AFC East: LaDainian Tomlinson


Everybody thought LaDainian Tomlinson was ready for a rocking chair at the age of 30. He was a diminished player for the San Diego Chargers in 2009, finishing the season with a hard-to-watch game against the New York Jets in the playoffs -- 12 carries, 24 yards.

The future Hall of Famer was fired by his forever team, and the Jets, of all teams, gave him a job, gambling the once great runner could reinvent himself. They looked past his pedestrian '09 numbers, determining that heart was a better barometer than his 3.3 yards per carry. They were right; he was terrific in 2010.

"This," Tomlinson said at the time, "has refreshed me, being here."

Four years later, the Jets are once again trying to catch an old lightning-back in a bottle. This time his name is Chris Johnson, and there's every reason to believe he can give them a season like Tomlinson did.

The Jets get Johnson at 28, a little younger than Tomlinson upon his arrival, but the narrative is the same: a fading star coming off his worst season.

Johnson staggered to the finish last season, looking more like CJ1K than the old CJ2K. He barely cracked he 1,000-yard plateau, managing a pedestrian 3.9 yards per rush. The Tennessee Titans decided -- and rightly so -- it made no sense to pay him an $8 million wage for 2014.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiChris Johnson cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark in 2013 despite playing the majority of the season with a knee injury.
Clearly, the Jets aren't getting the Johnson of 2009, when he blew away the league by rushing for 2,006 yards with his sub-4.3 speed, but they should have a highly motivated back who will get an opportunity to duplicate what Tomlinson did in 2010.

That year, Tomlinson rushed for a team-high 914 yards on just 219 carries and caught 52 passes, three shy of the team leader. He was supposed to be Shonn Greene's backup, but Tomlinson was so impressive that he won the starting job and became an integral part of a team that came within one game of the Super Bowl.

Nothing jars a world-class athlete more than being told he's not good enough, that it's time to pack up and leave. Tomlinson used that as his fuel until his body finally broke down in 2011. The Jets are hoping for a similarly inspired Johnson, who's already talking about redemption.

"I can turn the bad things people are saying into a good thing for me, to give me motivation, to keep me hungry and to keep a chip on my shoulder and prove the naysayers wrong," he said Thursday on a conference call with the media.

You'll be disappointed if you expect a 1,500-yard season out of Johnson, but he's better than what he showed last year. He played 13 games on a torn meniscus, running behind a suspect offensive line for a team that didn't have its starting quarterback for half the season -- hardly ideal conditions for a running back.

"Chris Johnson isn't a bell cow anymore," a longtime NFL personnel executive said. "I don't know where his heart is -- there are some things underneath his hood that I don't like -- but for the right price, yeah, I think it's a good move."

The Jets paid a top-of-the-market price -- two years, $8 million -- but the cost is reasonable. Chances are, they will take a less-is-more approach with Johnson, hoping a time-share with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell will preserve the remaining tread on Johnson's tires and improve his efficiency. That, of course, is based on the presumption that one of those tires isn't on the verge of a blowout.

Johnson disputed an ESPN report that said there's arthritis in his surgically repaired right knee, insisting he'll be fine. This bears watching, because the fire in his belly will burn out quickly if there's pain in his knee. If he's healthy, he'll be a plus for the offense.

"If a bad year is 1,100 yards, I'll take that all day," said ESPN analyst and former Jets tackle Damien Woody, alluding to Johnson's 1,077 last year.

Woody played for the Jets when Tomlinson arrived in 2010. At first, he wondered if Tomlinson was out of gas, but those concerns were allayed as soon as he saw the old running back on the field, doing his thing. Woody believes Johnson will respond the same way.

"The situations are really similar," Woody said. "You have two really good backs that were jettisoned from teams they had a lot of success with, dealing with the perception they're washed up. That, obviously, puts a chip on your shoulder."

The Jets have become a second-chance/last-chance stop for running backs. Before Tomlinson, there was Thomas Jones, who was outstanding before the salary-cap police decided it was time to go. A year ago, they traded for Ivory, who teased the New Orleans Saints for years.

