Thoughts on Mike Tannenbaum's Future
With the debacle of a preseason game against the Giants in the books there has been a growing sentiment among Jets fans about the prospects of the team and moreso the general manager Mike Tannenbaum. If you are a diehard that follows the blogs and message boards you see it in the comments. If you listened to WFAN on the drive in you heard it on the radio. If the season turns about to be as bad as expected it will be as big a topic as any this season. Hopefully it wonít be but I just wanted to put my 2 cents in on the situation anyway.
First of all let me say that I think consistency just for the sake of consistency in the NFL is bad, both on the field and in the front office. People point to teams like the Giants and the Steelers, but those are teams that are run well. They can be consistent because the decision makers and succession plans they put in place are exceptional. The Lions could have been consistent for a decade and nothing would have changed. They needed to make a move to change the thinking and planning at the top of the organization. So making an argument that the Jets need consistency is foolish. The question is whether or not the decision making on the Jets has been sound for the last 7 years. If it has been then there is no argument. Consistency is a good thing when that is the case.
Lets look at where the Jets were when Mike Tannenbaum took over the team in 2006. The team was a mess. It was a mish mosh of aging veterans, almost no youth movement, and financial issues. The Jets went for it all in 2005, the team crashed and burned and Tannebaum was left to pick up the pieces of a team with no QB, no offensive line, contractual issues and who had wasted a 2nd round draft pick on a placekicker. The team was handicapped by monster contracts given to Chad Pennington, DeWayne Robertson, Curtis Martin, and on and on and on.
How bad was it? The Jets carried, by my estimates, just a shade under $14 million in dead money on Kevin Mawae, Wayne Chrebet, Ty Law, Jason Fabini, Donnie Abraham, and Martin, who was considered active but for all intents and purposes was dead money. The team had $36.85 million in cap charges for just 4 players- Pennington, Robertson, Laveranues Coles, and Shaun Ellis- plus their best player, John Abraham designated as a franchise player. The cap back then was $100 million so you had a roster with over $58 million dollars set aside for just 5 players who would be active that season. It was cap hell. A nightmare. Tannenbaum traded away Abraham for a first round pick saving the team $8 million and a headache. Pennington took a paycut to save significant cap room and at least give the team a working chance to rebuild. That doesnít make him totally free of blame from the financial mess- he was the architect of those deals---but the job was not a good one to take over.
Now I always thought the fans and media gave Tannenbaum and his coach, Eric Mangini, far too much credit early on. To call people the greatest GM in the world, smartest front office in all of football, etcÖ without proving anything was ridiculous. 2006 was a fluke. When you look at the way the NFL has changed there is a big push towards the unknown coming out of nowhere and doing special things. Its more than just being overlooked by opponents. Generally when a head coach gets fired part of the reason is the schedule was brutal. Most of the time that is followed up by an easier one. In 2005 the Jets faced the AFC West and the NFC South, combining for 4 teams with double digit wins. They also played a 12 win Jacksonville team. In 2006 it was the AFC South and NFC North, only producing 2 double digit win teams combined. Their other two out of division teams had 6 wins combined, a far cry from the 12 win Jaguars. Teams also gameplan based on film and new coaches have limited film for opponents to watch and plan for. Those things caused 2006. Not genius. By 2007 they were right back in the tank because the schedule wasnít so easy (5 out of division teams with 10 or more wins), teams had footage, and nobody overlooked the team. But I throw both of those years out. Those were seasons of housecleaning the Terry Bradway teams and moving into a new era.
Tannebaumís real tenure began in 2008. The first two years were preparation for that season. He got his building blocks via the draft and he solidified the roster in free agency and thru trades. Weíll never know if the Favre experiment was his doing or not, but he constructed a really solid unit that had a 3 year window of opportunity. What happened from 2008-2010 wasnít an accident. The Jets played in two AFC Championship games and just missed the Super Bowl. While their 2008 season ended as a disappointment, it did still produce a 9 win season. The GM had to make the difficult decision of firing a guy he was really close with in Mangini and that was clearly for the betterment of the team as Mangini is now out of football after running the Browns franchise further into the ground.
I think because of the Jets lack of moves in free agency this season that fans and media are looking at this as a sign of bad cap management and financial struggles. Have all the teams deals been good? No. The Bart Scott decision looks to be horrible. So does Calvin Pace, though its likely he would have been here regardless. But is the team really hamstrung by the salary cap like they were in 2005? The answer is no. The Jets have about $6 million in space as I write this and they had the ability to create millions more in cap room by going further in on David Harris, Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, etcÖ Why didnít they do it? Look no further than 2005.
