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Monday, March 17, 2014
John Idzik boxes himself into a cornerback

By Rich Cimini

John Izdik
After losing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Giants, Jets GM John Izdik has few options.

DRC picks the New York Giants over the New York Jets, and suddenly you get the feeling that Jets fans are ready to go "DNR." Relax, it's only March 17, too early to panic.

But not too early to be concerned.

Rex Ryan needs cornerbacks to operate his man-to-man defensive system, just like human beings need water to survive, and the Jets are perilously thin after losing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Giants. It was their toughest loss to the Giants since Dec. 24, 2011. The DRC snub came after (in chronological order): They released Antonio Cromartie, failed to lure Vontae Davis away from the Indianapolis Colts and watched with indifference as Darrelle Revis joined forces with the gray hoodie in New England.

Now, suddenly, there's a hysterical over-reaction, with some people floating the conspiracy theory that Jets general manager John Idzik is sabotaging Ryan because he never wanted to extend his contract in the first place and wants to fire him after the 2014 season. That's ridiculous. Idzik is operating from a long-term plan, and he refuses to deviate from the script. He won't be swayed by the fickle nature of the free-agent market and the whims of his fan base.

That's admirable, of course, but here's the thing: Idzik has boxed himself into a corner (no pun intended). If he doesn't re-sign Cromartie, what then? The free-agent market is barren. With no Cromartie, he'd have to swing a trade for a proven starter -- like former GM Mike Tannenbaum did in 2010 with Cromartie -- or be held hostage by the draft, praying he can land Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard with the 18th pick.

Praying is never a good way to approach a draft. It leads to reaches and mistakes.

Idzik's lack of aggressiveness has fueled frustration at One Jets Drive, a potentially troubling issue that outweighs what the fans or media think. Ryan wasn't happy about losing Rodgers-Cromartie, and he wasn't the only one. The feeling is understandable.

"I'm not sure if it's stupidity or calculated," a person familiar with Ryan's thinking said. "But neither helps the Jets."

The Jets began free agency with nearly $40 million in cap space, leading many to believe they'd be plugging holes on an 8-8 roster that overachieved. After a week, what do they have to show for the cap surplus? They re-signed a handful of middle- to bottom-of-the-roster players and added two starters from other teams, wide receiver Eric Decker and right tackle Breno Giacomini. Decker is part of the solution, but he's not a difference-maker. He's a more expensive version of Brian Hartline. They saved a few bucks on the right-tackle swap, but Giacomini-for-Austin Howard is a wash in terms of playing ability.

Now they're staring at a crater-sized hole at cornerback. The Jets made an offer for Rodgers-Cromartie, but they let him out of the building and now he's wearing Big Blue. This will be his fourth team in seven years -- red flags, anyone? -- but he was regarded as the best-available corner in free agency. The Giants got him for five years, $35 million, including $15 million in guarantees -- basically, a Decker-type deal.

"Yeah, I think he screwed up," a longtime front-office executive said of Idzik.

Idzik can save face if he re-signs Cromartie, who has told friends he wants to return. Obviously, it would be for less than he his previous contract, although his leverage improved with Monday's DRC news. A Cromartie-Dee Milliner tandem would be fine, assuming Cromartie's balky hip has healed and Milliner improves in his second year. If Cromartie signs elsewhere, it'll be an egg-on-the-face moment for Idzik.

The GM's job is to get players for his coach. In Ryan's case, he needs cornerbacks. Do you see the Jets' secondary last season?

That said, no GM should be graded after only a week of free agency. Let the man execute his plan, which is based on the upcoming, talent-rich draft -- a draft in which the Jets could have as many as 12 selections. It doesn't matter if the Jets win March. They've done that plenty of times in the past, and where did that get them?