As Woody noted, Jets coach Rex Ryan has way of reaching older players, coaxing them to give whatever they have left. Now he has Johnson, who still can be a productive runner -- as long as his wheels are as strong as his will.
Here are the most interesting stories Monday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: This is always a tricky subject. You can take the Tebow or Charles Barkley approach to role models in sports. But many choose to look up to athletes regardless.
  • Former Jets and San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson had an interesting history against the New England Patriots.
Morning take: Tomlinson was New England's rival with both teams. One of Tomlinson's last big wins was in the 2010-11 playoffs where the Jets pulled off the upset at Gillette Stadium.
Morning take: Jones is one of Buffalo's fastest receivers, but he must stay healthy. The No. 2 receiver job is wide open for whoever steps up in camp this summer.
Morning take: Right guard is still a position with some questions for Miami. Longtime Dolphin Vernon Carey is no longer on the team and Miami is trying to find a stable answer.

On one calf LaDainian Tomlinson has a tattoo of the New York Jets' logo. On the other calf, there is a logo of the San Diego Chargers.

After departing San Diego under less-than-rosy circumstances, there was some debate of which team Tomlinson would retire with. Tomlinson appeared torn with his allegiance for the past couple of years.

Mostly, the future Hall of Famer was happy with the way the Jets treated him late in his career and equally disappointed with how he was handled in San Diego after giving the Chargers nine years in his prime. But cooler heads eventually prevailed. Tomlinson will briefly re-sign with San Diego and retire as a Charger on Monday.

This is the right move for Tomlinson, whose Hall of Fame career started and was cemented in San Diego. When you watch Tomlinson’s career highlights en route to Canton, most of them will be viewed with a lightning bolt on his jersey.

Tomlinson’s two-season stint in New York was merely a footnote in his stellar, 11-year career. Tomlinson arrived to the Jets in 2010 as a 31-year old running back on his last legs. His first season was solid: Tomlinson led the Jets with 914 rushing yards and helped get New York to the AFC Championship Game. But last year Tomlinson battled injuries and rushed for just 280 yards in 14 games.

I will remember Tomlinson for a lot of things. He was a Hall of Fame player on the field and also a great person off the field and in the locker room.

But I won't remember Tomlinson as a New York Jet. He's a San Diego Charger, first and foremost.
The New York Jets have stopped the preseason predictions. But one thing they are not shy about is letting everyone know they plan to be physical on offense.

Does this mean a big year is upcoming for Jets starting running back Shonn Greene? The Jets hope that is the case.

New York head coach Rex Ryan and new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano want to take "ground and pound" to the next level in 2012. Greene, who is coming off his first 1,000-yard season, will be at the center of it.

Greene set career highs last season in carries (253), yards (1,054) and touchdowns (six). The Jets expect even more out of the fourth-year tailback this year.

"We want to be a run-first team," Ryan said this week during organized team activities. "In other words, bring them all in here (by the line of scrimmage) and we'll throw it. ... We want to be a physical football team. You're going to know it. So we're not going to disappoint you. We're going to give the ball to Shonn Greene a bunch."

With future Hall of Fame tailback LaDainian Tomlinson out of the picture, Greene might get 300-plus carries. Backup tailback Joe McKnight is second on the depth chart and unproven. The Jets also will use backup quarterback Tim Tebow as a change-up in New York's Wildcat package.

But it will be mostly Greene as the biggest engine behind New York's "ground and pound." He will be asked to set the tone every week and to take pressure off quarterback Mark Sanchez and the passing game.

More opportunities should be a good thing for Greene. He is a big, physical runner who averages 4.3 yards per carry over his career. Greene also played hurt at times last year and still put together some big games.

"He fits in pretty well. I mean Shonn is a physical back," Sparano said. "I remember watching this guy come out in college, watching his college tape. It was tremendous. He's built the right way. He gets his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage, he breaks tackles, and he runs with the right pad level. To me, he has all the qualities I look for in those type of A-back players."
Here are the most interesting stories Sunday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: Expect Young to have a package in the offense, which could present another thing for opponents to prepare for. He still has the athleticism to pose a threat.
  • Josh McDaniels is happy to return as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator .
Morning take: McDaniels' stint as a head coach fizzled out, but he was great as an offensive coordinator. Look for New England's offense to continue to thrive under McDaniels and quarterback Tom Brady.
Morning take: Tomlinson is putting his Hall of Fame career to the side. But the right opportunity with a title contender could yet make him change his mind.

