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Thursday, May 22, 2003
Updated: May 29, 5:40 PM ET
Offseason Overview: New York Jets

By Kieran Darcy
ESPN The Magazine

2002 RECORD: 9-7
TEAM RANK (NFL): Defense (24th); Offense (22nd)
Free agents -- WR Phil McGeoghan (Broncos), G Tom Nutten (Rams), WR Curtis Conway (Chargers), K Doug Brien (Vikings), P Dan Stryzinski (Chiefs), DB Tyrone Carter (Vikings), WR Albert Johnson (Dolphins).
Draft picks -- 1. DT Dewayne Robertson (Kentucky); 2. LB Victor Hobson (Michigan); 3. RB B.J. Askew (Michigan); 5a. S Derek Pagel (Iowa); 5b. DT Matt Walters (Miami); 6. QB Brooks Bollinger (Wisconsin); 7. OT Dave Yovanovits (Temple).
S Damien Robinson (Seahawks), DE Steve White (released), K John Hall (Redskins), P Matt Turk (released), FB Richie Anderson (Cowboys), LB James Darling (Cardinals), OG Randy Thomas (Redskins), WR Laveranues Coles (Redskins), KR Chad Morton (Redskins), QB Todd Husak (released).
Team news | Roster | More on Jets draft

Thu., May 29
Will they be able to overcome yet another year of drastic personnel moves?
It's becoming tougher because the odds are working against Herman Edwards. He's done a remarkable job of motivating in back-to-back playoff seasons, but the AFC East title of a year ago has come back to haunt the Jets. They have the league's toughest schedule because of their first-place finish. They face teams with a 137-117-1 records, including 12 games against squads that had .500 or better records. They are doing it with a thinner team. Curtis Conway has to replace Laveranues Coles, who had 89 catches and 1,264 yards, and the three-receiver offense doesn't have the luxury of having an injury. Special teams are a little shakier with the departures of return specialist Chad Morton and kicker John Hall. Doug Brien has to be as effective as Hall. Still, don't ever count out the Jets. Edwards made the playoffs with Chad Pennington taking over for Vinny Testaverde at quarterback and Curtis Martin not having his best season in 2002. Dewayne Robertson should add excitement to the defensive line. Linebacker Sam Cowart should be that much more of a factor in his second season in the defense. The schedule and the loss of players to the Washington Redskins have just cut down the margin of error and made the challenge tougher.

After a Week 1 overtime win at Buffalo, bailed out by two kick-return touchdowns by Chad Morton, the Jets lost their next three games by a combined score of 102-13. But their season changed course in Week 4 against Jacksonville, when Chad Pennington replaced the injured Vinny Testaverde at quarterback -- and led the Jets to eight wins in their final 12 games. They snuck up on everyone to win the AFC East title, and destroyed the Colts in a first-round playoff game before falling to the Raiders in the divisional round.

Pennington was the story of the season, shocking many with his whopping 104.2 QB rating. Laveranues Coles emerged as his go-to receiver, recording 89 catches for over 1,200 yards. And running back Curtis Martin, struggling with an ankle injury, still ran for over 1,000 yards.

What they've added?
The biggest offseason acquisition the Jets made was drafting mammoth defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson from Kentucky. Robertson has been compared to Bucs All-Pro Warren Sapp, and the Jets traded up to snatch him, swapping their No. 13 and No. 22 picks in the first round with the Bears for the No. 4 selection.

The addition of Robertson gives the Jets one of the deepest D-lines in the NFL. He'll rotate in behind Jason Ferguson and Josh Evans on the inside, while last year's first-round pick, Bryan Thomas, will see time behind stalwarts John Abraham and Shaun Ellis on the ends. Thomas was a major disappointment last season, but has stepped up his workouts of late and impressed the Jets coaches in mini-camp. Abraham and Ellis are very adept at getting after the quarterback -- now the Jets should have a better inside pass rush to match those two on the outside.

Coles' departure to the Redskins left a gaping hole in the Jets' receiving corps. The team moved quickly to acquire Curtis Conway, formerly of the Chargers. Conway led San Diego with 57 catches for 852 yards last season. The Jets also lost guard Randy Thomas to the Redskins and replaced him with Tom Nutten from the Rams, who started for St. Louis the past four seasons.

The Jets' special teams have been revamped as well. Kicker John Hall was snatched up by the Redskins (yep, him too), and punter Matt Turk was let go. In their place, the Jets signed kicker Doug Brien and punter Dan Stryzinski.

Fantasy Focus
The Jets will miss the receiving production that Laveranues Coles provided. He had a breakout season last year with 1,264 yards, helped by great chemistry with quarterback Chad Pennington. The Jets signed Curtis Conway to replace Coles, but he won't put up the same strong stats. Conway is strictly a deep threat while Coles is a versatile receiver who runs effective short, medium and deep routes. The Jets will also depend on third-year wideout Santana Moss to help compensate for the departure of Coles to the Redskins. Since Conway has missed 12 games in the past four seasons, he's an injury risk, too. Look elsewhere for a starting fantasy receiver.
-- Roger Rotter, Fantasy editor

What they're missing?
Pennington is missing a go-to guy, at least for now. Coles came into the league the same year as Pennington and had developed a strong chemistry with him. It remains to be seen if Conway can fill that role. Wayne Chrebet is a third receiver whose production has declined in recent years. And much-heralded former first-round pick Santana Moss showed flashes last year, but still had only 30 catches. Coles had more receptions for more yardage than Chrebet and Moss combined last season.

Don't forget that Pennington lost another favorite target in fullback Richie Anderson, who bolted for Bill Parcells' Cowboys. Anderson had 45 receptions last season -- his replacement, Jerald Sowell, has only 27 receptions in his entire six-year career.

The Jets are well-stocked on the defensive line, but lack great depth at linebacker and in the secondary. And their biggest problem may be special teams. They lost Morton, one of the most dangerous kick-returners in the NFL. Brien was jettisoned by Minnesota after Week 6 last season and Stryzinski ranked last in punting average in the AFC for Kansas City.

What it all means?
The Jets will get an opportunity to go right at the Redskins, the team that poached so many of their players away, on the opening night of the NFL season, Thursday Sept. 4. They go on to play a tough schedule, in perhaps the most competitive division in football. It won't be easy to return to the playoffs, let alone repeat as division champs.

The Jets still have plenty of talent -- but their offseason losses add up to more than one might think at first glance. Their fate will likely fall on Pennington and his right arm -- Will he suffer a sophomore swoon, or enjoy another breakout season? Time will tell.

Kieran Darcy works for ESPN The Magazine.