Making moves just to make moves is foolish. Thatís how you get the 2005 Jets. At some point the Jets have to be honest with themselves, and maybe they already were, this offseason. The odds of them advancing to the title game again are slim. That window probably closed in 2010. They tried to keep it open in 2011 by keeping some veterans like LaDainian Tomlinson and signing Plaxico Burress, but it closed on the team and they finished 8-8. They flirted with the idea of Peyton Manning who wanted no part of the team so they simply went to plan B which was keeping Sanchez and giving him a token extension to make him happy.
In 2005 the Jets contracts dictated moves that they had to make in 2006 and 2007. Doing the ďbuy now and pay laterĒ approach takes the team from what may be a two year somewhat painless rebuild in the evaluation year of 2012 and the dumping year of 2013 to a full scale 4 year mess where you simply canít get rid of players because of salaries and you canít get better for years. The Jets have trading chips in Harris, Holmes, Revis, etcÖ because of their contract structure. The Jets can financially do it and teams can take those salaries on since no prorated money comes over. You get a bunch of draft picks for the players and you can rebuild pretty quickly. What the team is doing makes sense and is smart planning by the front office. The best businesses prepare for the worst and to me thatís what the Jets are doing, which is very different than the 2005 team that expected only the best. I think thatís a good consistent approach to running a successful organization.
The problem comes from the drafting side of the room. Itís no secret that the Jets drafts have been bad since 2008. That is the real reason they are in the mess they are in right now. Since the 2008 draft the Jets have yet to find 1 impact player out of 19 selections. Dustin Keller and Muhammad Wilkerson are probably the only 2 picks that would actually start on another team. Thatís terrible. That side of the process needs revamping. Some point to Tannenbaum not having enough of a football background and maybe that is the case, but Iím not even sure on that. He admittedly relies heavily on those around him in terms of scouting and the final decision. I do think there is a problem within the organization where they all fall in love too quickly with a player based on a limited sampling and that in part may have led to the over-excitement on Sanchez. It happens in business all the time. People fall in love with a project and go nutty over every little thing that is good with the project while failing to see the bad in it. Thatís Rex and I think that goes to Tannebaum who relies on his football guys to mold his opinion.
I think in the past they were more methodical in the selection process. Yes Gholston was a bust, but the Jets were very safe in those early drafts. There are tools from old draft history that you can use to evaluate expectations both by round, draft slot, and position. Iíve talked about that on my website multiple times. You donít have to agree with any methods I use to evaluate, but there is tons of data out there to measure risk vs reward propositions of the draft. Its just another tool that should be used in the process of talent evaluation rather than just film and scouting reports. Since Rex it seems like they are more about taking chances that most likely will not pan out. I think those are areas where the whole organization needs to improve, meaning things wont get fixed if the solution is to reshuffle Tannenbaum within the organization and keep everyone else the same. He should take the blame for the drafting the last few seasons but we also need to realize that the whole system needs to change if we want different results.
Iíd be willing to live through another rebuilding effort with the front office that is in place. If the Jets had only made 1 title game I would probably have a different opinion, but 2 title games in a 5 year span is not a fluke. Itís something that took a great deal of planning. Something does need to change in the way they are evaluating rookies and maybe their overall prospects. I donít know what but something changed post Mangini and the team has been worse for it. Did they underestimate what they had in 2009 and then overestimate it in 2011? Probably. To me 2009 was the old approach of being more negative and the way 2008 ended it was hard to be positive. By 2011 the Rex philosophy had taken over the franchise and they failed to see the writing on the wall. But seeing how they have approached 2012 I do think they have maybe gone back to that planning for the worst philosophy that seemed to be here before Rex. Hopefully they have more balance.
But there is a track record here. You have a front office that took over a mess in 2005 and by 2009 was close to a Super Bowl. Since they overhauled the Bradway roster they have not had a losing season. Maybe this will be the first but I think there has been enough shown to keep things consistent up front and let them go through another QB experiment. Hopefully both the GM and the head coach will have learned from their mistakes in the way they brought Sanchez along and do better the next time around. Itís not easy finding a QB and the fact that in this era the Jets have had so much success without one is pretty impressive. I think if they tweak a few more things with how they do business they can right the ship pretty quickly.
