The New York Jets are entering the offseason with a new general manager in John Idzik, and Rex Ryan has a fresh start. After the season, Rex Ryan annoyed some by saying he felt like it was day one of a new beginning. If the Jets can take some important steps this offseason, it can be day one on the road back to being a playoff and Super Bowl contender. It will take some salary cap maneuvering, some creativity and solid drafting, but this team is probably closer than most would admit.
The New York Jets need a solid plan of attack this offseason to make sure the franchise starts moving in the right direction. There are going to be some tough decisions along the way, but those can often separate the successful teams from the ones sitting at home around playoff time. In the past few years the Jets have been willing to gamble, but they haven't been able to identify when it's time to cut ties with some players.
That being said, here's a logical, simple, five-step plan to this offseason:
- Find a caretaker at quarterback: Some won't want to resign themselves to grabbing a cheap, average option at quarterback like Matt Moore, but no quarterback in the 2013 NFL Draft stands out as a franchise guy. Finding a franchise quarterback would be nice, but forcing it out of desperation can and will be disastrous. The Jets don't need to be great at the quarterback position to get back into playoff contention. Competent will do. Mark Sanchez will be in the mix, of course, but it should be an open competition between him and a solid veteran. If the Jets can simply avoid turning the ball over at the ridiculous rate they did last season at the quarterback position, it will be a significant improvement.
- If Jarvis Jones and/or Damontre Moore fall in the 2013 NFL Draft, take them: All of the people clamoring for offensive help in the draft won't like this one. Yes, the Jets need help on the offensive side of the ball, but drafting in the Top 10 is the time to grab rare assets. When the Jets were in contention, one of the things that held them back was the absence of a big-time pass rusher and you typically can't add one without having a Top 10 selection. With the idea being steady progression (as in not drafting in the Top 10 again for the foreseeable future), they may not get another chance to grab one. Jarvis Jones and Damontre Moore are elite talents that will complete a formidable young pass rush with Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples.
- Save draft picks, acquire more if possible: Take a cue from the best in the NFL at managing the salary cap. The easiest way to the team out of salary cap hell and make sure it never returns is to find contributors on rookie contracts. That means drafting best available (early on, at least) and stockpiling picks if possible. If it's up to their second round choice, 39th overall and they like several players still on the board, take a chance on moving back and grabbing the extra pick. Volume in the middle rounds is a great way to unearth cheap starters and role players.
- Make the necessary cuts: The expected cuts of Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Eric Smith and Jason Smith need to happen. There are a few others that make sense as well. Trust some of the younger players that have shown signs, such as Kenrick Ellis, to take on more responsibility.
- Don't overpay for Dustin Keller: Cue the cries for the Jets to keep Mark Sanchez's "security blanket." The decision to keep Dustin Keller or let him walk should have nothing to do with Mark Sanchez. The quarterback's job is to deliver the football on time in the correct spot whether or not he's buddies with his receiving corps. Dustin Keller has talent, but he hasn't been consistent over the course of a season yet in five seasons. If he's looking for big-time tight end money, let him find it elsewhere.
Are things a bit more complicated than laid out above? Maybe. But it's a skeleton of an offseason plan that can be accomplished through free agency and the 2013 NFL Draft and should put the Jets in a much better position to grab a playoff spot. It's always important to remember that the team still won six games in 2012 despite how horrible the offense was to watch at times, including some close losses. Make steady improvements and focus on building a strong core of young talent to get back in the playoff picture not just for 2013, but for years to come.