Thursday, November 17, 2005

Endorsing Edwards and the Road to Miami
By Bryan Koch

Herm Edwards is one of the worst gameday coaches in the National Football League. His clock management should be a criminal offense. He elects to chance a two-point conversion at all of the wrong times. Although the current rallying cry for this frighteningly masochistic fan base involves an expletive and Doug Brien’s name, I generally deviate from the norm. In my opinion, the Pittsburgh debacle was largely a result of Edwards’ ineffectiveness as a game manager in critical situations.

By the way, the vilification of Brien, who posted a solid regular season, led to a Sophoclean chain of events that looks worse by the day: Releasing Brien, trading away a first round pick for Doug Jolley (an enormous disappointment), and drafting Mike Nugent in the second round. Nugent has struggled in his rookie season but will probably be a fine kicker; still, how is Heath Miller looking right now? And this whole series of mistakes was a direct result of ignoring Edwards’ role in the defeat and placing the blame squarely on Brien’s shoulders.

(An aside: Wouldn’t it make sense for Jets fans to pool their spare change and give Herm a copy of Madden 2006 this Christmas? Wouldn’t this be the best way to illustrate proper use of time outs? We could start him on the beginner level, and allow him to work his way up to All-Pro by the time training camp rolls around. For a final exam, we could recreate last year’s divisional playoff game, and see how he responds. “Hey… No one in the history of existence has kicked this long of a field goal in Pittsburgh. Doug Brien isn't Jesus. There’s still over a minute to play. Maybe we should try to get the ball… closer?” Let’s make this happen, New York.)

With all of this in mind, relinquishing Edwards to Kansas City (the hot rumor with Dick Vermeil calling this his final season on the sideline) would be a mistake of devastating proportions. Ken Berger of Newsday implied as much in a column yesterday, though the actual weight of his argument was rather suspect. As far as I can tell, Berger says the Jets ought to retain Edwards mainly because he’s “instilled respectability and class.”

Let’s dig a little deeper, Ken. Here are some more palpable arguments in defense of Edwards:

1) Every single player on the New York Jets is on injured reserve.

That’s right. Presently, the Jets are actually trotting out undrafted free agents, water boys, and Zach Geballe (complete with his custom armband playbook) with startling regularity. Counting the tight end, five of the Jets’ six starting linemen are either injured or playing a new position. The following is a list of players who have been shut down for the season (or most of it):

Chad Pennington
Jay Fiedler
Kevin Mawae
Jason Fabini
Chris Baker
Eric Barton
Derrick Blaylock
Wayne Chrebet

This doesn’t even include the players who have missed a week here and there. Everyone’s injured. It’s only a matter of time before Fireman Ed tears his ACL trying to climb his seat.

No coach could overcome injuries of such overwhelming frequency and magnitude and still put a winning product on the field. Belichick has dealt with a multitude of sidelined players, but he’s never been down to his fourth quarterback, or had his entire offensive line blown up. Parcells couldn’t do it. Cowher couldn’t do it. The only guy who might have a prayer is Mike Tice, but he’s of a different breed: I’d rather refer to Tice as a “God” than as a “coach.”

2) The Jets have played the most difficult schedule in the history of football.

That’s probably not true. But it certainly hasn’t been a picnic. They’ve played six of their nine games against teams with winning records, and two of the other three have been at Buffalo and at Baltimore. On the road, those games are barely winnable for a team with so many injuries. In all honesty, it’s a minor miracle that the Jets have won two games this year. Give them an NFC cupcake schedule (see: the Bears), and they’re still in the playoff hunt.

3) Herm Edwards is the most successful coach in NFL history.

A bit of a stretch? Perhaps, but Edwards has guided the Jets to the playoffs in three of his four seasons. No other coach for the Jets has ever accomplished that. However, this becomes even more impressive when you consider the following:

A) Herm has been blessed with a healthy first-string quarterback for an entire season exactly once in his first five years on the job. They were forced to adapt on the fly in 2002 when Testaverde went down. Pennington has missed significant time due to injury during each of the last three seasons. So, he consistently reaches the postseason without a dependably healthy quarterback, which is undoubtedly the most vital asset for any football team.

B) In none of the seasons in which the Jets made the playoffs was the team considered to be a serious contender from the outset, and for a good reason: they’ve never had a serious wealth of talent on either side of the ball. Herm consistently takes a mediocre roster and convinces them to play with swagger. They’ve been very close to the AFC Championship Game twice; yet, on paper, the Jets were never a Top-10 roster.

C) Paul Hackett was the Jets' offensive coordinator for each of their playoff runs. Any coach who can overcome Hackett’s bone-headed schemes on a consistent basis commands serious respect.

To recap, Herm pretty much never had a healthy quarterback, a surplus of talent, or an able offensive coordinator, and still achieved success. He’s doing something right.

4) The players unequivocally adore Herm Edwards.

No hyperbole this time. And this sound relationship has probably been the most prominent factor in the Jets’ recent successes. The team is not quitting under Herm, under any circumstances. Severing these ties would have tragic consequences.

5) The Jets can realistically pursue the Super Bowl next season.

Stay with me on this. In the NFL, teams rise and fall hastily. The Jets of recent years are the perfect example. They’ve contended often, but have also put up the occasional garbage season. They figured to be a playoff team this year, largely because of their defense, which is young, talented, and will remain largely intact. For the foreseeable future, the unit has exactly two questions:

1) Will Ty Law stay?