Morning take: I want to know which quarterback is the best fit for head coach Joe Philbin's West Coast offense. Matt Moore played well last season, but David Garrard is better versed in the system. They will battle it out in training camp.

Jets' biggest need is leadership

March, 1, 2012
Nick Mangold/Mark Sanchez/Darrelle RevisGetty Images/US PresswireThe Jets fell apart down the stretch last season. Will Nick Mangold, Mark Sanchez or Darrelle Revis step up to lead the team?

The New York Jets will search for a new wide receiver, a new right tackle, a new safety (or two) and probably more pass-rushers.

But where will the Jets find leadership in 2012? That is the most difficult question facing New York this offseason.

The Jets' implosion last season was well-documented. New York was 8-5 with the playoffs in sight. But poor performance on the field, combined with combustible personalities and a lack of leadership, led to a three-game losing streak and an even uglier fallout.

By the end of the season, there was a wide rift between Jets starting quarterback Mark Sanchez and leading receiver Santonio Holmes. There also was tension between New York's 25th-ranked offense and its fifth-ranked defense, because the offense wasn't pulling its weight. Jets backup quarterback Greg McElroy said it was the most selfish and divided locker room he'd ever seen.

The Jets will continue adding talent to their roster via the draft and free agency. But how will they fix their poor chemistry?

You cannot just draft leadership or buy it in free agency. There's also no instruction manual to get 53 professional athletes back on the same page. But the Jets must find a way to make it work next season if they want to get back to being contenders.

"I do believe in the fabric of our team and the backbone," Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said at the NFL combine. "The D'Brickashaw (Fergusons), the (Nick) Mangolds, the (Darrelle) Revises, we have a lot of good players that care deeply about our team. All we can try to do is add to that."

New York has playoff-caliber talent but 4-12-caliber leadership. Perhaps that is why the Jets finished 8-8 in 2011.

Here are some candidates who must step up for New York next season:

  • Jets Pro Bowler Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL. But he's never been the type to grab a person by the collar and keep everyone else in line. Revis leads by example. He will work harder than anyone else, and most of the time he plays better than anyone else. Revis is rapidly putting together a Hall of Fame résumé on the field. For most teams, that is enough. But the Jets need more vocal and forceful leadership from their best player, who is 26 and in his prime. When Revis speaks, people will listen.
  • [+] EnlargeSantonio Holmes, Mark Sanchez
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounThe late season dust-up between Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes highlighted the poor chemistry within the Jets' locker room.

  • Leadership in the NFL must always come from the quarterback position. It's time for Sanchez, who is entering his fourth season, to grow up on the field and in the locker room and meeting rooms. Sanchez had it rough coming to the big stage of New York as a starting quarterback from Day 1. He handled the pressure well in his first two years, when Sanchez could hide behind the "young quarterback" label and play a complementary role. But the Jets needed more leadership and better play from Sanchez last season. The late-season feud with Holmes was an example of Sanchez's lack of assertiveness. The quarterback doesn't always need to be the best player on the team. But he must be a natural leader who is able to inspire teammates and keep everyone focused.
  • In addition to the best corner in football, the Jets also have arguably the best center. Four-time Pro Bowler Nick Mangold is as tough as they come. He played on a bad ankle for long stretches last season and still performed at a high level. He also has the rugged persona to challenge teammates when they get out of line. But how much teamwide leadership can truly come from the center position? Jets left tackle and three-time Pro Bowler D’Brickashaw Ferguson also can help. The offense was in shambles last season, and these two players need to step forward.

Not all the blame falls on the players. Jets head coach Rex Ryan admitted he needs to do a better job of having the pulse of his locker room. Ryan didn't understand the level of dysfunction within his team until it was too late. Ryan said he plans to do more team-building exercises and events to improve chemistry.

