What did Mike Francesa expect the Jets' new general manager to say?
In his introductory press conference, new Jets general manager John Idzik showed himself to be whatever you want to make of him.
If you’re optimistic that an executive whose key role in building the ascendant Seattle Seahawks is going to be good for the Jets, Idzik was a refreshingly sober and inoffensive antidote to the team's headline-grabbing front office of the last four years. If you're inclined to dismiss Idzik as a mere bean counter whose facility with salary caps will enable Rex Ryan and Woody Johnson’s desperate, harebrained schemes, he was as milquetoast and uncharismatic as feared.
Idzik, a former wide receiver for Dartmouth, wore a green argyle tie. He has the reserved, buttoned-up mien of an engineer at IBM, which was Idzik’s job after college before junking 9-to-5 stability and pursuing his passion for football, starting with the lowest coaching ranks.
Most notably, he said “Play like a Jet” several times, re-invoking a feel-good phrase that has gone sour in two years.
He said the Jets would have a “competitive” team, and that you can’t “put a discrete timetable” on the Jets' Super Bowl aspirations.
But there's not much point to the snap assessments, really. He's a G.M. As Idzik himself said, while addressing reports that he was the only candidate willing to actually take the Jets’ job, “I don’t deal in perception. I deal in reality.”
Alas, for Idzik, the reality he confronts is a football team with no viable quarterback and a prohibitive salary-cap predicament.
The situation is so bad that Idzik can't even rule out playing Mark Sanchez, who must stay on the roster, barring a trade: Due to the N.F.L.’s byzantine salary cap rules, he counts $13 million against the cap if he’s on the roster, and $17 million if he’s cut. And new offensive coordinator Marty Morhinweg’s West Coast offense would seem tailored to bring out Sanchez’s strengths: He throws a nice ball when he’s in rhythm, and he’s athletic.
But back to Idzik’s reality. The Jets have seen four years of Sanchez, which is enough. For as much as the West Coast offense would seem tailored to his strengths, it also relies on a quarterback’s accuracy. Sanchez’s career completion percentage is 55.1 percent, and his 54.3 mark last year ranked 30th in the league.
During his press conference, Idzik was noncommittal on the topic.
“I’m literally hours into the building. Rex had to show me my office,” he said at first, as if pleading for mercy from the reporter who asked about Sanchez. “He’s an athletic guy, he was accomplished at SC. But I think we just need to take our time and evaluate Mark with everyone else on the roster and see how we can move forward and improve.”
So who will be the Jets’ quarterback? Matt Flynn, currently of the Seahawks, seems like a sensible, if unexciting, possibility. Flynn was a seventh-round draft pick in 2008, and his low selection owed largely to his relatively weak arm. But he’s accurate, which inspires some hope that the West Coast Offense can play to his strengths while masking his weaknesses.
He’ll be 28 next year, and was last seen being beaten out in training camp by Russell Wilson, something that seemed to speak worse of Flynn back before everyone knew how good Wilson was. Flynn's next start will be his third in the league: His first two starts, with the Green Bay Packers, were both extremely impressive, but they came against terrible pass defenses and were both helped along by his Packers teammates.
Flynn will earn $7.25 million in 2013, and can be cut after next year with no salary cap repercussions. If the Jets are interested in him, they may have to ascertain whether it’s worthwhile to trade draft picks for him or gamble that Seattle, which is committed to Wilson as the starter, will simply cut him. This would mean that acquiring Flynn will not cost the Jets draft picks, although if several other teams compete for him and drive up the price, it might wind up costing them more money.
And money, or salary cap space, is something in very short supply for the Jets right now, the result of the win-now mode the franchise has been in for the past several years. This is true despite Idzik’s implausible contention that he “never saw the salary cap situation here as a hindrance,” and that the Jets will still have a “fruitful offseason.”
Currently, the Jets are around $21 million over the salary cap, and only have 39 players under contract. The Jets’ draft class will likely cost around $4 million in cap space, meaning that the Jets have to clear more than $25 million off the books even to field a team.
They can clear around $33 million by cutting four of the following veterans (figures according to the invaluable nyjetscap.com): Jason Smith, Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, Eric Smith and Tim Tebow.
Still, this leaves them with just $6 million to spend, and numerous holes to fill. Starting safeties Yeremiah Bell and Laron Landry are both unrestricted free agents. So are starting guards Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson. Starting right tackle Austin Howard is a restricted free agent. Starting tight end Dustin Keller is an unrestricted free agent, and his backup, Jeff Cumberland, is a restricted free agent. Mike DeVito, a key contributor on the defensive line, is also a free agent.
In other words, the Jets will be hard-pressed to field a team with enough able bodies. Which leads us to the biggest news of the past couple days: Woody Johnson’s purported willingness to trade Darrelle Revis.
The news understandably offended Revis, who said it left him “speechless.” The easy thing to do here is to say the Jets must keep Revis by any means possible. But this understates what a terrible situation they’re in both in terms of Revis and the salary cap. It’s actually a really tough call.
Revis is a free agent after this year, after which the Jets cannot put the franchise player tag on him because of a provision in his contract. That means they can either trade him before this coming year or run the risk of losing him to free agency after next year.
Any notion the Jets might have of locking him into a long-term deal right now runs into their salary cap complications, as well as two completely unknown variables: After this year, will Revis still be an elite player, and will the Jets be close enough to contention to make signing him worthwhile?
Complicating matters is that, as Joel Corry of the National Football Post wrote, Revis can limit the number of trading partners by refusing to negotiate long-term contracts with teams, which would thus limit their interest.
Given all this, it was understandable that Idzik wanted no part of a question about Revis’s future.
“I think it’s way premature to say anything specific,” he said.