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Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Rex's lame-duck year getting lamer

By Johnette Howard
ESPNNewYork.com

It was always wishful thinking for Rex Ryan to hope new general manager John Idzik would make saving him one of his organizational goals on top of fixing the team. But the parade of players exiting Florham Park since free agency began Tuesday has painfully underscored how Rex's lame-duck contract year is looking lamer by the hour.

Prepare yourself for more bad puns from the headline writers.

Today, the Rex-odus. Tomorrow, the Rex-orcism is coming.

Broadway Joe, meet the Broadway Schmoes.

It's hard to see how Ryan survives the purge of talent the New York Jets are undergoing right now, even if there is a whole 2013 season to play and months of roster moves yet to be made. Ryan has gone from a Super Bowl-contending coach on arrival in 2009 to a space holder whom the Jets might as well keep around to preside over a year of re-tooling rather than pay him for doing nothing plus hire someone else.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez had a quasi-legitimate beef about not having many playmakers to rely on last season -- though if Sanchez is being honest, he has to include himself. But look how depleted the Jets are now on both sides of the ball.

By Wednesday, there was a good chance tight end Dustin Keller was about to sign elsewhere by the end of the day. Brandon Moore and Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry are expected to follow Shonn Greene, Mike DeVito, Sione Pou'ha, Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, and Eric Smith out the door.

That's nine starters gone even before you dwell on how the Darrelle Revis trade talks continue to percolate along, with just-fired Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum weighing in from beyond the grave to say on the NFL Network that the Jets should get a draft-pick haul like the Vikings just did for trading Percy Harvin to Seattle. (Bet that little nugget went over well at Jets headquarters. So far the rumored packages coming back to the Jets for Revis are nothing approaching that. Last we checked, Harvin had two healthy ACLs; Revis, just one.)

And to offset all that bad news, the Jets present you with … David Garrard, a 35-year-old who was out of the NFL the past two years.

The longer this goes on, the more the motto of the Jets' upcoming season looks like "Thank god for Buffalo." Once again, the Bills look like the pillow at the bottom of the elevator shaft the Jets are falling down. It should be a fascinating battle between the two franchises to see which stays out of the basement of the AFC East -- or AFC cellar-at-large. The Bills just cut their own overpaid/underperforming quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, to set up (for now, anyway) two divisional duels between Sanchez and well-traveled Tarvaris Jackson.

Get your tickets now.

It's a drag to be so grim before the crocuses have even come up or the NFL draft has rolled around, I know. But when it comes to the Jets, the truth hurts. They didn't just lose talented players this week -- they also lost a ton of heart and soul, some of the best leaders and grownups in their locker room. Once Revis goes, what they'll be left with is a team led by, well … Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie? The flake-out potential is astronomical. And that includes the head coach, who will probably throw himself on the floor if Idzik ignores his pleas not to ship Revis.

It was always a gamble for the Jets to put a win-now team together with a just-drafted quarterback like Sanchez when Ryan first arrived. But the Jets' Tannenbaum-Ryan-Woody Johnson brain trust deserves credit for at least going for the Super-Bowl-or-bust dream as ambitiously as they did and poking a sharp stick at the Patriots while they were at it.

It was fun while it lasted.

It also didn't work.

It didn't leave the Jets with many draft picks to replenish the roster, or with a foundation built for the long haul. But the most damaging thing of all -- aside from the salary-cap handcuffs it put them in -- is how Sanchez's development has stalled. It used to be that Heisman Trophy winners were snake-bitten when they made the leap to the NFL, but who has been more cursed lately than ex-USC quarterbacks? (See Sanchez, Matt Leinart, and Matt Cassel, with a de-valued Matt Barkley waiting in the wings.)

As my colleague Rich Cimini has pointed out, the Jets could create a ripple of interest by using their No. 9 pick in the draft on a quarterback -- perhaps Geno Smith of West Virginia? -- and then hope he's an instant sensation like Russell Wilson was for the Seahawks as a rookie. But what are the chances of that?

Idzik is smart to start over, even if part of the collateral damage is Ryan looks like a dead coach walking and all those players who once supposedly loved playing for him are rushing for the exits. So much for being tethered to the Jets by the irresistible gravitational pull of Rex's fabulous personality. His assistants jumped ship in droves this offseason too.

All signs point to the Rex-odus leading to a Rex-orcism.

Kind of makes the "Hard Knocks" years look like the glory days.