Commentary

What went wrong for the Jets

After a season of disappointment, it's back to the ol' drawing board

Updated: January 1, 2012, 10:03 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

MIAMI -- The buzzword last offseason was "continuity." With several high-profile free agents on their roster, the New York Jets figured their best chance to reach the elusive Super Bowl was to keep their own.

They figured wrong.

The Jets got older and slower, and their depth chart got thinner, resulting in a bitterly disappointing 8-8 season with no playoffs.

This time, they're going to punt the "status quo" philosophy and revert to their usual aggressiveness in an attempt to shake up a stale roster, according to sources. The emphasis will be on speed and youth. They also would be wise to bring in good locker-room guys to help with team chemistry.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesIt was a season to forget for Jets QB Mark Sanchez.

Mike Tannenbaum, coming off his third non-playoff season in six years as the general manager, has a long to-do list. He doesn't have any franchise-type free agents -- the closest is nose tackle Sione Pouha -- which will allow him to shop 'til he drops. Or until owner Woody Johnson yanks away the checkbook.

The major issues:

A new direction on offense: Even though Rex Ryan said he expects Brian Schottenheimer to return if he doesn't land a head-coaching job, it's believed the Jets are thinking hard about replacing the embattled offensive coordinator. They wouldn't do it immediately -- they don't want to sabotage his chances of becoming a head coach -- but the organization appears to be heading in that direction.

Schottenheimer has done some good things in his six-year run, but the offense underachieved in 2011 and, most troubling, Mark Sanchez didn't progress as much as they expected. There seems to be a philosophical disconnect between Schottenheimer and Rex Ryan, so a change of scenery is best for both parties.

Ryan's likely choice to take over would be Bill Callahan, who, like most offensive line coaches, believes in a strong running game. He'd be a good fit with Ryan, but is Callahan, whose unit was part of the problem, going to bring a fresh approach? Ryan should try to convince consultant Tom Moore to stick around to mentor Sanchez.

You da Manning: The Peyton Manning rumors aren't going to die until he re-ups with the Indianapolis Colts or lands with another team. Sorry, folks, but the Jets aren't going to get involved unless there's a 180-degree turnaround in the team's thinking. It would be the ultimate act of impatience if the Jets dumped Sanchez after one hiccup.

Any lingering doubt will be removed at the start of the new league year in March, when Sanchez is due a $2.75 million roster bonus. The organization still sees Sanchez as the future, believing he can get back on track with an improved supporting cast.

Out with the old: LaDainian Tomlinson, 32, and Plaxico Burress, 34, both free agents, won't be back, league sources said. They were worthwhile and cost-effective acquisitions, but the Jets need to get younger and faster on offense.

Tomlinson's leadership will be missed, but the future Hall of Famer was pedestrian as a third-down back. That role should go to Joe McKnight, who has game-changing speed.

Burress was a weapon in the red zone, but his size was no help between the 20s and he couldn't get open. He shouldn't have been an every-down receiver, but they had no choice after dumping Derrick Mason -- a colossal mistake that haunted them all season.

They also will replace right tackle Wayne Hunter, another miscalculation. Hunter could stay if he takes a pay cut. Vladimir Ducasse isn't the answer, so they'll have to shop the free-agent market to secure a proven starter. Sanchez's health depends on it.

Find a home-run hitter: Unlike the Mets, who shortened the fences at Citi Field, the Jets can't mess with the dimensions of the field to help their quick-strike ability. They have to do it the old-fashioned way: Find more talent.

It's hard to believe, but they produced only two plays of more than 40 yards. You can't win that way.

The Jets need a speed back to complement Shonn Greene, who, despite his late-season awakening, isn't cut out to be the featured runner. He's not fast enough to threaten the edges and he doesn't break enough tackles to consistently get to the second level on inside runs.

It's the same deal at wide receiver. They need a vertical threat to complement Santonio Holmes, ideally a receiver taller than 6-foot. The Jets played in a division with two of the worst secondaries in the league, those of the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, yet still had trouble throwing more than 15 yards downfield.

Shake up the D: They retained 10 starters from the 2010 unit, thinking there was enough talent to remain a top-5 defense. There wasn't, and now it's time to do some minor rebuilding.

The Jets have to re-sign Pouha (Kenrick Ellis isn't ready to step in), find an edge rusher/outside linebacker to replace the injured Bryan Thomas (a free agent) and figure out a way to cover Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Seriously.

Gronkowski is going to be a force for years to come and, as everybody knows, the Jets struggle against pass-catching tight ends. Eric Smith didn't get it done. They need a Kerry Rhodes-type at safety, except with more toughness, to match up against Gronkowski and players of his ilk.

They also may have to trim some payroll at linebacker, which could mean goodbye to Bart Scott ($6.0 million cap figure) and/or Calvin Pace ($7.4 million). Linebacker Bryan Thomas and safety Jim Leonhard, important "glue" players, also could be gone. They're free agents coming off of major injuries.

By the time they leave for training camp in Cortland, N.Y., next summer, the Jets could have five new starters on defense.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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