable: killing children and killing animals. And rightfully so. However, as a Catholic, one of the biggest things you learn is to forgive, to hate the sin, not the sinner. You forgive people because what is the hatred going to accomplish? Is calling for Vick’s head going to bring back every dog he killed? Is it going to get the Jets to void his contract and put him behind bars on a life sentence? Obviously not.
Furthermore, to drop your allegiance with your football team because of the actions of one player is outright foolishness. Is associating with Vick going to make Eric Decker, Geno Smith, Mo Wilkerson or Rex Ryan an advocate for dogfighting? How about Woody Johnson, John Idzik, or even Roger Goodell, for that matter?
Jets fans should know that there is at least one positive result of Vick’s signing; Mark Sanchez getting cut, saving the team an additional $8 million in cap room, which $5 million was used for Vick’s one-year deal. Plus, Geno Smith is essentially a younger, more malleable version of Vick. Having a mentor whose prime is essentially your ceiling is going to be a huge benefit for Smith.
Back to the fans though. You don’t necessarily have to forgive Vick for what he did, Obviously what he did was outright despicable. Heck, you don’t even have to like Vick for his football skills now. He’s not what he was back in 2004, or 2010. But still, think rationally, not emotionally. Emotion driven decisions rarely succeed and make people look bad, but thinking with a clear mind does increase the success of your decisions. What happens if Vick does end up helping Geno, or in the worst case, comes out in relief and brings the Jets to the playoffs? What now? If you’ve decided to boycott the team and/or drop you allegiance because of your moralism, what do you do? Do you admit that you were wrong? Do you miss out just because of the past actions of one man?
While it personally disgusts me that fans can’t let the past be the past and are letting emotion get the best of them, I realize that my words serve little purpose other than to highlight what’s going on. I’m not going to call anyone out for their opinion. They have a right to it. However, I will call people out on their stupidity. And if you’re going to make that rash of an emotionally charged decision, then I personally think you are stupid. You don’t have to forget what Vick did, but you can at least support your team.
Any Jets fan or reporter who expected second year general manager John Idzik to pounce in free agency has been left sorely disappointed, irritated, or at the very worst, calling for his head. It’s been a little over a week since the real offseason began and so far the only notable moves that the Jets have made have been losing valuable right tackle Austin Howard to the Oakland Raiders, replacing him with Super Bowl starter Breno Giacomini, signing former Peyton Manning target Eric Decker to a team friendly contract over five years, and cutting embattled wide receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
Idzik has left the team with a Cromartie sized hole at cornerback, a need for another target for second year quarterback Geno Smith, and enough questions to make a game out of figuring what the team’s offseason strategy is.
In an offseason rife with talent at any position other than quarterback, Idzik has repeatedly lost out on cornerback options in free agency. First to go was arguably the best cornerback on the market Alterraun Verner, who left Tennessee for Tampa Bay, followed by Vontae Davis, who returned to Indianapolis, then Darrelle Revis, who ended up being the Golden Goose of Free Agency, who was cut by Tampa Bay then signed by the Jets’ most bitter rival, the New England Patriots. On Sunday, after negotiations with former Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the sixth year cornerback ended up signing with the New York Giants. Details came out that Idzik wanted Cromartie to prove himself after having a decent year in Denver after two miserable ones in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Giants ended up giving Cromartie exactly what he wanted, a 5 year deal worth a little less than $8 million a year. In terms of a contract, that’s top flight cornerback money, and DoRoCro is certainly not a top level corner.
Going back to Idzik though. his actions, or rather, inaction, has led to several theories: that he’s a stubborn negotiator who refuses to find a middle ground, (ostensibly true, given his handling of the Howard situation), that he’s more concerned with building the team through the draft, (also true, given that he’s already attended Texas Tech and Louisville’s pro days to scout tight end Jace Amaro and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater rather than meeting personally with former top target Emmanuel Sanders) or that he’s deliberately sabotaging Rex Ryan so that he can blow up the team and remake it the way he wants it (although there’s no credence to that theory, the way that he handled Ryan’s coaching staff indicates that he’s still smarting over having to deal with someone whom he didn’t hire).
What disgruntled fans, columnists like Manish Mehta and Rich Cimini, and agents fail to realize is that there’s more to the offseason than free agency. There’s no such thing as an open-book general manager; if there was, then all his targets would be gone. Idzik is fiscally conservative. In a salary cap driven league, that may not be a bad thing. He’s not going to throw money at just anyone because that player can temporarily fill a need. While admittedly upset at losing Revis to New England, I get why he didn’t sign him. Revis may be a top flight cornerback, but really, is a corner worth $12 million a year? In addition, Revis established his status as a greedy money grubbing mercenary when he held out of camp in 2010, and cemented it when he signed a 1 year deal for $12 million with the Patriots.
Idzik knows that prices for players do drive up when rookie contracts expire. Look at Colin Kaepernick. He’s only been playing for three years and already he wants $18 million a year. This is for a quarterback who, while he did make the Super Bowl in his first year as a starter, is in no way elite quite yet.
Another realization is that Idzik’s strategy has paid off. The Seattle Seahawks won the Superbowl with a roster built almost entirely out of players acquired in the draft. Richard Sherman was an Idzik pick. Russell Wilson was an Idzik pick. Golden Tate was an Idzik pick.
