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.