Happy Tampering Eve!
This might be my favorite time of the year. Like the old “Hot Stove League” in baseball, the Free-agency and Pre-Draft section of the calendar is filled with rumors, mock and mocking drafts, hope, promise, broken promises, and the ultimate chance for football salvation. No matter how bad you were the season before, you can believe with the right combo of incoming vets, a wily GM, and a miracle draft, that you can become a Super Bowl contender seemingly, almost overnight. More truthfully you can argue about football situations, no matter how implausible- “Peyton will have a fully repaired Plantar Fascia by then, he can push off so he will throw 35+ touchdowns to the Rams and light LA on fire”- when there is no football to watch and disprove your theory. This is exactly what the NFL wants, all of us paying customers, paying attention to the
drama 12 months a year. I am in, I would rather argue the merits of the transition tag or the likelihood of converting a college 4-3 end into a 3-4 linebacker than watch the Jags play the Titans in December. I would rather watch Mike Mayock and Daniel Jeremiah and Mel Kiper Jr and Todd McShay write and argue incessantly about how a small college lineman can or can’t adjust to the big lights of the NFL, or how a WR doesn’t have great speed but is a great route runner and catches the ball at the highest point than watch the bobbleheads on a pre-game telecast multiply to 7 or 10 broadcasters and former players all making fun of Terry Bradshaw.
Where does all this leave my favorite team the New York Jets? I am glad you asked, even if you didn’t, because I am only too happy to join the hordes and tell you my certifiable, lock, money back guaranteed positions. As the league enters the “legal” tampering weekend before the league year resets and free agency begins in earnest, the Jets find themselves in an unusual position- coming off a good year with solid management. (seriously Mike Maccagnan is the first Jets exec to win the PFWA Executive of the year since the award began in 1993) They obviously want to continue on with the success they had last year, but face two Jet historic obstacles and one divisional blockade. The first is the Jets have had double digit wins in back to back seasons exactly twice in franchise history and have never had more wins the season after a double digit win season. In the ten seasons following a double digit win total the Jets have averaged 6.9 wins. The second is that the Jets have won their division exactly four times in franchise history, so the wild card is their path to the playoffs most years, leading to frequent clashes with the Steelers or the Chiefs or the Raiders to get there. Lastly, as we all know, the Patriots are the class of the AFC east for the 21st century, having won the division 13 times since 2001, and force everyone to play for the wild card.
Bill Parcells would say you either get better or you get worse, you don’t stay the same. Given the Jets history, this season has regression written all over it, and in the end, they didn’t make the playoffs even with a very favorable schedule. Which brings us to the last set up point- the schedule. The truth is the Jets could play exactly the same as they did in 2015 and finish with a worse record. The historic convergence of playing the two worst divisions in the league in the same year gave the Jets a very rare chance at success but were unable to capitalize. In 2016 the Jets will face the always bedeviling AFC North and the powerhouse NFC West. The set up of the schedule is the most often overlooked aspect of roster management. John Idzik should have known that he needed safeties and cornerbacks when he saw the murderers row of Pro-Bowl caliber quarterbacks on the schedule. Mike Maccagnan then had the very unusual set-up of having to spend his cap room by league rule and having a schedule that would reward talent acquisition and a roster starved for it. Granted he traded very well- Brandon Marshall and Ryan Fitzpatrick- and he spent the money on impact positions to back up his powerhouse front seven- Revis, Cromartie, Skrine, and Gilchrist. Then he had arguably the best non-quarterback fall to him at 6, enabling him to draft for need the rest of the weekend. This is commonly referred to as the dream for a new GM- meaning it never happens. If 2015 was the result of all that went right and wrong from the previous decision makers, this is now Maccagnans real moment.
The consensus among Jets fans is that he must decide between winning now and setting up the future. The answer is simple- go for the win, but try to set up the future as best you can. The future is impossible to predict but do not saddle us with tons of bad cap situations. This defense is elite but it has a window that is already closing. Tannenbaum and Idzik did not draft well between 2009 and 2014 and the roster has borne that out over the last three seasons. The offense is now stable and balanced, you have weapons to receive, Amaro is coming back, and the QB position performed at above league average for the first time in at least a decade. Add all this up and it means you have a chance to maybe go for a championship IF, big if, you go all in on defense and try for an all-time unit. This means they will have to go after a few big ticket FA- especially an edge rusher, keep their unit intact- Snacks and Mo, get a few assets- tag and trade Mo, and draft defense yet again with the 20th pick. Obviously there is a need to clear some cap room. There are some tough calls and some not so tough ones- Kerley, Cumberland, Giacomini, Folk, restructure D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Revis- this should give you around $30 million for improvements. Normally you don’t want to risk guaranteeing more money to an aging player on the down slope like Revis, but in his singular case he is worth it and the result of going for a championship makes it worth it. The fans will love him even when he can no longer perform, the salary cap keeps going up to cover up the liability, and it is the only path you can take to try and win a championship in the next 2-3 years. This is what Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles should be thinking about with every decision the make in the next six months because without a championship or a serious playoff run, they probably will not be the decision makers in 2018 or 2019.
See part two for the FA period strategy.
Part three coming soon for Draft strategy.