Jets in good shape as lockout begins
With the staff stable and schemes in place, Gang Green will be OK during labor crisis
The New York Jets will be OK in the lockout. Actually, better than OK.
If the NFL's work stoppage lasts through the spring and into the summer, causing the cancellation of offseason workouts and pushing free agency until after the draft, the Jets have the ability to withstand the turmoil better than most teams, according to a handful of opposing personnel executives and agents that spoke to ESPNNewYork.com on the condition of anonymity.
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"They'll probably get most of their [free agents] back, and they already have a good nucleus," one general manager said. "They shouldn't miss a beat compared to other teams. I think they're in a good position; so is New England. They should be on cruise control, with no major needs."
The biggest reason, though, is continuity. Rex Ryan's entire coaching staff returns intact, a rarity in the NFL. That will be an enormous benefit if the offseason is lost and training camp is abbreviated.
The offensive and defensive systems are in place -- have been for two years -- which means they don't have to deal with the headache of teaching new playbooks to the players. In a weird way, the down time could help incumbent coaching staffs, as it will allow them more time to study opponents.
The Jets also don't have any quarterback uncertainty with Mark Sanchez as the clear-cut starter, whereas the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills -- division rivals -- are sorting through quarterback issues that probably will last into training camp.
This isn't to suggest the Jets are lockout-proof. No, there will be challenges along the way and adjustments that will have to be made. Here's an analysis:
GM Mike Tannenbaum, who says his offseason game plan is written in pencil, may need to break out an eraser and change his philosophy if the draft is held before free agency.
Tannenbaum is a steadfast believer in plugging holes via free agency and trades, allowing him to go into the draft with flexibility. In other words, he doesn't like to feel boxed in. Classic example: In 2009, the Jets didn't need a running back, not with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington on the roster, but they traded up for Shonn Greene when he slipped to the third round. They had him rated as a first-rounder; the move turned out to be a smart move.
This time, the Jets' will have glaring needs if the draft is first -- defensive tackle, pass rusher and safety. Do they draft a receiver not knowing if they'll be able to re-sign Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards? It changes the playing field for a team accustomed to drafting for quality over quantity, but Tannenbaum and his staff have proven they can adjust to different circumstances.
Holmes. Jones. Antonio Cromartie. Kris Jenkins. These are some of the players the Jets have picked up in recent years via offseason trades. This is what Tannenbaum does best, dealing for veteran players in March and April. That gives the new players time to get acclimated to the area and buy into the Jets' program. (In Cromartie's case, enough time to pay off child-support debt.)
If trading doesn't begin until, say, July or August, it'll be harder to acquire players that can make an immediate impact. (Teams can trade draft picks for draft picks, but no players.) They wouldn't have the benefit of minicamps and organized team activities; it would be a cram course. This could really devalue a resource that has helped the Jets immensely in recent years.
This is the biggie. The Jets have 15 expiring contracts, including big-ticket free agents Holmes, Cromartie and Edwards. If they can re-sign two or three, plus a good amount of their second-tier free agents, it would be a distinct advantage over teams with significant roster turnover -- especially if it's a late free agency period.
The question is, can they keep their own? One personnel executive theorized that draft before free agency would hurt the market for second-tier free agents, pushing those players to re-sign with their own teams. That could really help the Jets retain players like Brad Smith, Eric Smith and Brodney Pool. What about the elite players?
"If you're a special player, your money will be there," one executive said.
In other words, the Jets may have to overpay to keep someone like Holmes, but it might be worth it for the sake of continuity.
If the 2010 free-agency rules stay in effect, it would be an absolute coup for the Jets. They would retain the rights to Holmes, Cromartie and Brad Smith, who would be restricted free agents -- not unrestricted -- because they have less than six accrued seasons. In that case, the Jets could retain them on manageable one-year contracts instead of having to make long-term investments. Basically, it would be a replay of 2010, plenty of incentive for Holmes and Cromartie to stay motivated and well-behaved.
This could be a double-edged sword. Players, banned from the facility in a lockout, will try to organize to hold workouts on their own. Sanchez already has talked about hosting another "Jets West" passing camp near his home in California and Darrelle Revis has said he will invite the defensive backs to the training facility he uses in Arizona.
Indeed, veteran teams with strong leadership and good chemistry should be able to get along without coaches for a few weeks.
Ah, but there is potential downside: There's no protection in the event of injury. As for Sanchez and Revis, they might have trouble finding workout partners. Three of the top four receivers and five defensive backs are free agents, meaning they probably wouldn't want to participate because of the injury risk.
The players hurt most by the lockout will be second-year players such as Kyle Wilson, Vladimir Ducasse, John Conner and Joe McKnight, all of whom need a full offseason to be ready for expanded roles in 2011. But the Jets won't be able to supervise their progress. As for rookies, they will be on their own after the draft.
"Their season," one agent said of the 2011 draft picks, "will go down the toilet."
Maybe so, but the Jets are in better shape than most.