Rex and the Jets admit they’re rebuilding, which is a start

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Rex Ryan.. (nfl.com)
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Today’s long-delayed press conference in Florham Park featuring Rex Ryan and Woody Johnson was supposed to signal a new beginning after a disappointing season.

Instead, it became another example of the Jets organization’s tiresome predilection for inane narrative-peddling.

In the real world, the Jets’ bad season can pretty much be explained by two factors: First, Mark Sanchez was the worst quarterback in the league. Second, and not unrelated, his top two targets, Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller, missed the better part of the year with injuries. Very simply, this meant the offense was more terrible than the defense was good, which resulted in a sub-.500 record.

But nothing is so simple and logical in Jets-land. Instead, everything must be explained in melodramatically accessible terms, which relies heavily on words like “identity” and “mentality.” Such narratives are only tangentially related to actual football, and avoid the obvious: That it’s hard to do much better than 6-10 if your quarterback is the worst in the league.

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But that doesn’t keep you in the papers like Woody Johnson wants. Besides, Rex loves being the guy at the center of a narrative, and, when standing before a group of reporters, his people-pleasing impulses take over. So here’s his explanation for why the offense collapsed:

“I don’t think I’ve done as good a job of implementing who I am throughout this team. And I want a physical, aggressive, attack style of football team … unpredictable. In all three phases, that’s what I want. And I don’t think I’ve done a good enough job getting that through to the entire football team. Certainly I think it’s gotten through to the defense more than it’s gotten through to the …”

At this point he trailed off. But the implication was this: The Jets’ offense isn’t terrible because the quarterback is terrible and the good players were injured. It’s terrible because Rex hasn’t imbued it with enough of his indefinable Rex-ness.

If only it were so simple. In reality, the Jets offense will continue to flounder as long as they lack even an average quarterback. Given this, Rex’s comments seem like less of a plan and more of a smokescreen for the underlying realities.

Besides, when it comes to pronouncements of the Jets’ identity change, we’ve seen it all before. 2011 was supposed to be the year the Jets would finally “take the reins” off Mark Sanchez in the name of being more aggressive. It went poorly, thus prompting cries for the return of the run-heavy “ground and pound” offense of Sanchez’s rookie year of 2009.

The Jets brought in Tony Sparano to implement that plan, of whom Rex said, “We are definitely like-minded people, like-minded coaches, and we believe in running the football.”

Apparently not like-minded enough, as the 2012 Jets offense was insufficiently Rex-infused. Now we’re back to being more aggressive, having come full circle.

“I think before, that ground and pound mentality, maybe I bought into that more than I should have,” he acknowledged yesterday.

BURIED BENEATH THE PLATITUDES WAS A GLIMMER OF HOPE for Jets fans: Woody Johnson’s announcement that he wants to build a sustainably good team, even if it comes at the price of short-term success.

“We’re doing a lot of major things to put ourselves on better footing for the longer term,” he said. “We gotta build. And we can’t build for the first game next year. We gotta build for sustainable success.”

It was subtle, but nonetheless an acknowledgement by Johnson that his team is rebuilding. As such, it marked the first step back since at least 2008, when the Jets traded for Brett Favre and embarked on a string of short-term personnel strategies to get themselves to the Super Bowl fast.

There are a number of obvious places for the Jets to strip down this offseason: Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, Jason Smith, and Eric Smith will likely be cut, thus getting the Jets $10 million under the salary cap.

The year after next year, Sanchez, who ought to be stashed on the bench in the meantime, should also be gone, clearing his nearly $13 million salary.

The Jets pretty much have no choice but to strip down and start from scratch. Maybe it’s a new beginning after all.