Matt Slauson and the New York Jets have their Etch a Sketch moment

Matt Slauson. (nfl.com)
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A weekly column about what the Jets are doing when they're not playing football.

Remember all the chatter last year about the Jets’ “identity” crisis? To hear people talk about it, the Jets’ problem went deeper than poor offensive line play and bad quarterback decisions, and instead reflected their alienation from their innermost essence.

Guard Matt Slauson unwittingly reignited that narrative when he told reporters that the Jets are “going to be two separate teams” next year: One when Sanchez is under center, and another when Tim Tebow is.

Slauson probably meant this innocuously, to describe something pretty basic about gadget offenses that complement a team’s regular offense: They have different plays and personnel sets. Just like the punt team and kickoff team are “separate teams,” the standard offense and the Wildcat offense will function discretely.

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But if things go south, you can bet his comments will be read into as a confession of his team’s schizophrenia. An offense with two identities is an offense with no identity at all, etc.

The Tebow acquisition can be viewed as an existential matter, if you like,  but it can also be seen as an attempt by a team with a below-average offense to improve things without actually changing quarterbacks altogether.

Last year, the Jets’ defense was excellent, and their offense was poor. The defense gave up an average of 5.0 yards per play, a figure bested by just three teams, and finished second in the FootballOutsiders’ DVOA rankings. The offense, meanwhile, was 27th in the league with 4.8 yards per play, below teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and yes, the Denver Broncos. In the FootballOutsiders’ DVOA rankings, the Jets finished 21st in the league.

Had the Jets’ offense merely been average, it’s possible that they would have pulled out a couple more close games and made the playoffs, and maybe even avoided the psychodrama narratives altogether.

THIS WAS, TO ME, THE MORE REVEALING QUOTE FROM the Slauson interview:

“You guys will be really surprised by what Mark’s going to do this year. The way we’re going to be running plays right into Mark’s strengths, running the ball. It’ll be very similar to what we did in Rex’s first two years, very much a style like that – heavy run, heavy play action and whipping out a deep ball every now and again. That’s all stuff Mark does really well.”

This actually sounds less like playing “right into Mark’s strengths” than “playing away from Mark’s weaknesses.” Sanchez does throw a nice deep ball, it’s true, but the explanation sounds like an admirable attempt to turn the necessity of marginalizing the quarterback into a virtue.

ACCORDING TO ESPN'S SAL PAOLANTONIO, TIM TEBOW WILL play H-back, fullback and running back, and will even contribute on special teams as the personal protector on the punt team.

There are two ways to look at this: You can applaud the Jets’ courage to think outside the box, or you can say that they’re trying entirely too hard to justify this trade.

Right now, it’s fashionable to rip on the Jets, who missed the playoffs last year after talking an unjustifiably big game. But we’ll see. At the very least, the Jets always keep things interesting.

SORRY, BUT THIS IS JUST AN AWFUL IDEAApparently a production company wanted to do a reality show featuring Antonio Cromartie’s ten children and their eight different mothers “trying to co-exist as a modern family,” according to a New York Post source. Many of the mothers were actually in favor of the idea, but Cromartie—“the fertile footballer”, in Post-ese—nixed it.

One of the mothers who supported it told the Post, “Our kids need to know who their siblings are.”

Possibly, but it’s hard to imagine that the gawking, condescending eye of reality TV would be a good context for fostering relationships.

Maybe the would-be participants were motivated by a desire to get back at Cromartie, who many of these women have portrayed as less than mensch-like, or by a desire to cash in, beyond the $3500 a month most of the mothers get in child-support payments.

But then again, maybe they believed he'd actually do it, given the way he's talked about his family situation (on a reality TV show, in fact) in the past.

Either way, the show won't go on.

Cromartie’s support payments add up to more than a quarter of a million dollars a year. Fortunately, for now, he plays under a four-year, $32 million contract. Still, it’s not too difficult to picture Cromartie becoming one of the astounding 78 percent of former N.F.L. players who find themselves under financial stress two years after their careers end. (Related: read the landmark 2009 Sports Illustrated article on the subject, if you haven't already.)