What Idzik does need to realize is that he’s not in Seattle anymore. Seattle is more calm and reserved when it comes to dealing with football outside the season. New York, on the other hand, is a hyper frenzied media market. Every move is watched, every player is overanalyzed. Fans don’t know the meaning of patience. Rex Ryan and Woody Johnson, both imported products of the New York way, aren’t patient. However, is it necessarily a bad thing to wait? Is waiting until the draft a crime?
Idzik prove many doubters wrong with his first draft. He found Revis’ replacement in Dee Milliner, reaped the immediate benefits of the deal as well by getting future Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson, a pick, mind you, that Jets fans booed (although Jets fans will boo practically any pick), and patiently waited and picked up a viable, if slightly shaky option at quarterback in Geno Smith at #39. In addition, Idzik completely revamped the running game by trading for Saints running back Chris Ivory. Prior to the deal, many fans wanted Idzik to pick up a running back, like Alabama’s Eddie Lacy or UNC’s Gio Bernard.
Although Idzik’s strategy may wear thin the patience of fans who were expecting the team to actually do something in free agency, perhaps he’s biding his time and hoping that his magnum opus is in this year’s draft.
The Jets do have up to 12 picks this year after the purge of 2013. Up to 5 of those picks are protected thanks to the compensatory rules. There’s actually a good chance that one of those picks ends up being the prized end of the third round selection. In addition, the Jets have two fourth round picks, and history has shown that the fourth round has been one of the Jets’ best rounds, see Jerricho Cotchery, Kerry Rhodes, Leon Washington, Brad Smith, and Bilal Powell for reference.
Idzik may be using one or two of the picks that he has to strike a deal for a cornerback. While he won’t be getting a Sherman, he may be going after someone who’s dependable, like a Brandon Flowers or a Byron Maxwell. It’s not like he’s going to pull a St. Louis and stash all his picks.
Idzik also knows a late round talent when he sees one. Seattle’s defensive backfield was constructed practically out of late round picks, save for Earl Thomas. Maybe he’s scouting late round cornerbacks who fit the Ryan system.
Look, I get it. The Jets defied expectations last year. They finished 8-8 while perched precariously near the salary cap without an established franchise star or a legitimate receiving corps. They’re off the hook for $27 million. The obvious thing to do is to pounce in the Free Agent market. But here’s the thing. Idzik isn’t an obvious person. He’s biding his time and obviously planning to strike when he feels comfortable. Idzik’s a draft man, just like Mike Tannenbaum was a free agent man before him.
Idzik knows what he’s doing, that he’s got plenty of time. Jerry Reese, the GM of the Giants knows that his time is coming, which is why he’s been making moves like offering 5 years to a cornerback who really isn’t worth the money. Reggie McKenzie of Oakland is also making desperation moves because he knows another 4-12 season will likely mean that he’ll be out of a job. Bill Belichick is making moves because he wants to capitalize on whatever time he has left with Tom Brady, especially after seeing him at his worst last year. And John Elway knows that Peyton Manning is one bone crushing sack away from calling it a career.
There’s a saying in football which could be rephrased for most professional sports (the NBA excluded) that says that you don’t win a championship by winning free agency. Who won free agency last year? And what happened to them that season?
Fans often act spoiled and entitled. We saw it in Sunday’s episode of Family Guy, although in that case, it wasn’t Peter and his buddies crying about the Patriots not making moves in free agency, rather it was the team’s inability to win because of divine intervention. (Frankly, the thought that the Patriots could actually suck with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick still playing is actually intriguing.) In fact, Peter put it on the mark with this quote.
These are good drunk people who work hard to get absolutely nowhere in life. There are 3 million fisherman and only 7 fish left in the sea. But they live to watch football. Many of them on Zenith or Sylvania televisions.
Okay, there’s an obvious exaggeration there and the context is different, but that’s the point. Fans feel that they know what their team needs, and it’s not just the generality of a position, they feel that they know which players their team needs and how much money they should spend, and when things don’t go their way, they whine and call for people’s heads. In truth, what does a blue collar worker know about the inner workings of a football team? What does a news writer know about cap room and how to use it other than how much there is? What does an unemployed deadbeat, a product liability attorney, or a student at a college living on their parents’ dole know about how football, the business works? They think they know football, but what they know is the on field product, like knowing what a Lamborghini looks like. They don’t know what parts go into a car unless they specialize in that field, or dabble in it as a hobby. If a fan wants to get into the business of football, they need to learn about the business of football. That’s why colleges offer sports management courses nowadays. If fans ran a team, they’d run it to the ground. They’d have no concept of what cap is, and how to manage it. They’d know next to nil about player values. In truth, unless they did the actual research into what it takes to run a team, they’d play it like they would their fantasy team. A fantasy team and an actual NFL team are two entirely different things. In fantasy, unless you invested a ton of money in it, you can make moves without consequence, and in all likelihood, your team is full of stars. In pro football, you can’t afford it unless you manage your money wisely. So again, unless you actually know about how football, the business is run, it’s advisable that you stop yelling for your GM’s head.
So yes, while Idzik may be annoying a lot of people with his supposed glacial pace in free agency, we can’t pass judgement on him until the offseason ends. There’s months to go before the first preseason game, and free agency obviously isn’t over yet. So don’t panic and don’t yell for his head. Good things come to those who wait.