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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The NFL draft is supposed to be a time of renewed hope, a chance for every team to exchange a figurative high-five with its fan base. The Jets had that feeling last year, when they made the bold move for Mark Sanchez. But not this year, not after the D-Day purge that claimed Leon Washington and Alan Faneca, the latest casualties in a stunning offseason.
"It's a sad day," one veteran player told ESPNNewYork.com on Saturday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I'm not sure if I'm going to recognize our team anymore."
|After four seasons and one Pro Bowl, Leon Washington has to wave goodbye to the Jets.|
All because of a promise Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum made to each other while waiting at baggage claim in the Mobile, Ala., airport.
One day after losing the AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis, the coach and the GM flew to the Senior Bowl for the unofficial start of the 2010 season. While waiting for their luggage, they decided to attack the offseason, refusing to stand pat after a wildly successful -- and unexpected -- postseason run.
You have to admire their aggressiveness, especially with the restrictions of the "Final Four" rules, but in the process of retooling, they have tampered with team chemistry. They replaced heart-and-soul players -- guys like Faneca, Washington, Thomas Jones, Marques Douglas and Jay Feely -- with hired guns Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Make no mistake, there's concern in the locker room that the front office, while collecting talented players with short-term agendas, may have removed too many "team" players. The Jets were a closely knit group last season, a bond that enabled them to overcome a potentially disastrous midseason slump. But now there are players wondering if the organization did too much tinkering.
"We're like one-year mercenaries, going for broke," another player said. "You're messing with something a lot of teams wish they had -- chemistry."
The Faneca-Washington moves hit like a 1-2 punch. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, commenting on the Washington trade, remarked on his Twitter page, "Whhhhyyyyy!!!!"
Why? Because Tannenbaum said Washington, playing on a one-year contract, was going to be "very, very, very difficult" to sign after the season. He also said Washington, rehabbing his surgically repaired broken leg, would be hard-pressed to make it back for opening day. That's a little revisionist history because, only nine days ago, Tannenbaum said they expected Washington to be ready for the season.
So, in almost simultaneous moves, they trade up for USC tailback Joe McKnight in the fourth round, deal Washington to the Seahawks for a fifth-round pick and use that pick to select "The Terminator" -- a throwback fullback named John Conner from Kentucky.
Say hello to your new look at running back -- Shonn Greene, Tomlinson and McKnight, a talented tease who never became the Next Reggie Bush at USC.
Why dump Faneca? The organization felt he was the weakest link of its vaunted offensive line, and it couldn't justify paying the biggest salary ($7.5 million) to the least-productive lineman. But this is what makes you scratch your head: The Jets will save only $2.25 million by releasing Faneca. That's because they owe him $5.25 million in guaranteed money, one final kick to the stomach from his five-year, $40 million contract.
So if Faneca doesn't play another down of football, and decides to go home to Louisiana and sip Hurricanes, he still gets a cool $5.25 million of Woody Johnson's money.
At left guard, the Jets will let second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse and returning backup Matt Slauson battle for Faneca's old job. It's risky, for sure, but they believe Ducasse has big-time potential even though the former UMass stud didn't play major-college ball.
Ryan, whom the organization is counting on to be a master chef and make a gourmet meal out of all these new ingredients, was asked why he'd want to mess with arguably the best offensive line in the league.
"You're either going to stay the same, get better or get worse. We're getting better," he claimed. "That's why we made the move we made. ... That line couldn't stay together forever."
Ryan downplayed the teamwide chemistry questions, insisting it would've been a mistake to stand pat with the 2009 personnel. He has a point. After the 2004 playoff run, the Jets overrated their talent level (they used their first-round draft pick on a kicker, for crying out loud!) and returned for a disastrous encore. So, in that respect, the Jets' offseason plan is sound.
Individually, the big moves all have merit, at least from a football standpoint. But, collectively, it might have been too much change. And that's only the short-term outlook. A year from now, and perhaps sooner in some cases, the Jets will face a massive -- repeat, massive -- challenge.
Several key players will be up for big contracts, namely Ferguson, Cromartie, Holmes, Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Braylon Edwards and David Harris. Cap or no cap, there's simply no way to keep them all. Tannenbaum planned for the future by drafting cornerback Kyle Wilson in the first round -- he'll be a good one -- but there will be major upheaval in a year.
Right now, the Jets are all-in for 2010.
"I'm betting on this team," Ryan said. "I think this team is going to be special."
If not, the baggage-claim area is going to be a crowded place next January, filled with a lot of ex-Jets.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.