THE MORE RELEVANT CROMARTIE NEWS WAS HIS HINT on Twitter that he might move to safety. Cromartie posted the message in mid-March, before the Jets signed strong safety LaRon Landry.

Safety is the Jets’ most obvious weak and unsettled spot heading into next year: Incumbent free safety Jim Leonhard is a free agent who is coming off a major knee injury, and whose early-season availability for whichever team signs him is a question mark. Incumbent strong safety Eric Smith was below average last year and will see his salary leap from $700,000 to $3 million, making his future with the team uncertain.

Landry is a question mark himself, in terms of his health. Each of his last two seasons have ended with injuries to his left Achilles heel, though he insists the injuries were unrelated. Two weeks ago, word from the Patriots camp leaked out that they lost interest in Landry because his Achilles was “iffier” than expected. The Jets’ contract with Landry is tied to his health: Half of his $3.5 million contract is tied to a weekly roster bonus the Jets would only have to pay if he’s healthy.

So the Jets only have one safety on the roster right now that anyone’s confident is a starting caliber player, but even he might not be healthy. Given all this uncertainty, what to make of Cromartie’s tweet?

It’s an interesting idea.

On one hand, Cromartie seems well-suited for safety: He’s tall, runs with loping, rangy strides, and has a receiver’s ability to time his jumps and catch the ball (his college coaches contemplated moving him to receiver). As a cornerback, he’s good but not great, often struggling with the rigorous technical discipline it takes to shadow receivers. Playing safety would obviate his weaknesses and play to his strengths.

On the other hand, safety, as the last line of defense on running plays, is a position that traditionally calls for a willing, physical tackler, which Cromartie is not. His reputation was solidified last year by two missed tackles on fellows named Tebow and Cruz that went a long way toward sinking the Jets’ season.

Also, moving Cromartie to safety would thrust Kyle Wilson into the starting cornerback role. Frustrating as Cromartie can be, he’s still pretty good, and his tandem with Revis is a positional strength that enables the Jets’ aggressive blitz packages.

Replacing Cromartie with Wilson as a starter could undermine this strength. Although the conventional wisdom states that Wilson improved into a solid contributor last year, the stats tell a different story. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson allowed quarterbacks who threw at him to post a quarterback rating of 95.1, compared to the league average of 82.5. In the Pro Football Focus play-by-play rankings, Wilson placed 72nd out of the 109 cornerbacks who were on the field for at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps.

AARON MAYBIN, THE FIRST-ROUND BUST for Buffalo who found his true vocation last year as a pass-rush specialist for the Jets, will be coming back, for $1.26 million.

Maybin led the team in sacks last year, which isn’t saying all that much, because he totaled only six. But he was quite effective in his role. According to the pass-rusher productivity statistic of Pro Football Focus, which tallies sacks, hits and hurries on the quarterback per passing play, Maybin ranked 10th out of 48 qualifying outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme who were on the field for at least 25 percent of the team’s snaps.

Of course, much of that might have to do with Ryan strict use of Maybin as a pure pass rusher on likely passing situations, which enabled him to “pin his ears back” and think about nothing except getting to the quarterback. According to the stats of Pro Football Focus, Maybin was on the field for 239 snaps last year, 210 of which were passing plays. Of those 210 passing plays, Maybin rushed the passer 197 times, or 94 percent of the time.

MUCH OF THE ATTENTION SURROUNDING THE RECENTLY UNVEILED N.F.L. schedule has focused on the Giants, who have the toughest lineup of opponents in the league.

By contrast, the Jets lucked out, with the 20th hardest (or 10th easiest) schedule, based on 2011 winning percentage.

It’s a little ridiculous to pencil in “easy” wins at this point—who would have predicted San Francisco last year?—but what the hell:

A home and an away against Buffalo, one at home against Indianapolis, one at St. Louis, one at home against Arizona, and one at Jacksonville. Win those six games and split the remaining 10, and the Jets are 11-5.

Yep, it’ll be just that easy.