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Where Did Things Go Wrong for the 2012 Jets

I think there is still a good deal of blame being passed onto Mike Tannenbaum for failing to maintain the locker room and leadership that the team had in the past. Part of that comes from former players, specifically Kris Jenkins, now a very entertaining analyst for SNY, fueling the flames of the fans, but I donít think that this is pointing the finger in the right direction. The Jets did not make bad personnel decisions when it came to the veterans they decided to release. Letís look at the names of the players who are most often brought up:

Alan Faneca- The left guard was brought in to stabilize a young offensive line that the Jets had heavy investments in. He did his job and that was that. After the Jets released Faneca he lasted all of one season in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals before retiring.

Thomas Jones- The workhorse back of the team in 2008 and 2009 Jones was a locker room hero for questioning Brett Favre in 2008 and supposedly punching Kerry Rhodes in 2009. Jonesí play trailed off by the end of 2009 and the Jets moved on. In two years with the Chiefs Jones rushed for 1,374 yards at 3.45 YPC. He added 165 receiving yards to the Chiefs offense. His replacement, LaDainian Tomlinson, rushed for 1,124 yards at 4.05 YPC and added a huge 817 receiving yards at a lower cost. Both retired in 2012.

Kris Jenkins- Jenkins was a dominant tackle that was traded for to bring life to the Eric Mangini 34 defense. Jenkins was dominant for a season before injuries ruined his final two years with the team. Jenkins retired from the NFL after the Jets released him following the 2010 season.

Damien Woody- The dominant right tackle began to see the injuries pile up in 2010 and when he did not seem interested in taking a paycut the Jets made it known that they would release him from his contract. Woody did not try to find another job and instead retired. The Jets clearly could have used Woody in 2011 but its doubtful he would be playing in 2012.

Braylon Edwards- I was a big Braylon fan but the Jets made the move to let him walk. Edwards caught 23 passes in the last two years and is barely hanging on to a job in Seattle.

Jerricho Cotchery- The Jets saw Cotchery, who clearly did not fit with Edwards and Santonio Holmes, as a non-factor at his salary level. Jerricho has 27 receptions in 23 games with the Steelers. If he was willing to accept a reduced role and salary he is one of the few players that could still contribute enough to be a locker room positive.

Shaun Ellis- Ellis was around forever but was becoming a situational player by the end of his tenure. The Patriots gave Ellis a nice contract in 2011 to see no production at all from the former Jet. Ellis is now retired.

Brad Smith and Leon Washington- These two wanted money and were not worth it to the Jets. Brad Smith will likely be released by the Bills, where he has 28 receptions in two years as they realized he is only valuable as a special teams player. Washington is a special teams guys with no role in any other phase of the game. Sure the Jets could use him fielding punts but at the money he wanted? No way. Jay Feely and Steve Weatherford- The Jets are an awful team. Special teamers do not make a difference when you are this bad. Folk has proven to be better than Feely to boot.

You cant argue with any of these moves individually and certainly none of these players would have made a material impact on the 2012 season. The problem comes from the development of the roster and the drafting side of the room. Leadership is all well and good in the NFL, but having leaders that canít play is not going to have a positive impact on a team. Just look at Bart Scott right now. He cant play and he has no role. He is certainly not lifting the spirits of the team.

The issue is that the Jets expected the younger players at the time to grow into the roles that were being vacated by Ellis, Jenkins, Faneca, etcÖIt never happened. The Jets expected DíBrickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold to be the leaders that Faneca and Woody were. It never happened. David Harris was supposed to become the leader of the defense it never happened. Mark Sanchez was supposed to become the overall leader of the team. Clearly that never happened.

Thatís poor development by the Jets organization. The voices of the locker room were supposed to pass the torch to the young generation. For whatever reason it fell on deaf ears. Maybe Rex was too vocal and it allowed the younger guys to let Rex take over rather than assuming the mantle themselves. Maybe Santonio Holmes, Bart Scott, and Anotonio Cromartie drowned out too many voices as they took Rex shtick to the extremes. Or maybe the Jets just simply misread the capabilities of the guys they had.

