New York Jets (credit: nydailynews.com)
On December 20, 2013, Owner Woody Johnson announced in the locker room, following the team’s win over the Miami Dolphins, that Rex Ryan would return as the head coach. General manager John Idzik reiterated his belief in the coach that he did not hire and presented the tearful Ryan with a game ball. The 8-8 Jets had just won 3 of 4 down the stretch and there was excitement about the 2014 season.
How quickly that evaporated. After a win on opening day against a Raiders team that finished 3-13, the Jets lost 8 in a row, placing Ryan firmly on the hot seat. 2nd year QB Geno Smith was supposed to continue his development and the team invested in parts to surround him, like WR Eric Decker (UFA), TE Jace Amaro (2nd rd), WR Jalen Saunders (4th rd), WR Shaq Evans (4th rd), and WR Quincy Enunwa (6th rd). They even traded for WR Percy Harvin in October after issues between Harvin and the Seattle organization left him on the trade block.
Geno Smith, however, never made the expected strides, starting 10 games on the season, but was benched twice (Week 5 vs SD and Week 8 vs BUF) in favor of Michael Vick. Vick was even made the primary starter for weeks 9, 10, and 12, before being benched himself for Geno in Week 12 vs BUF. This volatility at the position is clearly not a positive sign. This situation was further exacerbated when the rookie weapons that the team had collected also failed to produce much. Amaro finished with 38 receptions and 2 TDs on the season, Saunders saw 6 snaps from scrimmage before being released in September, Evans spent the year on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury, and Enunwa earned 3 snaps from scrimmage.
On the defensive side of the ball, much was made of how the secondary was constructed and what impact that had on Rex Ryan’s system. The plan was for free agent signing Dimitri Patterson to pair with draft picks Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson at Corner with depth provided by 3rd round pick Dexter McDougle, but instead the team got snaps from Darrin Walls, Antonio Allen, Marcus Williams, Wilson, Phillip Adams, Milliner, Josh Thomas, and Ellis Lankster at the position. Patterson was released on August 30th after an “unexcused” absence, McDougle tore his ACL, Milliner tore his Achilles in Oct, and Wilson never could take control of a starting role for the team.
All this led to both Idzik and Ryan being fired after the season. How quickly things change in the NFL.
2015 Coaching Changes
With openings at both top spots in football operations, Woody Johnson hired former GMs Charley Casserly and Ron Wolf to be consultants in their process of hiring a new general manager and head coach. The GM search was the focal point early and the team selected former Casserly employee Mike Maccagnan for the role.
Maccagnan quickly worked to reshape the front office in his image, moving on from Senior Director of College Scouting Terry Bradway and Director of College Scouting Jeff Bauer, hiring former Bears National Scout Rex Hogan as Director of College Scouting and former Rams scout Brian Heimerdinger as the Director of Player Personnel. Maccagnan worked with the 28 year old Heimerdinger in Houston and knew Hogan from years on the road. It remains to be seen what, if any, shift in the evaluation process will come of these moves at this point.
On the coaching side, the reins were handed over to former Cardinals Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles. Todd is a fantastic coach who will bring a steady, yet aggressive demeanor, and will hold his players and staff accountable. The defensive specialist hired former Dolphins DL coach Kacy Rodgers as DC and has given Rodgers the playcalling responsibilities. The two worked together in Dallas and Miami and Bowles explained that:
"I've watched him grow. We kind of saw things the same way defensively. Schematically, we see things eye-to-eye and the same way. He's an outstanding coach. He understands the game, having played it. He can relate to guys on and off the field. I thought he was the perfect choice to complement what I did in Arizona."
Bowles’ Assistant Head Coach will be former Cardinals LB coach Mike Caldwell and he will also coach the LBs for the Jets. Bowles met Caldwell in Philadelphia and brought him to Arizona and now New York. The rest of the defensive staff includes: former Bills DL coach Pepper Johnson, former Falcons OLB coach Mark Collins holding the same positions in New York and former Falcons Assistant DB coach Joe Danna running the DB group and first time NFL coach and former Cardinals intern Daylon McCutcheon taking over as Assistant DB coach.
Bowles’ defensive scheme is the true definition of versatile, using a variety of personnel, alignments, and blitz packages to be proactive in dictating to the offense. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher explained it this way:
"One of the things that makes the Arizona defense such a challenge is their diversity. They're different from week to week, so you have to just be patient and be able to adjust."
