NFL Offseason 2011: Where Do the New York Jets Go From Here?

The NFL season is now over for the New York Jets. Three days removed from the agonizing loss in the AFC Championship game to the Super Bowl bound Pittsburgh Steelers, the Jets now have to get to work on preparing for the coming 2011 season.

Head coach Rex Ryan has made it abundantly clear that he believes his team will not only return to an improbable third straight AFC Championship game but will also finally move on to the Super Bowl as well. This, as many of you know, will be a lot easier said than done.

“One thing I told our players was to be proud to be a Jet. There’s a lot to be proud of. The fact that we didn’t reach our goal this year, clearly that’s a disappointment, but it doesn’t mean we had a bad season. We had a heck of a season when you look at it. How close are we to realizing our goal?

We’re pretty darn close. We’re the only team of the final four teams that went [to the conference championship round] last year, to make it back to the final four. I think that’s something for optimism, that we’re a pretty good football team. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.

Now, we weren’t good enough to get it done, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be good enough to get it done next year. We beat some pretty good teams along the way. I think the fact that we played five road games out of the last six, including trips to Chicago, Pittsburgh twice, New England, Indianapolis, that’s about as tough as it gets.” – Rex Ryan

Many questions surround what the Jets will do with their wide receiver tandem of Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes. Both players are now unrestricted free agents as is ‘jack of all trades’ WR Brad Smith. It is highly unlikely that the team will be able to retain all three.

Holmes was brilliant this season, truly showcasing why the Jets signed him in the first place. Even with Holmes missing the first four games of the season because of his violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, he put up respectable numbers amassing 52 receptions for 746 receiving yards with 6 touchdowns and a 14.3 YPC average. When the chips were down this season, more often than not, it was Holmes who got the call and he delivered.

Edwards also had a good season and managed to put to rest the issues he has had with dropped passes in years past. With his off the field issues, you may recall Braylon was arrested for drinking and driving earlier this season, I’m not convinced that he has done enough to erase the embarrassment he put the organization through to be a priority signing.

I believe that if it comes down to a choice between one or the other, the Jets may prefer to keep Holmes over Edwards if forced to choose only one. That being said, the Jets are certainly still in need of a big, imposing wide receiver like Edwards to help stretch the field and keep opposing defenses honest.

Like Leon Washington before him, receiver Brad Smith has proven to be a dangerously versatile player who can bust out the big play at anytime. Whether he was running the Seminole offense or running back kicks, Brad Smith kept opposing teams on their toes whenever he hit the field. After putting in such an electrifying performance this season, I find it hard to believe that the Jets won’t be looking to retain his services.

Ultimately, the pending CBA situation and money will determine what the future Jets receiving corps will look like in 2011.

Putting aside the questions at wide receiver, the biggest question facing the Jets is the defense and its lacking pass rush. The Jets posted 40 sacks (tied for eighth in NFL) in the 2010 season.  However, a great many of these came as a result of superior coverage in the secondary.

Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine were forced to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks using solely ingenious schemes rather than with great pass rushers. This team needs to find itself a Clay Matthews-caliber player who can get to the QB on his own rather than depending strictly on great schemes to generate sacks, knock downs and hurries.

Defensive ends Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce are both over 30 and Pryce has alluded to wanting to retire this off season, so the need to find a way to create pressure is paramount. Lets not forget that linebacker Jason Taylor, who was brought in as a pass rushing specialist, is very likely not to return to football again. Look for the Jets to try and address these needs in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Speaking of the draft, the Jets’ troubles on the defensive line don’t stop at lacking a pure pass rusher. Run-stuffer Kris Jenkins will be 32 and has had two major knee surgeries in two years. While his return is possible, it is likely that he’ll probably have to take a hefty pay cut considering his current contract. With only seven draft picks over the last two seasons, the Jets have not used any of them on defensive linemen or linebackers. Look for that to change in this years draft.

Considering the aforementioned issues facing the Jets at wide receiver, it is very possible we will see the Jets address this at draft time as well.

Folk or no Folk…that is the question.

Kicker Nick Folk, despite appearances, had a decent year as kicker, missing only nine field goals attempts—however, at least six of these should have been made. Folk seemed to wither when the game was on the line and in his hands. So much so that the Jets tried out other kickers mid-season, partially to try and find more consistency at the position as well as to perhaps help light a little fire under the feet of Folk. His missed 30-yard field goal against the Patriots in the playoffs may well have sealed his fate with both the organization and fans alike.

Punter Steve Weatherford had a good regular season and then fell apart on this team during their playoff run. Weatherford ended the regular season with a net average of 38.1 yards per punt and was able to pin opposing teams inside the twenty yard line 42 times. That number dropped to an abysmal 29.5 average during the playoffs including a woeful 22.3 average against the Patriots. Don’t be surprised to see either one of these guys gone for 2011.

Finally, there is the question of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Much has been made of the decisions he made during the AFC Championship in Pittsburgh. Should Shonn Greene been called up over LaDainian Tomlinson with the ball on the Steeler’s 2 yard line? Why was Santonio Holmes on the bench for the Jets first couple plays in their opening offensive series?

“Ask Coach Schottenheimer what happened…He’ll explain everything to you.” – Santonio Holmes in post AFC Championship game interview

I think many of you would agree that there were a few things on offense that should have gone better. But I think it is important to remember that it was Schottenheimer’s schemes and play calling that lead this team to the playoffs in the first place. Schottenheimer had to deal with a young and often inconsistent quarterback in Mark Sanchez. All in all, I believe Schottenheimer deserves more praise and less vilification.

The Jets have lots on their off season plate to address but I think this is a team that will continue to excel with each coming season and will provide plenty of positives to talk about for years to come.

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