"I don't see ... that we got completely off the track," Ryan said. "I think we kind of got in the gravel a little bit, we've just got to right it. And we can't knee-jerk reaction and we'll roll it the other way. So you know, there's ways of handling this type of thing. I think our football team is a little closer than people give us credit for. But again, I'm excited about the challenge."

The Jets are at a crossroads. Is 2012 the time to rebuild or simply tweak?

One year ago, New York played in its second straight AFC Championship Game. But the team finished without a winning record this past season for the first time under Ryan. New York also is expected to lose veterans such as LaDainian Tomlinson, Plaxico Burress, Jim Leonhard and potentially Bart Scott, who was recently given permission to seek a trade. The Jets will replace the talent, but it will be harder to replace the lost leadership.

The Jets better get their act together soon, because the AFC East will be very competitive next season. The New England Patriots were just a touchdown short of winning the Super Bowl, and the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills are expected to improve.

There is also the looming prospect of Miami's landing future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, who is expected to be released this month by the Indianapolis Colts. That would leave most football observers picking the Jets to finish third in the division, especially if they can't resolve their internal issues.

Leading Questions: AFC East

February, 20, 2012
With the offseason in full swing, let's take a look at one major question facing each AFC East team as it begins preparations for the 2012 season:


Who is the quarterback?

It won't be Matt Moore. That much is clear entering the offseason. Miami has not been shy to say the team will explore all options to find a franchise quarterback for 2012.

Is it Peyton Manning? Is it Matt Flynn? What about Robert Griffin III? Everything is up for discussion, according to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland. Expect Miami to be in the hunt for every big name at quarterback who becomes available.

Look for Miami to see what happens with Manning first. The Dolphins want to make a splash with a proven quarterback who can put fans back in Sun Life Stadium. Manning obviously fits the bill. The only question is his surgically repaired neck, which reportedly has been operated on four times.

The next option would be Flynn, who played under rookie Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin in Green Bay. Flynn is a bit of an unknown commodity, but he has played very well in limited opportunities.

Griffin would be a third and unlikely option. The Dolphins hold the No. 8 or No. 9 pick and would have to trade up to get the Baylor quarterback. With so many teams interested in Griffin, the Dolphins don't have a strong chance.

But a lot of parts are in place in Miami. The Dolphins are a franchise quarterback away from being a playoff contender. The Dolphins will be a team to watch in 2012 if they fill that void.


How will they improve the defense?

You know Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn't happy with his 31st-ranked defense. He built a reputation being a defensive guru, and Belichick will do all he can to get that side of the ball fixed.

The good news for New England is the team has plenty of cap room and flexibility. Twenty free agents have cleared up more than $20 million in cap space. Belichick will have the option of trying to re-sign the players he wants to keep -- Wes Welker and Matthew Slater, for example -- while using the rest of the salary cap to upgrade the roster with outside free agents.

In terms of the draft, the Patriots have two first-round picks and two second-round picks. Belichick is always looking to trade down for more picks. But this could be the year he cashes in and gets the most out of his picks. New England can use help at cornerback, safety and another pass-rusher on the edge.


Will they really be players in free agency?

Bills general manager Buddy Nix surprised a lot of football observers this offseason when he said the team will spend to the cap and chase the best free agents. Buffalo is infamous for keeping a low payroll, but Nix said the Bills will spend this year.

Buffalo lived up to that early billing by recently going after CB Stanford Routt, who has reached an agreement with Kansas City. Even though Routt didn't choose Buffalo, it was a good sign the Bills are willing to go after top-end talent.

The biggest issue for the Bills: Can they convince big-name free agents to come to Buffalo? It's not often talked about, but the Bills traditionally struggle to land good free agents when competing against winning teams in more desirable cities. If the money and years are equal, Buffalo often comes up short.

This is a good year to spend money in free agency. There are a lot of very good players available, and Buffalo may have to overpay to get some on the roster.


Can they fix the offense?

New York's 25th-ranked offense sprung leaks everywhere last season. Sometimes it was the offensive line. Sometimes it was the quarterback and receivers. Poor play calling also was a factor.

This offseason the Jets' biggest priority is getting their offense back on track. The Jets already made steps in that direction by replacing offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer with former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, who is responsible for improving chemistry and getting everyone on the same page.

