The fact we all know, painfully, by now, is that the Jets were completely outmanned last year. The team as a whole, had too many of them...holes, that is. LG, RT, the wrong type of D-linemen and linebackers, WRs who couldn't stretch the field and a broken QB who couldn't get the ball to them if they did, anyway.
But that can all change in a few hours. Free agency—the first half of all football fans off-seasons dreams (the Draft being the other)—begins in just a few short few hours.
In truth, the Jets already started their off-season a while back. They hired Bill Callahan as assistant Head Coach. Callahan, a failure so far as a head coach, but a whiz with offensive strategies and a guru of the offensive line, must have spent two seconds as a Jets coach before Mangini pointed him towards the offensive line and said, "Fix." Anyway, Coach Callahan comes in with the Jets with the idea (in my opinion) of freeing Mangini to be more hands-on in orchestrating the defensive game plan. Which is fine with most Jets fans.
First off, everyone watching 8 seconds of a Jet game last year knew the offensive line was exactly that; offensive. Without Kendall, D'Brick regressed and seemed intimated by quick and strong defensive ends. LG was a one-way street to the QB, as Richard Seymour showed Kellen Clemens last fall. RT couldn't get any push for Thomas Jones; on the whole, they were discombobulated and overmatched.
The word is that the Jets are going to dial the last digit of Alan Faneca's agent's phone number at 12:00:01 tomorrow morning, having already dialed the previous six two months ago. Certainly he would fit well in between Brick and Mangold. The question is does his price tag fit his declining skills. Pro Football Weekly's scouts say he started to have some problems with speed rushers. Can Callahan help in this area? Or do you go with a Jacob Bell who may not have the pedigree, but is cheaper and a little younger? That's the $40 million dollar question.
Another big rumor is Asante Samuel. The All-Pro cornerback played for Mangini up in New England and likes him. And the Jets cut Andre Dyson. Natural fit, no? Well, two problems. First, Samuel played almost exclusively off his man in zone coverage. Mangini has been trying for two years to institute more in-your-face, man coverage—the kind Green Bay plays. Second, Asante has set a new goal for himself; the highest contract ever given a CB. With the Jets trying to fill a bunch of other holes, spending beaucoup bucks on a CB doesn't make sense.
One player I had my eye on was recently resigned by his team. DT Isaac Sopoaga, a made-by-god 3-4 nose tackle (he bench-pressed 225 at the combine in 2004, 42 times, second-place in combine history), isn't Ted Washington in his prime, but could clog the middle and get some push up the middle. And he'd be cheap, but SF resigned him. So DT is a problem. Albert Haynesworth has been franchised. Can Sione Pouha man the middle fulltime? Is there anyone in the draft who fits the part?
Another off-season issue is Vilma and Robertson. A year ago, (as I previously wrote) I begged to trade them. Nice players, yes, but not a fit for the scheme. A year later, the Jets seem ready to do just that. Rumors are flying of Vilma to the Lions and Robertson to the Broncos—the best however that the Jets will get for these guys now is a couple of 3rd round picks. Vilma is coming off a serious injury and Robertson has been out-ed as an ok player at best.
Personally, I can't see why the Jets can't pry a second rounder from the Saints. New Orleans has been looking for a MLB since Sam Mills hung them up. A perfect fit for the Saints, Vilma would be a Pro Bowl contender in no time. Worth a mid-second round pick. At least it's arguable. Go explore, Tannenbaum.
Right tackle looks like a draft-time fix. The best options in free agency seem off the market before free agency has even begun: Flozell Adams (a LT, but really a natural RT) resigned with Cowboys, Jordan Gross has been franchised as was Stacey Andrews, who the Jets showed interest in last year. Max Starks is a possibility, but he's been up and down his entire career. Besides, he was hit with the transition tag, which means the Steelers have first right to match whatever he's been offered. The draft, come early round two, has a number of possibilities. Gosder Cherilus, Sam Baker or Carl Nicks whom Callahan coached at Nebraska are strong possibilities to be sitting at the top of Round 2.
One other problem is LB. Bryan Thomas, whom had a nice year in 2006 returned with a total thud last season. His poo-poo year: 2.5 sacks and 47 tackles was pretty g-o-d awful for a guy who just signed a big extension. His parting words, as he departed the locker room after the last game probably didn't sound as positive as he meant them to. "I learned I need to continually work on my game?" What, you mean, you haven't? Well, assuming he actually works on his game for this season, there still is the problem of Victor Hobson. He's testing the free agent market, and the Jets seem content to let him. To replace him, almost every mock draft has the Jets taking Vernon Gholston from Ohio State, this year's "Freak" athlete. Assuming he's there at the no. 6 pick, he'd be a nice fit at the other OLB position. Inside, David Harris is manning one position more than capably. Herm Edwards holdover Eric Barton is at the other inside position, though the Jets would probably like an upgrade. However, with a galaxy of other problems, the Jets might be content to let this one lie for another year. The sames probably true for WR. The Jets might spend a low-round pick, or go after a second-tier WR, but a huge splash probably isn't in the cards.
I'm not even going to talk about QB. Kellen Clemens deserves more than 7 starts—especially in front of a real offensive line—before we judge him. The same goes for RB. Thomas Jones has been proven to be a good RB, when he has a chance to reach scrimmage before getting hit.
All in all, this is probably one of the more important off-seasons in Jet's recent history. A couple of bad free agency pickups, or a couple of gaffes in the draft could set this franchise in a tailspin for years. Let's hope that come the next few months, they have the wisdom of Solomon, or at least Bill Walsh—they are going to need it.