For all the feel-good vibe from the Jets' improbable playoff run, it offers no assurances it can happen again next season. Or even the season after that.
Momentum is a quirky thing in sports, especially in the parity-driven NFL, in which surprise teams surface every year. So we're not here to proclaim that the Jets are Super Bowl-bound next season just because they got to within a win of that level this time.
But we will say this team is built for long-term success, and there's no reason to think it can't contend for a championship before long. The foundation is in place, thanks to the impressive performances of a rookie coach, rookie quarterback, rookie running back, smashmouth offensive line and a big-time defense.
But this won't be the same team next season, even if the major elements are in place. Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Darrelle Revis, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold are an impressive crew to build around. Now it's a matter of tweaking the roster to put the Jets in position to take the next step.
Here's how we see things shaking out:
This team needs another cornerback, and maybe a safety. As Peyton Manning showed Sunday, the Jets aren't quite there defensively. Manning carved up the secondary by largely ignoring Revis and going after the rest of the defensive backs. That included cornerbacks Dwight Lowery, Lito Sheppard and Drew Coleman.
With Revis entrenched as the top cover corner in the NFL, the Jets now need to find a more worthy complement. Sheppard will not be back, thanks to a $10-million roster bonus the Jets won't pay. And depending on what happens with Kerry Rhodes, the Jets might need to find an alternate plan at safety.
The feeling here is that Rhodes will remain in New York, but if he pouts about that midseason benching, Ryan might tell him to take a walk. Best-case scenario: He stays, but the Jets dip into a draft that is deep in safeties.
Thomas Jones probably won't be back. The 31-year-old running back enjoyed a career year and has indicated a willingness to play until he's 36. But he dropped off markedly in the playoffs as Greene became the feature back, and it appeared a knee problem slowed him in the final weeks of the season.
Not long ago, the Jets seemed ready to pay Jones a $3-million roster bonus in March, but that might not happen. Once Greene emerged, Jones was relegated to short-yardage duty. The Jets won't need to pay that much to find an alternative.
Add two Pro Bowlers. The Jets won't need to go on the open market to find a Pro Bowl-caliber running back/return man or a terrific nose tackle. They're already on the roster. The Jets are optimistic that Leon Washington will be fully recovered from a fractured leg, and Kris Jenkins is expected to return at full strength after reconstructive knee surgery. The Jets fared well without them, but their return will bolster an already strong roster.
Draft for depth along the line. Three starting linemen will be over 30 next season. The Jets did get tackle Matt Slauson in last year's draft, but with Alan Faneca, Damien Woody and Brandon Moore getting older, the Jets need to restock the line with an eye toward the future.
Get another receiver. The Jets appear ready to retain restricted free agent Braylon Edwards with a first- and third-round tender that likely will keep potential suitors away. The Jets are banking on Edwards taking another step with a full offseason and training camp working with Sanchez. And with Jerricho Cotchery having emerged as the go-to receiver, they're solid at the position. But they still could use another wideout.
Put it all together, and the Jets aren't far from becoming a team that can contend for several years. No guarantees, but with a successful playoff run under their belts and a quality roster filled with excellent young players at key positions, this might be the beginning of something special.