Veterans such as starting receiver Plaxico Burress and future Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson are not expected to return. New York won't have much cap space, so the team must get creative while making upgrades.

This is also a huge offseason for quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has made only marginal strides in his three seasons. The Jets publicly back the third-year quarterback. The team knows if Sanchez plays well and remains confident, everything else on offense falls into place.

Early look at Jets free agency

February, 8, 2012
The New York Jets have a lot of questions entering free agency. They have a lengthy list of names about to hit the market, spelled out clearly by Brian McIntyre of the well-respected Mac's Football blog.

Here's the list:

Analysis: There are not many "must-haves" on this list. The Jets already are strapped for salary-cap space and had locker-room issues. I expect plenty of turnover in free agency. Big names like Tomlinson and Burress are not expected to return on offense, and injuries suffered by Leonhard (knee) and Thomas (Achilles tendon) will hurt their chances to come back on the defense. If I had to pick two players from this unrestricted group who could return, it would be Folk and Pouha. But both would have to be at the right price. In terms of restricted players, I think Maybin is a guy the Jets will keep. They found a niche for him in New York and gave him a chance to jumpstart his career. Maybin also was one of the team's best pass-rushers last season.

Previewing AFC East salary cap

January, 20, 2012
Free agency begins in less than two months. Teams around the league are planning their strategies and figuring out which big names to pursue.

But where teams stand with the $120-million salary cap next season will be an indicator of which will be aggressive and which won't.

Let's take an early look at the projected 2012 cap numbers in the AFC East:

Buffalo Bills (6-10)

Projected cap: $105.5 million

Key free agents: WR Steve Johnson, TE Scott Chandler, K Rian Lindell

Analysis: The Bills are looking pretty good entering free agency. General manager Buddy Nix says the team will spend to the cap this year. The first order of business is deciding on Johnson's future. The two sides are still a ways apart and I think it's a 50-50 proposition. With or without Johnson, Buffalo has the space to acquire impact players. We mentioned Houston Texans defensive end/linebacker and unrestricted free agent Mario Williams as a possibility to help the Bills' pass rush. But getting Williams -- or any top free agent -- to come to Buffalo will be a tough sell.

Miami Dolphins (6-10)

Projected cap: $114.3 million

Key free agents: DT Paul Soliai, G Vernon Carey, QB Chad Henne

Analysis: The Dolphins are in decent (but not great) shape with the cap. There will be an interesting dynamic in Miami to keep an eye on this offseason. Usually when a new coach comes in, there is huge turnover in the coach's first season. But that probably won't happen with general manager Jeff Ireland still in charge of the 53-man roster. Ireland is not going to cut many of the players he helped bring to Miami. But the Dolphins would have to do something if they want to make enough room to make a splash for a big free agent. Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn is a good example.

New England Patriots (13-3)

Projected cap: $99.9 million

Key free agents: WR Wes Welker, DE Andre Carter, WR Deion Branch

Analysis: It's amazing that the best team in the AFC East also is in the best shape with the cap. The Patriots have done a masterful job and have plenty of money to spend in free agency if they choose. A big chunk of it will go to Welker, who is due for a nice payday. New England won't let Welker slip away. The Patriots also have the tools to acquire defensive help in free agency, as well as sign their two first-round picks and two second-round picks in the draft. The Patriots are in position to be a major force again next season.

New York Jets (8-8)

Projected cap: $125 million

Key free agents: WR Plaxico Burress, DT Sione Pouha, S Jim Leonhard

Analysis: The Jets are the only AFC East team projected to be over the cap. This was a team built to win now and it didn't work out; now New York has to make some trimmings on the roster if it wants to do anything in free agency. There's a good chance Burress and Leonhard won't return. Pouha is a good player and could come back at the right price. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson also is a free agent. But his role was drastically reduced this past season and it's unlikely he will return. Tomlinson is contemplating retirement.

Can Sanchez and Holmes co-exist?

January, 19, 2012
As the weeks go by following the New York Jets' implosion towards the end of the regular season, more details continue to emerge from behind the scenes. The latest comes from Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who exposed an intense rift between New York starting quarterback Mark Sanchez and No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes.

