- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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New York has a gigantic cleanup project ahead in 2013.
Here are five steps the Jets should take in the offseason to turn things around:
1. Add a quarterback
Adding a quarterback will be the trickiest but most significant thing the Jets do this offseason. For starters, money is a huge issue.
Although I'm in the minority, I expect Mark Sanchez to be with the Jets next year. His $8.25 million salary is guaranteed for 2013, and the prorated cap hit would be much larger if he's cut. The Jets are already significantly over the cap. As much as they may be ready to move on from Sanchez, it's smarter to save the cap hit and just keep him on the roster for another season.
With Sanchez making franchise money next year, the Jets can't pay two quarterbacks the same amount. So forget about names like Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers. New York cannot afford to invest $16-$17 million into one position.
New York's best option would be to look for a cheaper veteran alternative. Personally, I like Matt Moore of the Miami Dolphins. He has starting experience and would take a cap-friendly contract for the opportunity to play. Moore is currently Ryan Tannehill's backup in Miami. Other veteran quaretrbacks like Jason Campbell, Brady Quinn and Drew Stanton are affordable options who can compete with Sanchez to be the starter.
The Jets can take also draft a quarterback early and hope the rookie can play right away. The quarterback class is not strong next year and head coach Rex Ryan will enter 2013 on the hot seat. He cannot afford to wait another year or two for a rookie to develop. He needs to win now.
2. Fire or demote Mike Tannenbaum
The person most responsible for putting together New York's old and expensive roster should be reprimanded.
Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum tried to keep this group veteran together too long. New York thought it could get to the Super Bowl after back-to-back AFC title games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Tannenbaum locked himself into some bad free-agent contracts with older players that are crushing the team's cap.
In addition, Tannenbaum's drafts have been below average. You can start with back-to-back first-round picks of Vernon Gholston and Sanchez in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Both players were taken in the top six overall and the Jets whiffed. That held the franchise back. Other draft busts like Vladimir Ducasse also stand out.
Finally, Tannenbaum's giving Sanchez a five-year, $58.25 million contract extension in March was inexcusable. Sanchez had done nothing the year before to warrant a large extension, yet the Jets believed he was the long-term solution. It didn’t take long for Tannenbaum to regret that decision.
Tannenbaum has his strengths and is a good presence within the Jets. He doesn't need to be fired, but he should no longer have final say on roster moves. The Jets need a new general manager to reshape this roster.
3. Trade or release Tim Tebow
It's clear the Jets' coaching staff doesn’t think much of Tebow as a quarterback. After benching Sanchez, New York passed over Tebow for third-stringer Greg McElroy. Why did Tannenbaum and the Jets ever think the Tebow experiment was a good idea?
Very few people outside of the organization thought this would work. Tebow, for starters, is not a legitimate NFL quarterback. He's a gimmick player who can help by using his rushing ability.
But Tebow brought the large following and media hype of a franchise quarterback. I remember attending training camp in August when Tebow got the loudest cheers. It immediately added unnecessary pressure to Sanchez and the team. The last thing the Jets needed was another circus, but that's exactly what they got with adding Tebow. It was a train wreck waiting to happen.
The good news is Tebow is much easier to move than Sanchez. The New York Daily News reports the Jets can release Tebow and take only a $1 million cap hit.
It's best that Tebow and the Jets go their separate ways after just one year.
4. Get a new offensive coordinator
Tony Sparano is very likeable and a high-energy coach, but he's a mediocre offensive coordinator.
The Jets are ranked 30th in total offense, and the play calling has been mind-numbing. New York is a team without an offensive identity. After 14 games, the Jets still haven't figured out what they do best.
Hiring Sparano in this role was a risky move from the start. He was a head coach in Miami and offensive line coach in Dallas. But the Jets hired him to call plays on offense. Sparano's Miami teams were never offensive powerhouses. There was no indication Sparano could turn the Jets' offense around. His quarterback development has been even worse, as both Sanchez and Tebow regressed on Sparano's watch.
The Jets need to hire a top-level offensive coordinator. Soon-to-be former head coaches like Norv Turner of the San Diego Chargers and Pat Shurmur of the Cleveland Browns should be available. The Jets need someone with a proven track record of developing quarterbacks and successfully calling plays next season.
5. Make cuts, rebuild through the draft
The Jets need to get younger and build through the draft. It starts by making some veteran cuts.
New York can begin by releasing expensive veteran linebackers Calvin Pace and Bart Scott. Both are 32-years-old and making big salaries. Other players like offensive tackle Jason Smith and safety Eric Smith should come off the books, as well. That should provide sizable cap relief.
The Jets won't have a lot of money to spend in free agency, which is why the draft is so important.
Using the draft to build up the offense should be the top priority. The Jets need better players at receiver, running back and tight end to help whoever becomes the starting quarterback. New York also could lose starting tight end Dustin Keller and tailback Shonn Greene, who are pending free agents, and need to fill those positions.
There is no easy way for the Jets to escape this mess. But if they follow these five steps this offseason, the Jets will be heading in the right direction.