Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Bizarro News: Jets Make Smart Move

An introduction isn’t necessary for those who read a newspaper yesterday or today. In an uncharacteristically intelligent move, the Jets have hired former Patriots defensive coordinator and Bill Belichick protégé Eric Mangini to coach the team in 2006 and beyond.

Obviously, I’m happy with the signing. I know I have expressed conflicting thoughts over the departure of Herman Edwards, but having a week to ponder the situation, I’m rather satisfied with the outcome. The Jets have been a rather talented team for the past few years, but have consistently underachieved under Edwards. A change of the guard may be just what the franchise needs heading into a rebuilding/retooling year.

The case against Mangini is simple to make. He preceded his one season of coordinator experience with years as a position coach, not exactly an impressive cirriculum vitale. In a league where experience is at a premium (hey, it even got Norv Turner a job), many may view Mangini as a gamble or high risk signing. Will the players respect a guy barely their senior with no NFL playing or head coaching experience?

Simple as the case may be, these are legitimate concerns. How much respect is he going to get from players just barely his junior? Will the older vets show reverence for a 35-year-old who never played the game at the highest level?

The saving grace here is that there are exactly 12 players on the current Jets roster who will be 30 or older by the beginning of training camp. That’s even further reduced when cap casualties are figured into the equation. Ty Law, Jay Fiedler, Vinny Testaverde, and Scott Gragg will surely be released in the near future, reducing the number to eight. Speculation is roaming that Curtis Martin may not be in the cards for 2006; same with fullback Jerald Sowell. Six. Add to that the probability of Jason Fabini playing elsewhere next year (getting older, injury prone, noticeably declining skills), and the Jets should have a total of five players over the age of 30.

This bodes well for the young Mangini, as he’ll be coaching a young group of players who won’t resent his authority like a group of veterans could. And save for John Abraham and maybe Kevin Mawae (with honorable mention to Jonathan Vilma), there aren’t any bona fide superstars on the roster, sparing Mangini the headache of dealing with a super-ego.

He is a defensive specialist taking over a predominantly defensive team, which is also favorable. My feeling is that to be successful, you must accent your attributes and cover up your weaknesses as completely as possible. The Jets strength is obviously their defense, while they must use a masking agent on the lackluster offensive personnel.

The first order of business with the defense is re-signing John Abraham, preferably long-term. I know the Jets are in a sad, sad state of salary cap affairs, but they need to find a way to get this done. Abraham is certainly a Top-Five defensive end, and only gets better when paired with fellow All-Pro Shaun Ellis. A true nose tackle would then shore up the D-line.

If Mangini made the Pats depleted secondary work, he should be able to finally solve that same problem for the Jets. There is plenty of young talent in the defensive backfield, even after Ty Law signs with the Redskins. This is the one area that the Jets might not have to worry about next year.

That just leaves the linebackers on defense. Vilma and Victor Hobson should be fine for next year, but it’s tough to find anything nice to say about Eric Barton. Once again, I don’t know the intricacies of the salary cap, but if it is feasible to let Barton walk, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Second year pro Mark Brown did an adequate job at handling the position, and I’d go as far as to say he’s not much of a downgrade at all from Barton.

On the other side of the ball, the Jets are going to need more cover-up than a chick who just sprung two pimples on a clubbing night. The most obvious blemish is at the quarterback position, where the oft-injured Chad Pennington will likely still be the frontrunner heading into the season. With his inflated deal in place, the Jets are in no position to sign another starter-level quarterback. Jay Fiedler will likely be exiled, and a guy like Kerry Collins or Tim Rattay may be brought in on the cheap to “compete with Chad” for the starting gig – which translates into a rotator cuff insurance plan.

The best plan of action with Pennington is to devise an offensive scheme that highlights his attributes (notice a theme here?). We know he can’t throw the deep ball, but before these rotator cuff complications, Pennington was a rather accurate QB. Bringing in Mike Heimerdinger, who was used to an offense based around the arm of Steve McNair, did not help Pennington’s case any.

This would mean a greater accent on the halfback position, which is going to be difficult for a team that doesn’t boast a viable 1,200 yard rusher any longer. Even if Curtis Martin is around next year, the team can’t expect him to come close to his career numbers. Derrick Blaylock and Cedric Houston aren’t starters, but the Jets could use a first day pick on a back like Memphis’s DeAngelo Williams or UCLA’s Maurice Drew.

This isn’t to say the Jets will do anything that I suggested. It’s merely laying out the scenario for an off-season in which we should see significant change. I trust that Mangini will think outside the box, but I also realize he might not be fully involved in personnel decisions. That will still be the job of Terry Bradway, and we all know how I feel about him. He had plenty of blunders that make me wonder if he’s capable of building a quality team, despite the enlightened decision to sign Mangini.

And on a parting note, if Mangini ends up a bust, at least we have a ready and able nickname for him: Man-gina.