(Long Island, NY) It almost read like “A Tale of Two Cities.” New York and Green Bay. If things had gone differently during draft day of 1991, the Jets could have been a perennial playoff team with a slam-dunk Hall of Fame quarterback. Needing to trade up to do so, their war room knew they had to move up two spots in the second round to select a quarterback they had their eyes on.
The Atlanta Falcons were heavily rumored to want Brett Favre of Southern Mississippi, so the Jets had to make a deal with the then-Phoenix Cardinals for the 32nd overall pick to leapfrog them. When it appeared that a deal was in place, the Cards became nervous that they would lose out on the player that they were focusing on – the infamous Mike Jones, defensive end from NC State.
Needless to say, Phoenix stood pat, selected Jones – who recorded 27.5 sacks for four teams over nine seasons – and Atlanta gladly grabbed Favre. The Jets? They settled for Browning Nagle, who may have finally found his niche playing in celebrity golf tournaments.
Ron Wolf, who was the Jets assistant general manager back then, had Favre rated as the best player in the entire draft, but the Jets surrendered their first round pick by taking wide receiver Rob Moore in the supplemental draft. When Wolf was hired as the GM of the Packers, he was able to trade a first round pick and obtain Favre, who the Falcons reportedly “soured” on in a year’s time.
A franchise quarterback was found, while the carousel has gone around for 15 different starters in New York. Packer fans had been able to wear their number four jersey for 16 straight years, while Jets fans have been forced to change anywhere from Rick Mirer’s number three, to Bubby Brister’s six, to Quincy Carter’s 17. Of course, there were a few good ones since then such as Vinny Testaverde and Chad Pennington, but they won’t be fitted for a bust in Canton.
The Jets overall record since 1992 is 113-143, which includes five playoff berths. Up in Green Bay, a 161-95 mark with 11 postseason appearances, two AFC championships and one Super Bowl win made Lambeau Field the place it once was when Vince Lombardi patrolled the sidelines, and that can be attributed to one player.
A player that has finally made his way to New York, albeit it many regimes later. By acquiring Favre from Green Bay for a conditional fourth round draft pick, the Jets may have arrived at the party a little late, but hopefully there is a dance or two left in those 38 (soon to be 39) year old legs.
The new gunslinger in town could see the possibilities from his first day practicing with the team. “There are some very talented players, very good mix of veterans as well as some young guys,” said Favre, who was also honest about his lack of knowledge about his new employer. “I didn’t know the Jets were 4-12 last year until I got up here,” he added.
While Favre cannot make the Jets a contender alone, the organizations’ offseason shopping spree won’t make that necessary. A big part of that were the upgrades on the offensive line, with Alan Faneca and Damian Woody being signed as free agents, and finding the cohesiveness between the new parts will be important.
“There is definitely a heightened sense of awareness for everybody to get on the same page,” Faneca said. “Everything from the grand scheme of a play, to the snap count, to the little nuances of what kind of defenses we are trying to get certain plays to.”
In the backfield, Thomas Jones should be more effective and improve on a good, 1,000-yard season. Leon Washington became a nice option and averaged five yards on 71 rushing attempts. Tony Richardson was signed and will become the first true Jet fullback since Lorenzo Neal.
Favre will make friends fast with the wideout crew, and a player such as Jerricho Cotchery may be able to take that next step after a productive 2007 (1,130 yards on 82 receptions). Laveraneus Coles was nearly let go after the season, but returns and should benefit from having a strong-armed quarterback. All three tight ends (Chris Baker, Bubba Franks and Dustin Keller) bring a downfield threat to the table, which will become even more lethal with Favre on board.
The money was spread out on both sides of the ball, with Kris Jenkins being acquired from Carolina to play nose tackle and Calvin Pace signed to become the right outside linebacker. Vernon Gholston should beat out Bryan Thomas from the other side by the time the season opener comes around.
Both Jonathan Vilma and DeWayne Robertson were traded away, with head coach Eric Mangini sticking with the 3-4 defense rather than having the caliber of player dictate the system. Similar to when Bill Parcells sent Hugh Douglas packing, Mangini is sticking with three down lineman and jettisoning anyone who cannot conform. David Harris needs to avoid the sophomore jinx to make Vilma’s mail being forwarded to New Orleans something that will not cause ‘agita’ in the Meadowlands parking lot.
The secondary has always been a position that has given the Jets fits, but with Darrelle Revis establishing himself as a rookie, the team may have a shutdown corner for years to come. Kerry Rhodes has become the Jets’ ‘big play’ guy on defense, with five picks and two forced fumbles last season.
Keep your eyes on rookie Dwight Lowery, who may end up taking over the other corner spot from Justin Miller before it’s all said and done. The fourth round pick out of San Jose State can also return punts.
With a favorable schedule, new impact players and a coaching staff in its third campaign, it would seem that the stars are aligned for the Jets to make some noise in 2008. While that may be possible, it will take 10 wins to get into the playoffs in the AFC. No game is out of reach with Favre, so they may be able to sneak into that second tier in the conference after New England, Indianapolis and San Diego. Are they that much worse than Denver, Tennessee and Jacksonville? Probably not, so the head-to-head match-ups on consecutive weeks (November 23 at Tennessee and November 30 versus Denver) may decide the outcome of the season for the Jets before December rolls around.