Thanks for another objective, thoughtful and thorough piece. You help put in perspective the current state of the roster. I guess the window has probably closed and now it's on to rebuilding. Maybe that's why they drafted Couples instead of DeCastro as Rex's focus is defense.
The offense looks horrendous and I think the defense has improved from last year. Particularly because of their depth on the defensive line: Pouha, Devito, Wilkerson, Ellis, Couples and Maybin could blossom into a fearsome rotation. Kyle Wilson continues to become less of a liability (rookie year: he was absolutely terrible, last year: average bad, this year: average?).
I foresee the Jets losing many games 14-6 with the offense giving up 3 to 6 points per game. (Sorry, I feel my "same ol Jets" frustration creeping in)
Thanks again for providing us Jets fan with such great work.
My problems with him have been the OC and WR. You bring in a "franchise" QB, and they have a revolving door at WR, and had the worst OC I've ever seen for his first 3 years, and they haven't exactly replaced him with Charlie Weis.
Rex is a defensive coach, and his defense has been elite at it's best, merely good at its worst last season. I don't think Rex is the problem, but I don't think Sparano is the answer. He's more like a stopgap until somebody who can make an offense great comes available.
I'm not even sure why they bet their offense on Sparano, since he only had one year running an offense, and the Cowboys couldn't wait to get rid of him. But ANYTHING is an upgrade over Schotty, no matter how modest an upgrade it is.
Given the lack of playmakers, and Santonio Holmes being a glorified #2 WR, running the ball to shorten the game, relying on their 3 Pro Bowl OL, and playing great defense to keep you in games is the best strategy for the talent assembled.
I have not bailed on the Jets this season, like many of you have. between Holmes, Keller, McKnight out of the backfield, and Hill drawing coverage deep, the passing game should really be good enough. But Holmes is the key to this offense clicking, and given how unstable he is, that's not the right way to set up the team. Getting a vet WR like Hushmanzata would be wise, just in case.
And the schedule is not that tough. Barring major injury, they can win 10-11 games if the offense is competent, and the defense improves over last season.
And the Jets draft this year I think was very good! Coples has shown he's a better pick than the Patriots Chandler Jones already (Jones was shut out tonight against the eagles). Hill can develop into a very good WR with his measureables. DeMario Davis is perfect to replace Scott with next season. I can see why Allen and Bush impress them, and even 7th rounder Jordan White has shown basic talent at catching the football.
The cap is clear after next season, so the team is built for a two year run, and can be rebuilt fairly easily.
This offense is the weakest link, but if they play their cards right, they don't have to be much more than 20 pts a game to be successful.
I see the glass half full. But I wouldn't have hired Sparano for the job.....
A well written article, you have made several good points.
Maybe Tannenbaum let Rex influence him too much in the drafting and signing of Scott? (Pace was earlier and not that good, Faneca played 2 years here and was paid for 3). We will probably never know this. But the talent evaluation has been poor for a while, including lack of UDFA (Maybin is a good free pick up though)
Keeping Schottenheimer for so long was a mistake. But my main concern is that Sanchez has not been developed and will end up being a bust. With better development and coaching, maybe he would have been at least OK.
Rex is talented defensively, but Tannenbaum should help get Rex some training. A mentor to work on his shortcomings.
Draft busts aside - the GM has to plan long term. If Damien Woody is getting near retirement, you need to have players who can handle that position. Vlad Ducasse was a bust, but shouldn't they have had more than Hunter as a backup? A team may have mediocre receivers, but a terrible OLine will be a disaster.
Im OK with the Jets going 0-16 this season IF:
1 - they improve their talent evaluation
2 - they can coach Sanchez properly. Maybe he will be a bust, but at least give him a fair chance with a decent OLine and a decent OC. I was really disappointed Norv Turner wasn't fired so the Jets could have hired him. I'm not sold on Sparanao.
3 - they plan better for players needing to be replaced, and have at least fair players to take over (which was not the case with Woody -> Hunter)
PS - the Jets running game is bad because of the OLine. The Oline has a big influence on how a running back does. A bad running game hurts the passing game also. Coupled with bad pass blocking = 3 points per game
That said, the Jets' approach to the draft has to change. In recent years they've been too eager to trade away early round picks to move up to get somebody they "have to have". At some point, finding talent becomes a numbers game - the Patriots have figured this out, with all the picks they accumulate. When you trade away early round picks you have little margin for error. I'd hate to suggest a scapegoat, but Bradway is the senior personnel director and the infamous Doug Jolley trade had his fingerprints on it.
