ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Now comes the hard part: Cleaning up the mess.
The New York Jets haven't faced an offseason with this much uncertainty since 2009, when Eric Mangini was fired the day after a late-season collapse. This time, there are questions at every key position -- general manager, head coach, quarterback and offensive coordinator.
As of Saturday night, Rex Ryan hadn't received any assurances from owner Woody Johnson, who has kept the organization on edge by remaining silent and largely invisible.
Ryan has two years and about $6 million left on his contract. From all indications, he will be back, but he's frustrated with the roster and believes it will take more than a year to fix the offense. It's hardly the ideal situation, but based on his emphatic statements from last Friday's news conference, Ryan appears to be all in.
GM Mike Tannenbaum has been attached to Ryan's hip for four years, but now, suddenly, he's being portrayed as the cause of the problem -- probably unfair. Nevertheless, his future remains uncertain. The team has been sending out feelers to potential GM candidates, according to sources. Tannenbaum, who has two years left on his deal, could be re-assigned within the organization. For the sake of stability, Johnson might be better served to keep Tannenbaum, giving him a chance to fix the problems.
These decisions could be based, in large part, on money. Johnson has $18 million to $20 million tied up in Ryan, Tannenbaum and quarterback Mark Sanchez. They will dump offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, as reported Sunday by ESPN's Adam Schefter, but that won't be a huge financial hit because he's getting paid by the Miami Dolphins through 2013, minimizing the Jets' obligation.
Nevertheless, Johnson will have to eat big money to fix some of the problems.
"That's the big question: How much dead money is he willing to take on?" one team source asked.
Once the Jets get the coach/GM situations solidified, they have to go to work on the coaching staff and the roster. Some key issues:
Change the offense: Ryan has to alter his offensive approach. Ground & Pound is old school; the NFL is all about scoring points. We're not suggesting they throw 40 times a game, but they need to be more progressive. They should hire a pass-savvy coordinator who can install a quarterback-friendly system. Norv Turner would be a good choice, but he'd be a tough get.
Ryan has a blind spot when it comes to offense, always placing it second in the pecking order to his beloved defense. That has to change.
Bring in a veteran QB: They're probably stuck with Sanchez for another year because of an $8.25 million guarantee, but they can't possibly go to camp with him as the undisputed starter. They have to import a legitimate starter, not a retread (Mark Brunell) and not a gimmick (Tim Tebow).
Unless they find a first-year starter in the draft -- is there another Russell Wilson out there? -- the Jets need a short-term solution that can buy them time while they find a quarterback of the future. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Moore would be game-manager types; Michael Vick would be high-risk, high-reward -- and expensive.
They will look to trade Sanchez, but the cap charge for keeping him ($12.8 million) versus dealing him would be about the same. Tebow? He's so gone.
Explore a Revis trade: This might sound like heresy, but they have to think about it because of Darrelle Revis' contract situation. Will it happen? Probably not, but they have to consider it.
If Revis doesn't sign a long-term extension before the regular season, he probably walks in 2014 because they can't use the franchise tag on him, per a clause in his current deal. Signing him won't be easy because he's coming off major knee surgery and his asking price will be close to $20 million a year. No cornerback is worth that kind of money, especially for a team with so many needs.
But here's the problem: Because of the knee, they'd never get equal value in a trade and he probably won't find a suitor willing to meet his demands. This entire Revis issue looms as a major headache.
Find a playmaker (or three): The Jets scored only one touchdown of 30 yards or more, the lowest total in the NFL -- and that was a 33-yard pass to Stephen Hill in Week 1. The NFL is a playmaker's league and the Jets have a serious shortage.
Santonio Holmes will return from season-ending foot surgery, but there's some concern in the organization about whether he'll be 100 percent by opening day. Hill is a project and
Dustin Keller could walk as a free agent. The backfield desperately needs a home-run threat; they had only one run longer than 36 yards.
The top free-agent receiver is Mike Wallace, but he'll be out of the Jets' price range. The running-back market is thin, so they'll probably have to rely on the draft, hoping to find a Doug Martin or David Wilson.
Overhaul at linebacker and safety: It was a nice, four-year run for the linebacking quartet of David Harris, Calvin Pace, Bart Scott and Bryan Thomas, but it's time to break up the group and add some speed, especially on the edge. Harris will be back, but the other three are likely goners. Pace remains a solid player, but his cap figure is an unaffordable $11.6 million.
Tannebaum formed a nice safety tandem with LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell, but it was a short-term fix, as both players signed one-year deals. Landry won't be back. They can't tag him, per a clause in his contract, and there's no way they can break the bank for a safety. Landry will follow the money, count on that. Yeremiah Bell will be 35, but he did a solid job and could be a fallback option.