Commentary

Jets have improved, but quarterback remains an issue

After spending big on players such as Alan Faneca and Kris Jenkins, the Jets are hoping to win big in 2008, writes Pat Yasinskas.

Originally Published: March 10, 2008
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com

The New York Giants won the Super Bowl. The New York Jets are trying to buy one.

The Jets must have brought in consultants because it appears they believe Lombardi Trophies cost about $140 million in new contract money. That number's going to keep growing because the Jets are still going to sign role players and their draft picks. Oh, and if they bring in a proven quarterback with a big arm (which they currently lack), the number could get a lot closer to $200 million.

So far, the Jets have signed offensive lineman Alan Faneca (to what was at first a team record in free agency). Then they traded a couple of draft picks to Carolina for disgruntled defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and handed him a big new contract. Then they quickly turned around and signed offensive tackle Damien Woody and linebacker Calvin Pace (who got a bigger deal than Faneca).

[+] EnlargeAlan Faneca
Chris Gardner/US PresswireDetermined to improve their run game, the Jets threw a lot of cash at Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca.
So what do the Jets have that they didn't during last year's 4-12 season? They have a much bigger (and that's a point to keep an eye on) nose tackle in their 3-4 defense in Jenkins, whose weight has ballooned from 330 to close to 400 through much of his career. The Jets thought Dewayne Robertson, the undersized tackle Jenkins will replace, would be gone by now. But a potential trade to Cincinnati fell apart. The Jets will continue to shop Robertson, but they'll be lucky to get a late-round pick for him.

It's now looking possible that Robertson could stick around. But that would be awkward because he'll clearly be a backup. Releasing Robertson is another option.

Trading for Jenkins and giving him a new contract that includes $11 million in guaranteed money is a bit of a gamble. But it looks as though the Jets have the odds in their favor. Early in his career, Jenkins was revered as the best defensive tackle in the league, a new breed who could stuff the running game and rush the passer.

But Jenkins had injury problems that kept him out for most of 2004 and 2005. During his comeback, Jenkins admitted to problems with alcohol and his weight, and said he may have suffered from depression.

Jenkins cut way back on his alcohol consumption, tried to take better care of himself and was at least somewhat happy part of the time. But Jenkins, who can be a little moody, wasn't happy that Carolina wasn't stepping up to give him a new contract. He tried to force his way out with a trade last year because he had grown disillusioned with certain members of the coaching staff for using politics to decide who got playing time.

Jenkins, as bright and candid a player as there is in the league, stood out like a sore thumb in a Carolina system that coach John Fox demands all his players (except for receiver Steve Smith) be robotic choirboys. Jenkins, who has some tastes that weren't popular in the Bible belt, was so anxious for a change of scenery that he put his suburban mansion on the market a year ago and moved into an apartment downtown so he could feel like he was in a city.

When Jenkins learned he was going to New York, he was jubilant. That's a good start because a happy and focused Jenkins can be a dominant force and a Pro Bowler. Jenkins has even said he plans to take part in voluntary workouts, something he avoided in Carolina, which no doubt added to his weight problem. If Jenkins can keep his weight in the 350-360 range, he can be the player he once was and this move could be brilliant.

But that's not the only move the Jets made to spice up their defense. They spent another fortune on Pace. Drafted in the first round by Arizona (2003) as a defensive end, Pace eventually moved to linebacker and it wasn't until last season that he really blossomed, recording 6½ sacks. While the Jets are hoping they can get Jenkins back to his previous form, they're betting Pace can take a step forward and become a big producer well into the future.

Those two moves alone could make the defensive side of the ball respectable. But the offense might have had even more problems last season than the defense. The Jets thought they would have a decent running game last year when they brought in running back Thomas Jones. Problem was Jones was running behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeChad Pennington
AP Photo/Al BehrmanUnless the Jets make a move, Chad Pennington is probably their best option at quarterback.
That's why owner Woody Johnson, not usually known for being a big spender, paid huge money to get Faneca and Woody. The Jets have made it no secret they want to be able to run the ball, and the move in that direction wasn't limited to Woody and Faneca. The Jets also brought in new offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who has a reputation as a running game guru, and veteran fullback Tony Richardson, who was the lead blocker for Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, last season's offensive rookie of the year.

We'd love to say all these moves will turn the Jets into an instant Super Bowl contender. But there are a few potential problems:

First, there has been some griping by veteran players about the team giving big contracts to newcomers, while not taking care of incumbents who are coming up on new contracts. Sure, that brings the potential for dissension. But general manager Mike Tannenbaum might want to remind the malcontents that their contributions helped the Jets go 4-12 last season.

Second, at least on paper, the Jets have fixed things to the point that they should be able to stop the run on defense and run the ball on offense. If Arkansas running back Darren McFadden somehow slips to No. 6 in the draft, they might be able to run it better than expected.

All that's wonderful. But the Jets haven't done anything to fix a weak spot last year. At the most important position, they still have Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens. Unless the Jets have a trade up their sleeves or pull a stunner in the draft, either Pennington or Clemens will be their quarterback next season.

Pennington's arm strength and durability have been questions throughout his career. Clemens didn't show much while getting an extended audition last season. With a better offensive line and running game, the more experienced Pennington might be functional.

That might make the Jets respectable and could even get them to the playoffs. But they seemed to leave a quarterback out of that big cart they pushed through their free-agency shopping spree. They spent a fortune on everything else, but didn't come up with even a bargain-basement quarterback to add to the mix. It might have been a fun shopping trip, but it's not enough to buy a Super Bowl.

Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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