"I've been around some locker rooms and quarterback-receiver situations and what-not, but it was as bad as I've been around," Tomlinson said on Showtime's "Inside the NFL" on Wednesday night. "You know, it was at the point where I think the players could no longer do anything about it. There was nothing that the players could do. So when it gets to that point, there are certain changes that need to happen. Can it be fixed? I think absolutely it can be. But they're going to have to make some tough decisions."

Tough indeed.

It was clear Sanchez and Holmes were not on the same page on the field. The two did not connect on nearly enough big plays to be successful this past season. That created frustration for the entire offense.

But if Sanchez and Holmes have issues with each other personally, this needs to be repaired as soon as possible. There is little chance for success on offense if the quarterback and top receiver cannot get along. This will be the job of head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano to fix.

Barring a dream scenario of New York acquiring quarterback Peyton Manning, neither player is going anywhere. Sanchez and Holmes both have to make it work or the Jets are in trouble again next season.

Morning take: Tomlinson on Rex Ryan

January, 19, 2012
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: Tomlinson said it put pressure on his team, and I agree. It looks more and more like the pending free agent won't be back in New York.
Morning take: It's going to be either Joe Philbin, Mike McCoy or Todd Bowles. Each candidate has strengths and question marks. We will have more on the search coming up next (hint, hint).
Morning take: Easley suffered from a heart condition that kept him out last season. But Buffalo needs more depth from its receivers, so Easley will get another chance.
Morning take: It's ironic because Law is exactly the type of player the Patriots are missing this postseason. A physical, shutdown corner on this year's team would give the defense a lot more flexibility.

Morning take: Bring on the Ravens

January, 16, 2012
Here are the most interesting stories Monday morning in the AFC East: Morning take: Baltimore and New England were the two best teams in the conference from start to finish. I expect a great game that could go either way.
Morning take: McCoy did a great job designing an offense for Tim Tebow. Don't expect that kind of offense to work in Miami. But McCoy is versatile and developing a buzz around the league for the job he's done this season.
Morning take: Everyone is aware that No. 1 receiver Steve Johnson is on this list. But there are some underrated players like tight end Scott Chandler and kicker Rian Lindell who are solid. Buffalo says it will spend up to the cap in free agency this year.
  • New York Jets tailback LaDainian Tomlinson says it's possible the wide receivers were doing the anonymous bashing of quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Morning take: It's unfair to speculate who said what when there's no name attached. So I'm not going to go there. But I will say if New York's receivers feel that way about the quarterback, the Jets have some major issues.

Jets regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
» NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 19
Preseason Power Ranking: 7

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesMark Sanchez was unable to make progress in his third NFL season.
Biggest surprise: Guess who led the Jets in sacks this season? Aaron Maybin. Yes, that Aaron Maybin. The same Maybin who was a draft bust for the Buffalo Bills and cut before training camp. The Jets saw potential in Maybin and invited him to training camp. With a change of scenery and scheme, Maybin showed some of the things in New York that he showed in college to make him a first-round pick. Maybin briefly made New York's 53-man roster out of training camp. Then, he was released. When the Jets picked Maybin up again during the season he was ready. Maybin helped the Jets with a team-high six sacks, which should put him in consideration for the NFL's Most Improved Player.

Biggest disappointment: This was the year New York's coaching staff thought quarterback Mark Sanchez would make major strides. This was the year the offense would be put in Sanchez's hands and would finally catch up to New York's talented defense. But that plan didn't pan out. Sanchez wasn't ready to take the next step in his third season and coach Rex Ryan pulled back the reigns. The Jets went back to their ground-and-pound offense and tried to protect Sanchez. The offense was bland, predictable and Sanchez struggled. New York's offense was ranked No. 25 in the NFL. Sanchez's numbers slightly improved. But the team still had to protect him in his third season, and that's not acceptable for a top-five draft pick. Sanchez needs to make a lot of improvements next season to be considered among the upper-echelon quarterbacks in the NFL.

