Welcome to another edition of "Finger Pointing in New York", the annual game of blame, where fans and players on the Jets start to hurl their accusations about spending another season without a Super Bowl. I mean, Rex Ryan promised everyone they would be playing for it all this year. He promised.
Well, Wednesday saw a whole mess of soap opera drama spinning around the Jets, including conflicting stories about the departure of six-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and "anonymous source" rippings of third-year quarterback Mark Sanchez. To make matters worse, the "P" word was starting to be thrown around the Jets' locker room (Peyton... as in Manning) and it sounded like some of these "anonymous sources" were pretty high on the idea. Though Coach Ryan emphatically stated last week that the Jets would not be pursuing Peyton Manning in the offseason, he also stated last week that Schottenheimer would definitely be returning to the sidelines next season. Now, we can't even figure if the Jets fired Schottenheimer or if he just quit in disgust, as neither side seemed to want him back for a seventh year.
That story, though, pales in comparison to this "leaked quotes from unnamed players" fiasco circling the Jets' players right now and the underwhelming performance of Sanchez in 2011. The Jets never really gelled as a team on either side of the ball this year, as taking a bunch of disseparate personalities and expecting it to work may have been too much (see Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, etc.), and it was in the offense that the Jets looked to suffer the most (though the defense most assuredly needs some work). Receivers looking lazy, veteran running backs (LaDainian Thomlinson) and wide receivers (Derrick Mason) perhaps forced into retirement and criticizing the organization for the "toxic" environment of the locker room), and at the center of it all, looking lazy and complacent, is the job secure of Mark Sanchez.
Sanchez wasn't dreadful this year, but he most definitely hasn't advanced like the Jets hoped he would, hasn't become that elite QB that can win them championships. Nope, instead Mark's career has come to resemble that of Tony Romo, more pudding than proof, with no real on-the-field accomplishments to stand by his reputation. Sanchez and Romo are both semi-talented, decent looking guys on big-time NFL teams, and that fame may have made them soft, distracted. Regardless, Sanchez is quickly becoming the scapegoat for New York's problems (just as Eli did a short time ago for the Giants) and the Jets are blaming and jumping ship in droves. During this nameless rant (something center Nick Mangold took issue with, citing the cowardice of faceless gossip), players brought up Manning, about how they'd love to have him here, how he'd "get everyone lined up", how it was a "no-brainer" to bring him in. Sure, it would be a no-brainer if any team could get a healthy Peyton as their quarterback, but these players shouldn't be running to the media and stabbing their own QB in the back to talk about it. This New York mentality of "I want it now!" was what led to the brief Brett Favre era, that belief that their team should do whatever it takes because they should be winning every year. They want to bring in the names who have worked magic in other towns, for other teams, harnessing that energy for the Big Apple and its more deserving (richer) teams. The Yankees do it routinely, as do the Mets, and the Jets have been doing it big time in the last decade.
The thing is, though, the Jets haven't won it all since Super Bowl III, their one and only trip to the big game in their entire history, so might it be time to start trying something different? Maybe toying with the formula and trying something new every year isn't the way to go. Maybe having a big name, veteran quarterback come in won't solve your problems, won't inspire your team, and will just create further division and confusion in the locker room.
Are the Jets willing to bet their franchise and its future on a 36-year-old with neck problems on the wrong side of his career? Are they just going to give up on the younger Sanchez rather than try and tame him? Look,Sanchez has his faults (many, many faults), but what he needs now isn't competition, but guidance. He may have thrown 18 picks this year (and had eight fumbles to go with it), but he had 26 TDs as well and though he came across as slothful and uncaring when his team needed him, he was still largely responsible for the 13th highest-scoring offense in the NFL.
I'm not saying Mark is blame free, or even that he's the future of the Jets, but will ripping him in the press and bringing in Manning really going to change things in New York? Take a tip from the Yankees, who's payroll got so big and bloated that any loss became titanic: Sometimes, bigger is just that, bigger. New York is a major market and their fans are some of the most entitled and needy in the NFL, but to think you can just bring in Manning and all your problems are solved is naive. The Jets would be blessed to get even a halfway decent Manning, but not this way and not for these reasons. Truth be told, Peyton would be foolish to do what Favre did and come to a surly, chaotic team with the expectation of greatness forced upon him giving no room for error.
Mark Sanchez needs a coach right now, not a competitor or false compliments. Maybe he did get too comfortable with all the praise and promises of management, maybe they should have withheld their approving words until he'd actually achieved some measure of success, but it now falls to the Jets to undo the damage they've wrought on their young quarterback and set him up for success in 2012. My advice is to go smaller and not try to bring in more names and weapons to blur the focus, but instead focus on developing the talent you' ve already got in house (and there is a lot of it, regardless of the record they posted). Smart coaches who care more about practices than press conferences, work more on their players than their one-liners, and produce results rather than making empty promises. If you want to win now, the best way to do it is to know what you have and the Jets will never be able to do that if they keep making major changes to the roster every offseason. Every team has flaws, but rather than replace them with the unknown, maybe New York should work on seeing if they can make the fixes with what they have.
In the end, Sanchez isn't entirely the problem, it goes a little higher than him (though I'm not gonna do a "What's wrong with Rex?" article just now) and someone in that organization needs to light a fire under Mark's butt sooner rather than later, or he just might end up the next Tony Romo in the NFL, a victim of his own press.