Welcome to the first annual TJB Writers Challenge! Not a lot ever happens in July until training camp, so with about a month until the start of camp, once a day each day between now and then, I will be taking tweets from readers like you and will write about the topic of your choosing. If you’d like to get me to write about something, just @Brian_Bassett on Twitter and I’ll do my best to get to as many requests this month as possible!
Ouch, yet another really good question! Someone please explain to me why I don’t let you come up with topics for me to write about more often? OK, OK … consider this a wake up call for yours truly.
This is a really hard one … I don’t think there’s any good empirical way to prove this out, so while I’ll try and be as holistic as possible, it’s going to be more an attempt to look at a number of different areas how it affected the team.
Sophomore Progress — Now of course every team was in the same situation, but the Jets 2010 draft was obviously not a draft class to built to create an immediate high impact in that same year. The Jets were looking to draft for depth and to increase the 2010 rookie class’s role right alongside their 2011 rookies. Kyle Wilson, Vlad Ducasse and Joe McKnight came aboard a roster where the Jets fully expected to have them learn in their first year and hopefully step up in their roles in subsequent years. Cromartie was in the wind, Damien Woody was a player the team (obviously) wondered about keeping, and LaDainian wasn’t going to be able to play forever. With the lockout, there was no real chance for the teams to use that first full offseason to coach those players up and get them ready for larger roles in time for the 2011 season.
Salary Cap Questions — Right up to the bitter end there were real questions on how much could each team could spend once the CBA was ratified. Would the Jets get hit with their dead money? How much could they realistically offer their players they wanted to keep like Tone, Bray, Cromartie and others? It was hard to plan for too much although I’m sure the Jets did their best to run all the eventualities and stay abreast of the updates of the negotations and how it might have affected what they did. Believe it or not, I don’t think it was the cap space that was the major issue for the Jets, but something else …
The Asomougha Red Herring — Rex Ryan has made it abundantly clear that he feels like cornerbacks are extremely important to his defense and he always wants more, better ones. With Cromartie a free agent, the Jets tried to make a play for one of the best in the league by courting Nnamdi Asomougha after he was cut loose by Oakland. While Aso’s coming to New York seemed likely, in the end he chose Philly over New York, for I’m sure various reasons. I don’t blame the Jets for making a play at Aso, but it probably wasn’t a bad thing that they didn’t land him. In the end though, it cost them elsewhere. Cromartie waited and seethed, seeing dollar signs. Braylon took his shunning and focused elsewhere, and special team extraordinaire Brad Smith took the best payday available to him in Buffalo. Of course it wasn’t all bad (at the time) the Jets somehow got Tone to take a low-money deal in year one (which by the way they’re now paying for in years two and three), but the Jets outright scrambled to secure Right Tackle and Safety spots as they seemed to miss some opportunities to find veteran linemen and safeties in favor of re-signing their own less than stellar options. The Wayne Hunter and Eric Smith signings were, in a phrase – mind-boggling.
Conditioning — Conditioning was obviously a concern for the Jets with the CBA lockout. There’s absolutely no way to prove the two are connected, but I think it’s fair to say that laying off traditional NFL offseason workout programs made it tough on the Jets OL to stay healthy. Now it’s unfair to blame breaks on conditioning, I know, but even Matt Slauson didn’t disclose a serious shoulder injury that kept him from performing at the highest level last season. The Jets offensive line struggled to stay healthy in 2011 and it caused major breakdowns for the Jets on offense. At the time of Rob Turner’s injury, we were very concerned about the ramifications that it could cause on the offensive line … and unfortunately we were proven right.
Unbalanced Attack — 2011 was meant to be the Year of Sanchez. No more dogmatic reliance on the run as the QB would come into his true element. In 2010, Mark Sanchez’s top targets were Braylon Edwards (102), Dustin Keller (101), Santonio Holmes (95) and Jerricho Cotchery (85). Just a year later it looked like this: Dustin Keller (115), Santonio Holmes (100), Plaxico Burress (96), Jeremy Kerley (47). Now factor in that the two receivers swapped out (Edwards & Cotchery) were the receivers Sanchez had spent the most time with. In the span of less than two weeks, Edwards was gone, Plax was in, Cotchery was out and Derrick Mason (whoops) was in. Tone was the player who commanded doubles every play, and struggled to elude them. While we might credit Sanchez and his people for creating Jets West, it still can’t re-create the battlefield environment and so the Jets went into the season without the chemistry at the position they had in recent years. In addition for fending for his life, Sanchez was adjusting to his new receivers and each week it seemed like Rex was telling the press that he wanted to get whoever was snubbed in the last game more targets in the next. A receiving corps without chemistry and (apparent) in-fighting never got on track as we saw so spectaularly at the end of the season.
In Conclusion — Every team was in the same boat, but I think that a number of factors unraveled matters for the Jets in 2011 — and in the end, they were still 8-8. Now of course they will attempt to fight back this year in an increasingly competitive AFC East, but I think for all the reasons that the Jets had troubles in 2011, there’s just as many that could have them set up for a better season in 2012.