Corey Griffin, TheJetsBlog.comIt’s the worst time of every NFL fan’s winter. The weather turns from chilly to cold, rain becomes snow and playoff hopes disappear, replaced by offseason plans and draft prospects.
The Jets joined the Bucs, Bills, Redskins, Jaguars, Falcons and many other teams in that club Sunday, losing badly for the third straight week and looking very much like one of the more poorly-constructed teams in the league.
General manager John Idzik has a lot of work to do.
Aside from the oodles of cap space and cache of draft picks he’ll possess next spring, Idzik has a roster bereft of play-making ability on both sides of the ball. The offense — built mostly by his predecessor — is littered with also-rans, street free agents and veterans that will not be on the roster come Week 1 of 2014.
Whether you like his or his agents’ politics, Darrelle Revis cured a lot of the Jets’ ills in recent years and his departure in the offseason left a crater that remains vast and filled with wide-open receivers. It was a void ably filled by Antonio Cromartie last year, but injuries and inconsistent safety play have left Cromartie exposed from the beginning of the season.
The defense, meanwhile, features a fearsome defensive line and a talented linebacker corps, but is consistently undone by the lack of an edge rusher and a secondary sorely seeking a single reliable starter.
Three of Idzik’s first four draft picks were meant to shore up these weaknesses — or least reduce the glare. Instead, they’ve helped make the team harder to watch.
Geno Smith has forced some, including myself, to consider whether Mark Sanchez could at least steady the ship that was briefly handed over to Matt Simms on Sunday. Smith’s life has been miserable, in part due to third-round pick Brian Winters, whose play at guard has been so brazenly awful Nick Mangold has spent the better part of his season trying to clean up Winters’ mistakes. And cornerback Dee Milliner, Idzik’s first ever pick as Jets GM and the player unfairly hailed as Revis’ replacement, has three benchings to zero interceptions, the most recent of which came Sunday afternoon.
Milliner and Winters are far from finished as NFL players, let alone as starters or even above-average pieces. Far better players than they have struggled as rookies only to blossom in future years. If one of them hits and combines with fellow rookie Sheldon Richardson to become starter-quality players over the next seven seasons, Idzik’s first draft class and first year in Florham Park will have a bit of a brighter shine.
Unfortunately for Idzik, missing on a franchise quarterback can be unfixable. While Milliner, Winters and the later-round selections of Oday Aboushi and Will Campbell may very well turn out to be useful players, Smith looks every bit like the player that collapsed down the stretch last season at West Virginia. His lack of confidence is startling and it shows in his inability to make a decision upon reaching the height of his drop. Between the constant rush he’s facing and the targets who are incapable of consistently gaining separation from defenders, Smith is either forced to eat the ball or try to force it into a window into which he has no business throwing. And when those players are open — as they have been at times the past few weeks — Smith’s inconsistent mechanics make the ball sail wide or high of the intended target.
Perhaps Smith will get his groove back in the offseason after he’s had some time to assess his rookie season and spend more time working on the basics of his game rather than learning how to be an NFL quarterback on the job. But Idzik doesn’t have the luxury to wait for that – not in today’s NFL when even Mike Glennon, Case Keenum and Matt McGloin can make plays and play above-average football.
And certainly not when faced with a bumper class of college quarterbacks, many of whom would’ve been selected rounds ahead of Smith if they were in the same draft. Whether it’s trading up for Marcus Mariota or Teddy Bridgewater, waiting for Johnny Manziel or hoping for value in Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray or Derek Carr – Idzik simply must improve the quarterback position by next season. A combination of Smith, Simms and Jay Cutler, Michael Vick or Matt Schaub entering next season will not be good enough.
Idzik must dedicate those picks and those dollars to smartly improving the core of this team, specifically on offense. Don’t blow it all on a big-money player like Cutler or a question mark like Vick. Use the draft to find a cheaper option who’s talented enough to start at the NFL level and make sure that quarterback – whether it’s Smith or not – has someone to throw the ball to for the first time in three years.
Having Jeremy Kerley as the Jets’ leading receiver through 12 games is not OK, especially since he’s only played in eight of them.
It’s time for Idzik to get to work, because he’s got a lot to do.
Corey works for NBCSports.com as an editor and can be reached at @cgriffin415 on Twitter.