Rebuilding a Franchise:
1. The Jets Trade for Brett Favre
This may have been the strangest NFL story in recent memory. Star players leave their teams all the time. RB Emmitt Smith was sent packing from Dallas. WR Jerry Rice ended up in Oakland. QB Joe Namath was a Ram. All time great S Ronnie Lott was a Jet. But never has a divorce been so messy and so public as the one that was between the Green Bay Packers and QB Brett Favre. Favre was a legend in Green Bay, said he wanted to retire, and then decided he really wanted to play football. His team essentially said they don't want him and would pay him a good deal of money to stay away. Favre blasted the team and the way they treated him in an interview done with Fox News. He showed up at camp and the Packers held a meeting with him in which they said they would trade him as long as it was not to a team within the division. The condition was that he leave camp and not disrupt the team.
Probably the last place Favre thought he would be in 2008 was New York. Favre was a country boy at heart and a NFC Quarterback. He knew the teams in the NFC, particularly the teams within his division. Going to the AFC East, where he would match up against teams he had seen only twice since 2002, was not exactly his first choice. Favre had veto power over any trade and assumed he could force the hand of the Packers and get a trade to the Buccaneers who were coached by Jon Gruden, a Packers assistant during Favre's early years in the NFL.
Despite this the Jets remained very interested. Owner Woody Johnson wanted to make a splash in wake of the New York Giants winning the 2007 Super Bowl. The Jets wanted stars on the team and GM Mike Tannenbaum loved to make a deal. This would be the move of a lifetime. In addition the Jets did not a very good quarterback situation. Chad Pennington was the coaches favorite and had the best track record of anyone on the team, but he had a bad injury history and was replaced at one point the year before by backup Kellen Clemens. Clemens, drafted in 2006, had already fallen out of favor with the organization with his failure show any growth as a player in 2007.
So Tannenbaum worked night and day on making the deal happen. He had to convince his head coach, Eric Mangini, that Favre could work with the team. Mangini was not certain, but eventually signed off after being sold on the fact that this was in the best interest of the organization. All the power brokers flew to Favre's home to more or less beg him to play for the Jets. He was still holding out hope for another team. The Jets pulled the trigger anyway sending away an eventual 3rd round draft pick for the star QB. Favre, realizing if he wanted to play in 2008 he could not hold out much longer, agreed and packed his bags for Jersey.
Favre never really fit in with the Jets. He had problems with the offense and did not really believe in the coaching staff. He has his moments, culminating in back to back wins against the New England Patriots and unbeaten Tennessee Titans, before the wheels came off.Favre imploded on the field, later blaming it on an injury that Mangini claimed the team was never aware of. It was an epic collapse that saw a team that looked to be a lock to win the division end up out of the playoffs completely. For the young fans who never understood what it meant to be “the same old Jets” they finally got a small dose of what it has been like for those who came aboard after Super Bowl III.
But sometimes in failure there is a very big bright light. The trade for Favre ended up setting the wheels in motion for everything that was to come and has led to the back to back championship games. As soon as Favre was acquired the Jets quickly parted with Pennington. Pennington had been the on again off again starter since 2002. He had led the Jets to one division title and two other playoff appearances. He was a favorite of the coach and also of the owner, as Chad was Johnson's first real big signing and face of the franchise kind of player. Pennington was a solid QB, but with almost no upside. When you coupled that with his penchant for getting injured at least every other season it was really a pipe dream to imagine Chad ever leading the Jets deep into the playoffs.
Had the Jets not released Pennington he was going to be the starter of the team. It was a talented team and would have likely won the division had Pennington remained at QB once Patriots QB Tom Brady got injured. He never would have fallen apart the way Favre did down the stretch and the Jets would have been an 11 or 12 win team. Pennington did end up winning the AFC East with the Miami Dolphins. Pennington was still under contract with the Jets until 2011and a winning year with the Jets in 2008 would have ensured him the starting job in 2009 and most likely 2010. Chad ended up injured in 2009 and again in 2010 and the Dolphins collapsed. The Jets probably would have been in a similar situation. There would have been no Mark Sanchez ready to step in. The job would have again fallen to Clemens and the Jets would have wasted more time waiting for Pennington to be healthy.
Even more than that, Favre's collapse directly led to the firing of the head coach. Woody could not understand how the Jets could collapse the way they did. He just spent a fortune on players, including a Hall of Fame QB, and had thousands of seats to sell in a new stadium. The fans turned on Mangini and so did the media, who disliked the fact that Mangini gave them limited access to the players and coaching staff. Johnson could not turn a blind eye to the poor results on the field and the very vocal negative press about the team and his coach. He proceeded to fire Eric Mangini. Meanwhile Brett Favre announced that he did not want to play football anymore.
So here were the Jets with no head coach and no quarterback. They set their sites on a coaching candidate that would have the personality and football knowledge needed to repair the damage that Mangini had done to the teams reputation among the fans. That head coach ended up to be Rex Ryan. The Jets also were aware that they wanted to avoid being part of the annual Favre retirement circus so they began focusing on the chance of acquiring a real franchise QB. They needed help to do it and turned to Mangini, who was hired to run the Cleveland Browns, to obtain the draft pick needed to draft a young QB from USC named Mark Sanchez.
Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez. Back to back AFC Championship appearances and a very bright future for New York, made possible by that risky trade for Favre. Had the trade never been made the team would have been totally different. Pennington would have been trying to return from another surgery while Mangini would have been the coach, probably getting fired after the 2010 season. By then Ryan would have probably been a head coach elsewhere and Sanchez would have been QB of another franchise, perhaps the Cleveland Browns. Luckily for the Jets, Favre helped the team luck into finding the Ryan and Sanchez combination that is poised to lead the Jets to the highest period in the history of the franchise.