This year, Jets GM John Idzik can deal from strength
It is a measure of just how far the Jets have come in the last 365 days that general manager John Idzik can look back on this day a year ago and indulge such a lighthearted moment.
It was at the start of the 2013 Scouting Combine when Idzik, only a few weeks into his new job, was peppered with questions about whether he would consider trading All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis.
When Idzik was reminded Thursday about that experience, he responded with a smile and, referring to Revis, he said, "Who?"
It's easy to forget the swirl of controversy that surrounded the franchise a year ago, but Idzik was at the center of an intense storm, with his impending decision on Revis staring him straight in the face. Rex Ryan's uncertain future -- it seemed highly doubtful he'd make it beyond one year with his new boss -- was a close second on the controversy meter.
"I was barely a month into the job and a lot of things, a lot of bullets were flying," Idzik said. "We had a lot of things happening, much less people getting used to me, staff really kind of coming together over a period of time."
A year later, things look so much different around the Jets. Idzik dealt Revis for a first-round pick, which turned out to be Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who turned into the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Ryan took a team that looked as if it could do no better than 3-13 and went 8-8, flirting with a playoff berth after wins over the Patriots and Saints and rallying in the final month after rookie quarterback Geno Smith overcame his midseason malaise.
Despite salary-cap constraints, Idzik and Ryan made over the roster as best they could with a combination of solid drafting, trades and a handful of affordable free- agent acquisitions. What appeared to be a hopeless case turned into a refreshing run featuring a youthful roster that augurs well for the future.
Now comes the next phase of the rebuilding process, in which more difficult decisions await. Despite Ryan's pronouncement Thursday that he'd prefer to keep all his players next season, he understands that simply can't happen in today's NFL. So he knows the hammer is about to come down on a sizable chunk of his roster. That starts with wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who has spent much of the last two years rehabbing from injuries. Holmes is almost certain to be released in the coming weeks, clearing from the books his $9.25-million salary and bonus in 2014.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez, who missed the entire 2013 season with a shoulder injury, appears gone, too, although neither Idzik nor Ryan was definitive about his situation. There's no way he goes into the season with his $11-million deal. Better to turn the page, stick with Smith, and add a quarterback in the draft and possibly one in free agency if a reliable veteran such as the Bears' Josh McCown is available.
Smith now gets the benefit of a full offseason program, and he can further acclimate himself to the NFL after an up-and-down rookie season.
This year's draft is deep at wide receiver and could give Smith some more weapons. Marqise Lee of USC, Sammy Watkins of Clemson and Mike Evans of Texas A & M head the list.
Idzik and Ryan also can look to retain some of their solid young free agents, including right tackle Austin Howard, who has developed into a very reliable blocker, and tight end Jeff Cumberland, a better-than-average receiver.
It's important that Mo Wilkerson, who has developed into one of the league's elite defensive linemen, get a contract extension. This is the final year of his rookie deal, but money freed by releasing Holmes, Sanchez and possibly Antonio Cromartie can keep Wilkerson in green and white for his prime years.
Cromartie is willing to come back at a reduced price, and he's still a commanding presence at cornerback, assuming the hip problem that bothered him last season is resolved.
So yes, there still are some tough decisions ahead. But considering the ones that have been made, the future looks better than it did at this time a year ago.