This multiplicity will be demanding mentally on the players, but had tremendous results for the Cardinals. The base front can be either Odd or Even, but leverages the upfield style of the DL and tends to one –gap. This means that players like Sheldon Richardson or Muhammad Wilkerson, will still be able to disrupt gaps and not simply take on OL. The biggest question will be whether the team feels like it can put the Jets corners in the same situations that it frequently left the Arizona secondary that was packed with players like Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie, or Tyrann Matthieu?
For many head coaches, they have a certain specialty, in this case Bowles has a predominately defensive background. That certainly does not mean that he does not understand offense, but simply that his selection of an offensive coordinator will be critical as he most likely will not spend as much time on this side of the ball. Bowles tabbed former Bills Head Coach Chan Gailey as his Offensive Coordinator and specifically mentioned how he has worked with a variety of players and adapted schemes to maximize their performance.
"Chan has been an outstanding coordinator for years, pro as well as college football," Bowles said. "He has done it with a lot of different quarterbacks, from Kordell Stewart to Ryan Fitzpatrick and at Georgia Tech and so on. He knows how to run the football. He understands complementary football. We understand that if Geno [Smith] is our guy going forward, we have to get some people around him and do a lot of things better. Chan is outstanding at that. That made it a priority for me to get him."
Surrounding Gailey will be former Packers Assistant OL Steve Marshall as OL coach, former Vikings TE Jimmie Johnson and former University of Massachusetts RB coach Marcel Shipp as RB in the same capacities, former Vanderbilt OC Karl Dorrell as WR coach, and former TEN Assistant WR coach Kevin Patullo as the QB coach.
What is clear about the offensive schemes at this point are that the team will start Geno Smith again (unless something unexpected happens in the draft) and will highlight a run game that will reduce pressure on the QB and create the complementary football that will balance the team. Gailey has shown a propensity for spreading the field both horizontally and vertically. This horizontal spreading is a core concept in many college systems that want to limit the QBs exposure and get the ball into the hands of the playmakers as quickly as possible. In fact, Geno executed well in a similar system at West Virginia. So this “Spread” should be a comfortable transition for him and could benefit the unit on the whole. So when you look at a coach like Gailey, try not to box him into one set of concepts. Former Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher said it best: "He's not married to a system. The one thing I like about Chan is he tries to stay unpredictable." He has run a power based run game in Pittsburgh, a passing attack in Dallas with Troy Aikman, and a “Spread” system in Buffalo
2015 Roster Changes (as of 3/6/2015)
The first personnel move to be made after the scouting and coaching staffs were in place was to cut RB Chris Johnson and save $3.5M. They did however, pick up the team options on Pass Rushers Calvin Pace and Jason Babin, giving the team some roster flexibility as they move into the offseason. The team could still cut either player over the coming months and still only add $250k in dead money to the books. They also bolstered their depth at DT by signed former Cardinal Ronald Talley and the team is hosting other free agent DL over the coming days.
On March 6th, reports came in that the team traded for former Bears WR Brandon Marshall, giving up a 5th round pick in 2015. They also resigned ILB David Harris to a 3 year deal.
Other decisions that the Jets will need to make are:
- What to do with Percy Harvin? Harvin will count for $10.5M on the books this year and does not seem open to reducing that number. If he is on the roster on March 19th, the team will owe Seattle a 4th round pick instead of a 6th rounder. Now, after picking up Marshall, I think the next move the team will make is to release Harvin.
- What impact will injuries have on their offseason plan? Dee Milliner is still rehabbing his Achilles injury and is very iffy for camp or the start of the season. OG Brian Winters is also recovering, from his ACL tear and may be available for camp. Dexter McDougle and Nick Mangold (Ankle) should both be back for OTAs.
With a projected $51.2M available in 2015 Cap Space, the Jets will need to decide on what to do with their own free agents. They have said they will not look to resign Willie Colon or Dawan Landry. Their 2015 free agents include:
UFAs: DC Phillip Adams, LB Nick Bellore, OG Willie Colon, FB John Conner, DL Jermaine Cunningham, DT Leger Douzable, DT Kenrick Ellis, LB David Harris, OT Ben Ijalana, DS Dawan Landry, RB Bilal Powell, LS Tanner Purdum, WR Greg Salas, QB Michael Vick, DC Kyle Wilson
RFAs: DT Damon Harrison, DS Jaiquawn Jarrett
Let’s take a position by position look at the Jets roster. Positions are ordered by overall need.