As for which positions they draft, why didn't go get a real ROT in the past few years is baffling. Ducasse was not a good fit. When asked why they didn't trade an ROT this year, they explained it away with words to the effect that their choices were based upon the talent rankings their board was showing during the draft.
Someone in the Jets organization should either (1) examine the decision-making process they are using leading up to draft day, or (2) inspect the spreadsheet or tools they are using to rank their draft options, do needs analysis, opportunity/risk analysis, and trade value models. Something ain't right.
Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting Maurice Jones Drew is available for trade. Can the Jets get him?
They don't call Mr T. "Trader Mike" for nothing. If he has one talent, it is making big moves for big names.....
A little improvement on the O-Line could make all the difference. Someone needs to play RT. I believe / hope Sanchez can step up. MJD would be a great addition...
There was a talk of leadership... Sanchez and the team may have missed Thomas Jones more than the value of LT.
We could be looking at a new GM and coach. I don't really like it, but if they have one year left on their deals, we might see a change. Plus Sanchez could be the June 1st cap casualty next year. And save us money for 2013 but we will eat it a lot in 2014. This is Sanchez's make or break year. Tebow looks like a 1 year deal for now. I don't see him being here long term but as a backup maybe if the ownership decides to go a different direction.
If they get a new GM and coach you know where they will go and we will trade up for a QB or trade for a veteran QB.
Same cycle over and over again. Same old Jets. Lets hope Sanchez finds something this year and we make the playoffs.
thanks again Jason with the hard work you put in.
Unfortunately I think he doesn't have enough time to get up to speed.
I wouldn't be surprised if he performs similarly to how Hunter did last year, maybe a tad better.
He's also historically reactive. Good organizations draft and develop for the future. Tannenbaum waits for things to break down, then tries to swing a high-profile trade to fix them. The team's rotting from the inside because the offense is loaded with mediocrity, neither side of the ball has any significant depth, and guys at low-leverage positions (#2 CB--which would have been worse had they managed to land Asomugha, both ILBs) are being paid huge money. I mean, what other team sees their season derailed by their center going down for three games?
If you keep Tannenbaum, you're trusting that he'll luck into a franchise QB, which just doesn't happen anymore. Until they get someone who can consistently draft offensive players (especially a QB, but also WRs and OL), there will always be a hard cap on how good they can be, and we saw it in 2009 and 2010. If the team moves him downstairs to do contracts full-time again, fine, but the scouting and pro-personnel departments need to be blown up.
#1-- They are paying a lot of guys "Top-10" money for average results. If you look at the Jets pay structure, Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Santonio Holmes, Mark Sanchez, Wayne Hunter (when he was here) are all being paid handsomely-- probably even Top-10 money at their positions. But how many of those guys would you put in the Top-10 at their respective positions right now? I'd put NONE of them; as a matter of fact, I'd be hard pressed to put any of them in the top-15 at their respective positions.
#2-- The article states, and I agree, with the drafting side of things. First and foremost, you don't need to give Rex Ryan a pick. I want guys that can help this football team and so far, the few that people have said are "Rex's picks" haven't been that good-- Bilal Powell, John Conner. Also, when the Jets drafted Scotty McKnight because he was Mark Sanchez's "friend." I don't care about Mark Sanchez's friendships when it comes to the NFL draft; I want football players that fill a need position that can help this football team.
Also, you don't draft projects like Ducasse in Round 2. I have said that once and stand by it. Guys like Ducasse, where you have to spend 3,4 years "coaching them up" are guys you take in rounds 5-7 that you "stash away." Oh, and by the way, Ducasse still hasn't cracked the starting lineup yet; outside of him being a 2nd round pick and the Jets are trying to save face, I can't see why he is still on the roster?
Also, drafts with 3 and 4 picks aren't getting it done today. Can we honestly say Shonn Greene has done enough to warrant giving up 3 draft choices for?
#3-- Quit with the "quick fix" crap and start building a team. LaRon Landry and Yeramiah Bell are nice, but they are "quick fixes." Both will probably be gone at season's end (Landry, if he plays well will be too pricey) and Bell is in his mid-30's. So safety once again will be a need in the off-season. When are we going to see some stability at kicker and punter? Folk is a year to year thing; Conley stinks. There are too many "1 year deals" to "quick fix" things on the Jets.
Oh well, I am probably preaching to the choir on this one.