But to say that keeping these old players around just because ďthey are leadersĒ is not a solution. Its an excuse for a group of popular players on the team that grew up as homegrown Jets who have failed to accept the roles they needed to take on. They all have the experience. They suffered through 2007. They saw what it was like to ride the highs of 2008 and have them quickly turn into the lowest of lows. They saw coaches fired. They won road playoff games and lost Championship games. They started since they were rookies. They have seen more than enough to be players that set examples and set the tone for a locker room, but it didnít happen.

One of the reasons the Jets were able to load up with veterans for the 2008-10 run was because of those young players. When you hit in the draft you can have the high priced veterans to flesh out the young roster. It creates a nice balance of talent that can give a team a good chance at winning in the playoffs. The problem is that eventually those young players need to get paid. It becomes impossible to keep both sets of players. How can you pay David Harris all of that money and keep Kris Jenkins? You canít.

The Jets kept who they felt were the best of their homegrown players, the problem was they failed to replace their low salaries with contributing players. Even going back to the 2008 draft the Jets began to shift their draft philosophy to ďprojectĒ drafting rather than hoping for the sure things. In 2008 the Jets took Vernon Gholston with the intention to make him an OLB, a position he had never played and would have a hard time grasping in the pros. TE Dustin Keller was the teams other high pick that year. Keller was a projected 2nd round or 3rd round talent before he wowed everyone at the scouting combine and flew up the charts. The Jets made their move to get him knowing full well he had never blocked a day in his life and would need time to learn that part of the position. Sanchez had limited college experience as did Stephen Hill. Each one of these players would take time to grow.

I almost always consider a smaller school program a project player simply because they donít play top talent and you donít know what happens when they make the leap. Kyle Wilson fits that mold. So does Vlad Ducasse. Muhammad Wilkerson is in the same situation. Even Quinton Coples comes out of a conference that does not play quality teams. It took Wilson three years to become a starter, a role he only received because of injury. Ducasse will take at least 4 years before he becomes a starter. Wilkerson is a steady starter with good upside. Coples clearly wont start until at least year 2, though the Jets wisely are adjusting the defense for him.

Every one of these moves, taken individually is acceptable. You have to take risks in the NFL is you want to succeed. Taken as a whole? Itís a disaster waiting to happen. No sane person dealing with money would invest in risk-risk-risk-risk because the odds of not losing money would be astronomical. The same holds true in the NFL. Even if the players work out in most cases it will take 3 or 4 years to see the rewards from the player. By that point in time they are ready for a bigger contract. In essence you are giving up those low price years for upside potential 4 and 5 years down the line.

Rather than being in a position to cover for the Scottís, Calvin Paceís, and Bryan Thomasí of the team the Jets are forced to start these players while the young ones ride the bench. You donít have the money to spend to upgrade the roster because you are now all in on the Mangold group and cant yet escape the Scott group. If Wilson could have played in year 1 or year 2 would the Jets have needed to spend $8 million a year on Cromartie? For as much as I love Cro the answer is no. That might have been a starting caliber right tackle and quality secondary wide receiver. If Ducasse could have played anywhere would the Jets have had to waste time looking at other tackles and guards for the bottom of the roster? Nope. And its an issue that will continue for the foreseeable future as the Jets chase WRs while they hope that Hill learns to catch a football in the next two years.

Looking backwards at veteran personnel decisions is simply not looking at the real problem. The Jets need an overhaul of their player development programs and draft process. Their failures in these two areas are what led to the inability to maintain the team they finished building in 2008. Itís something we all should have seen coming each year but were blinded by the success in the playoffs in 2009 and 2010. Unfortunately the team was blinded by that as well and has been stuck playing the waiting game, desperately hoping that these players all begin to contribute and save the team from a return to the 1990ís. 12 weeks into the 2012 season and the 90ís are looking like a reality once again.

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