It’s hard to pick out many high points in the Jets dismal 4-12 season, which saw them languishing at the bottom of the AFC East for the best part of the year. A victory against the Raiders in week one was followed by eight successive losses; tying for the worst losing streak in franchise history. A surprise road victory against the Steelers in week ten and a defiant but all-too-late last stand against Miami in week 17 are the pick of the few highlights. Given this sorry state of affairs it’s unsurprising that owner Woody Johnson had cleaned out both head coach and general management before breakfast on Black Monday.
The fact that GM John Idzik only lasted for two years at the Jets is a clear indicator of his failings. He was in possession of a number of compensatory drafts picks for 2014 plus an extra from the Revis trade to Tampa, providing opportunity to fill some of the many holes. Although all 12 picks were used, key roster needs were not met and Idzik did not provide Rex with the playmakers needed. Taking Calvin Pryor in the first round has not proved effective, especially when a wide receiver was sorely needed. Out of all picks only second round TE Jace Amaro has made any sort of impact – with just two touchdowns.
Idzik’s handling of the quarterback situation also caused more harm than good. By allegedly undermining Rex Ryan and reinstating Geno Smith as starting QB after his benching for Michael Vick three games prior, he added further instability to a team which had already hit rock bottom. Following this, Idzik’s relationship with Ryan, the locker room and the fans deteriorated, with the latter spending thousands on ‘Fire John Idzik’ banners and billboards.
Considering that Rex Ryan was promptly fired, it’s hard to grade the coaching higher but the blame isn’t entirely his. Right until the end it was clear the players wanted to play for him, even through the lowest points. However, without the requisite players to implement his system, cracks began to quickly appear which he couldn’t handle, especially on an offense not helped by OC Marty Mornhinweg’s unceasing insistence on trying passing plays with poor quarterbacks. On a positive note Karl Dunbar continued to inspire and develop the young DL throughout the year and is one piece the Jets would have preferred to keep. As it is, he has packed his bags and followed Rex upstate.
The Jets’ offense was a comedy of errors in 2014, characterised by truly awful play by both Geno Smith and Michael Vick who turned the ball over 24 times combined. Finishing last in the league for passing yards and fifth last in points per game indicates the woes the offense faced all year. The OL did little to provide either QB with enough protection, allowing 47 sacks. High hopes were pinned on Geno Smith in his second season but he compounded poor onfield play with unbelievable moves such as missing a team meeting in San Diego because he forgot about the time difference. His bizarre perfect passer rating in the final game typified the utter inconsistency he showed all year.
Bringing in Eric Decker on a $36.25 million five year deal and the mid-season trade for Percy Harvin gave some promising options at wide receiver but the inadequacies of the passing game meant the impact was limited at best. One area of greater success was in the running game, led by Chris Ivory, finishing third in the league with 2,280 yards. However, with Geno reinstated at starting QB, Rex leaned heavily on the run game making the offense one dimensional and predictable.
You’d expect a higher grade for a Rex Ryan defense but this was a tale of two halves, averaging out as mediocre. The explosive front three of (former Defensive Rookie of the Year and now Pro-Bowler) Sheldon Richardson, Mohammed Wilkerson and Damon Harrison put a lot of pressure on opposing offenses, ranking sixth in the league for sacks. This was easily the strongest area of the entire team. They’ll be keen to keep this unit together for 2015, helped by Richardson and Wilkerson still being in their rookiesecondary, however, was another story. With only six interceptions, the Jets jointly sat at rock bottom of the league. After failing to sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the offseason and losing 2013 first round draft pick Dee Milliner and 2014 pick Dexter McDougle to injury early on, the Revis-shaped cornerback void looked wider than ever.
Team Needs: QB, OL, WR, CB
The only bright spot of the Idzik reign in New York was his handling of the salary cap, providing nearly $39 million in space for potentially big moves in the offseason. A good thing, as it is quicker to list what the Jets don’t need than what they do. The recent QB situation can be best described as a circus. With so many tries and fails a permanent solution is needed and this obviously has got be a high priority. However, in contrast to some early mock drafts, I can’t see that they were quite bad enough to get either Mariota or Winston (considering the needs of teams above) so the net may have to be cast elsewhere; the franchise QB may have to wait.
A new QB will not be enough without a strengthening of the aging offensive line. Veteran tackles D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Giacomini Breno, guard Willie Colon and Pro-Bowl centre Nick Mangold have been in the league for a combined 34 years and are beginning to show their age. This could be a good area to target in the draft with Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi being tipped as the premium pick here. After failing to address it last year, a wide receiver is still on the shopping list for both draft and free agency. Eric Decker is likely to stay and with better service may be able to show more of his old spark. Harvin, however will prove too big a hit on the cap for a team with such wide ranging needs.
On the defensive side, CB is an obvious concern despite drafting two first-round corners in the last five years (Kyle Wilson 2010, Milliner 2013). Wilson is a free agent this year and will almost certainly not be resigned. Ex-Jet Antonio Cromartie could be an attractive option in free agency for a return to Met Life Stadium, especially as he has a good relationship with new HC Todd Bowles. Milliner may yet prove himself in 2015 but the solution to this problem needs to hit the ground running, literally.
X-factor acquisition: Jay Cutler
Possibly controversial, but looking at both the draft and free agency there are limited options for a team with the sixth pick who are desperately in need of immediate inspiration at QB. Although he has had a poor 2014 and is technically not yet available, the cap space flexibility means a trade with Chicago could be worked to provide much needed stability. Cutler has a lot going for him: a strong arm and good mobility, experience of success in the league including the playoffs and maybe just as importantly, he has a point to prove. Having played in Chicago, he must also be hardened by the ‘big city’ mentality, particularly after his universal slating this season; vital for any quarterback facing the New York City media and fans. It remains to be seen how the Bears will deal with Cutler in the offseason but the Jets could do much worse than keeping an eye on him.