Despite the setback this past Sunday at home against the Denver Broncos, the Jets have already asserted themselves as AFC contenders in the wake of their back-to-back wins on the road over the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans. In the process, they have also turned heads concerning the process of team-building in the modern NFL.
The conventional wisdom is that prosperity will come to those who draft well, play those players early, then sign the best of the bunch to long-term contract extensions. After all, the thought process follows, you simply cannot buy a championship in the NFL. Just ask Redskins owner Dan Snyder, right? Well, as the Jets have demonstrated so far this year, it seems pretty clear that you at least might be able to buy yourselves a division title. After that, who knows?
When seemingly every team this offseason avoided the urge to use up all of its available cap room or to dole out large amounts of guaranteed money, the Jets went in the opposite direction, spending money like a teenage girl with her dad's credit card. With other teams showing restraint, the Jets handed our signing bonuses like they had money to burn. The Jets were both privately and publicly criticized for their free-spending ways. But then a funny thing happened; every single move paid off.
Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Eric Mangini had a plan and they acted on it. Though some will assert the moves were made out of desperation to improve the roster to the point where the Jets could compete for a playoff spot and save Tannenbaum and Mangini's jobs, you can't argue with the results. Guaranteed money in excess of $20 million was given to Kris Jenkins, Alan Faneca, and Calvin Pace, while Damien Woody had to settle for only $10 million in guarantees.
All Jenkins has done so far is prove he may be the best interior lineman in the NFL. Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Rogers have been fantastic as well, but Jenkins has completely fortified the Jets run defense while providing a surprising amount of pressure in the passing game, often beating double teams to wreak havoc in the backfield and make big plays.
I thought the move to give that kind of money to a chronically overweight, underachieving, injury-prone player whose effort in the past has been questioned was a poor move. I mean, are you really going to give a player like that his last contract, a big payday at that, and expect him to be motivated? Yet Jenkins has proven it every week so far and his dominance has raised the play and confidence level of the entire defense.
Time will tell how long Jenkins can sustain this level of play, because you still have to think at some point the newness will wear off and he will revert to being fat and happy, pun absolutely intended.
Faneca has meant almost as much to the offense as Jenkins has to the defense. Though I still think paying a left guard $8 million a year is excessive, no matter how well he plays, Faneca has brought a different mindset to the Jets offensive line. He plays remarkably hard for a player of his age and pedigree and it has rubbed off on his fellow linemates.
I have never thought one player can actually make another player better, but I do think the leadership Faneca brings to the meetings and practice field can instill a newfound confidence. Maybe that is part of the reason the Jets gave him that much cash. True leadership is hard to find and even harder to quantify.
Woody and Pace have significantly upgraded their respective positions at right tackle and outside linebacker while providing other additional benefits as well. Woody is happy to be winning again now that he has left football purgatory in Detroit and he is playing with a fervor that hasn't been seen in years. Pace has provided the Jets with a legitimate edge pass-rusher and Bryan Thomas has bounced back from a sub-par season as a result.
Though there is no doubt the trade for Brett Favre has had a profound impact on the success of the Jets this season, the tracks for this playoff train were laid back in March by Tannenbaum and Mangini. Depending on how the Jets finish up, we may see even more franchises decide to dive headfirst into the free agent waters this offseason.
Drew Brees is on pace for an amazing record-breaking season, yet I am consistently surprised that nobody seems to mention the most interesting part of his success; the guy stands 6-foot. Maybe. I mean, there are high schools in Pennsylvania and elsewhere that won't start a kid under center unless he is at least 6-2, yet Brees is the best quarterback in the NFL right now.
Hopefully, finally, Brees is dispelling the myth that you have to be a certain height to play the quarterback position. Though there is no doubt that height certainly helps, Brees proves on a weekly basis that it is an overrated physical attribute for a position that is 90 percent mental. Brees is extremely intelligent and accurate and his numbers so far this season are simply staggering, especially considering he has played most of the season without his full complement of weapons in Jeremy Shockey, Reggie Bush and Marques Colston. As impressive as Brees' raw stats are, as a former lineman I am just as impressed by his ability to avoid getting sacked, another tribute to both his athleticism and propensity to process information quickly.
In fact, Brees is so good his teammates have officially taken him for granted.
"I'm really starting to get used to it. He is so good and so accurate. He is always in total control of everything going on," said Saints safety Roman Harper.
Partly due to his height, Brees was so lightly recruited out of high school by major college programs that he visited several Ivy League schools before getting the scholarship offer from Purdue. If there is any reason that college coaches at every level should begin to seriously consider talented 6-foot quarterbacks, it is Brees. If he is tall enough to be the best quarterback in the NFL, surely there are other quarterbacks that height who are good enough to play football at the major college level.