Biggest need: There are several reasons the Jets were inconsistent, but the biggest reason was the offensive line. The Jets need to upgrade the right tackle position immediately. Wayne Hunter draws too many flags and struggles in pass protection. The front office needs to find a better front-side protector for Sanchez. The offensive line as a group played a notch or two lower than it was capable of. The Jets need to add depth and competition at guard. Center Nick Mangold was fine, but D'Brickashaw Ferguson wasn't as good as previous years. Both made the Pro Bowl, although Ferguson made it more on name recognition.

Team MVP: I know it's early. But I feel pretty safe in saying that Darrelle Revis will be an all-time great. Revis put together another Pro Bowl year and is easily the team's MVP. Revis is dominating a position that is nearly impossible to dominate. The rules are tilted in favor of the offense and receivers to promote scoring. But Revis has found a way to consistently shut down opponents from the cornerback position. His ability to stick to and frustrate receivers is fun to watch. His hand-eye coordination is the best in the NFL. It's considered an event when a receiver catches a couple passes on Revis. Perhaps the biggest shame is that Revis, 26, is a unique talent in his prime, and the Jets are wasting those prime years by fumbling around in other areas.

Free-agent watch: The Jets have several interesting free agents. Offensively, New York has to decide whether to bring back starting receiver Plaxico Burress and/or backup tailback LaDainian Tomlinson. Burress was signed on a one-year rental to see if he has anything left after spending time in prison. Burress showed flashes, particularly in the red zone. But he will be 35 in August and struggles to get vertical. The Jets may need an upgrade opposite receiver Santonio Holmes. Tomlinson's role was reduced this year and he is considering retirement. Defensively, New York has to decide what to do with starting safety Jim Leonhard. He's an underrated player. It's evident as the defense fell apart this season when he was out of the lineup. Leonhard suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the year and has a long rehabilitation process ahead. That could impact and delay whether the Jets pursue him.

Update on Santonio Holmes' benching

January, 1, 2012
MIAMI -- One of the hottest topics in the New York Jets' locker room after Sunday’s 19-17 season-ending loss to the Dolphins was the benching of receiver Santonio Holmes.

The Jets' No. 1 receiver was out of the game on a crucial drive in the fourth quarter with the season on the line. According to Holmes, he was taken out of the game by backup receiver Patrick Turner, who eventually scored the final touchdown.

"It was the coach's call and it happened," said Holmes, who was clearly upset.

Holmes said he doesn't know who made the decision to bench him but it came from the sideline -- and that's where the mystery begins. Before the benching Holmes got into a heated altercation in the huddle. He was only targeted one time in a must-win game.

Jets coach Rex Ryan said he didn't bench Holmes. That leaves offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer as the next possibility, although we don't know for sure.

When asked about his confidence level in Schottenheimer, Holmes responded, "Well, let's hope for the best."

It was an interesting and somewhat coded response. At the very least, there appears to be a growing unhappiness among some offensive players and Schottenheimer, who enters the offseason on the hot seat.

It was a tough end to a frustrating season for Holmes. He was New York's best playmaker last year and received a big contract extension. But Holmes wasn't given the same opportunities due to poor play calling and inconsistent quarterbacking.

Things finally boiled over for Holmes, who also is a team captain, in the fourth quarter.

"There were some guys who were unhappy with Tone's demeanor," Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson said candidly after the game. "It's tough for guys to follow a captain who kind of behaves in that manner."

Morning take: Tomlinson's last game?

December, 30, 2011
Here are the most interesting stories Friday morning in the AFC East:
  • New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson said Sunday could also be the last game of his Hall of Fame career.
Morning take: The Jets-Dolphins game could be the end for two Hall of Famers -- Tomlinson and Jason Taylor. Tomlinson says he would come back next year in the right situation if he can win a championship.
Morning take: O’Brien has done a great job working New England’s offense with quarterback Tom Brady. O’Brien would be the latest candidate from the Bill Belichick tree.
  • This rookie year has been a learning experience for Buffalo Bills first-round pick Marcell Dareus.
Morning take: Dareus has been a bright spot in Buffalo’s struggling defense. He’s young and needs to be more consistent. But he’s showed the ability to take over games.
Morning take: Both teams most likely will be watching the playoffs from home next week. But Miami can make sure of it by taking care of business. Even if the Jets won, they need three additional things to fall in place to continue playing.