2) Will John Abraham stay?

Considering the burden of Chad Pennington’s salary cap figure (combined with the need to revamp the offense), the Jets will only be able to answer one of these questions in the affirmative. Law’s bonus for next season is enormous, so even if he were to stay, he would have to restructure his deal. In my opinion, the Jets ought to retain Abraham (who, with all due respect to the extraordinary abilities of Jonathan Vilma, is still the Jets’ most valuable player), and look for a cheaper veteran at cornerback for next season. They’ve spent two early draft picks on defensive backs in successive seasons, so hopefully either Justin Miller or Derrick Strait will soon be ready to shoulder the load.

Those issues notwithstanding, the defense is set. A line of Abraham, Robertson, Reed, and Ellis is a top-tier unit. Vilma is already one of the best linebackers in the game, and Barton and Hobson are adequate flankers. The secondary, with the exception of Law, is young and opportunistic, and should only improve. Erik Coleman and Kerry Rhodes are novices who were drafted in the late rounds, but they are already figuring things out. Those were two brilliant picks by Terry Bradway, nearly earning him redemption for the Nugent mistake.

The offense can be stabilized (and, considering their talent on defense and special teams, the Jets need only an adequate group, not a spectacular one). The wide receivers are fine. Mawae will return, along with Moore, Kendall, and Jones. The Jets can use their third-round pick (or a cheap free agent) to replace Fabini, who was showing signs of age before suffering his season-ending injury. Assuming they wind up with a Top 8 pick, the Jets will secure an elite college running back, likely Reggie Bush or DeAngelo Williams. Laurence Maroney is another candidate if he comes out this year. Martin can stay on for the last year of his contract, splitting carries early and hopefully giving way to youth around mid-season. With all apologies to the optimists, Cedric Houston is not the answer. Neither is a healthy Derrick Blaylock.

All of these moves are very doable. In fact, I would submit that the execution of them is probable. Finally, the Jets must assess to the quarterback situation. In my opinion, the answer is surprisingly clear: Drew Brees should be the Jets’ starting quarterback next season.

It’s clear that San Diego will not retain both Brees and Phillip Rivers beyond this year. It simply wouldn’t be logical to hinder Rivers’ development any further. The Jets must take advantage. The acquisition of Brees, a very capable player, would immediately restore order on the offensive side of the ball.

Now, I have always been an enormous proponent of Pennington, but no quarterback has ever undergone successive shoulder surgeries, never mind returned to the league from them. He’s done a lot for the franchise, and it pains me that his presence is now considered largely a salary cap burden. Still, it is time to move on. Keeping him on as a backup and allowing him to try and regain form is acceptable, but nothing more can be asked of a player who was once thought to be the next Joe Montana.

Drew Brees could probably be acquired for a second-round pick (and a later selection or two), hardly an unreasonable price. Brees is talented, experienced, and ready to win now. Hopefully, we’ll be able to say the same for the Jets next season.

However, to make such a transition seamless, it’s imperative that Herm stays on board. He’s not the best coach in the league, not by a long shot (he's nowhere near the worst, either). However, he has proven his ability to create a winning product, demonstrated that he is the ideal fit for the Jets, and, with some crafty off-season moves, should have the opportunity for a run at Miami in 2006.


Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Good points in defense of Edwards Bryan- especially the fact he's had a healthy QB for one year as coach of the Jets and made the playoffs three seasons anyway.

I agree with keeping Abraham, though I still wouldn't give him a large deal. If need be, franchise him again.

Drew Brees would cost a first round pick. Look at the season he's having, combined with his performace last year. He's a top end starting QB and those don't come cheap. I know there's been a lot of love for him, but I wouldn't give up a first rounder for him.

Personally, I'd save the pick, and take a QB in the 2nd or 3rd round, while going with Fiedler to start next year. Pennington I'd have as my third string, with Bollinger as the back up. That way Chad can rehab slowly and maybe come back from this.

Reggie Bush the guy the Jets need. He's the game breaker. He may not have been a feature back in college, but Zach and I discussed this before. With C-Mart, the Jets wouldn't be forced to use Bush for 30 carries a game, since they could split carries.

In the NFL, worst to first isn't crazy. The Jets defense is still pretty young and talented, and they'll have an easier schedule next year. With key players back and a few additions, they should be a playoff team. After this season, let's just take it from there.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

Ben, here's why I think a second round pick will get it done:

1) The Chargers can't afford to keep Brees. That's no secret. Everyone knows it.

2) No team will offer a first-round pick for Brees. He's not quite worth it, and again, at the end of the day, San Diego has to make a deal. They can't franchise him and eat all that salary again. If they don't cut a deal, he's just a free agent, anyway.

3) The Jets' second round pick will be close to a first-rounder, anyway. Throw in a third-rounder in the following draft and I think they'll be fine. Which team is going to offer more than that?

The quarterback position is too important at this point to be screwing around. The Jets have to assume Pennington will never be the same. He's never played sixteen games, and now he's had two shoulder surgeries. They can't count on him. Fiedler is a nice backup but just isn't starting material.

Effectively, your plan has the Jets using 3-4 mediocre quarterbacks. They should be willing to give anything, except for the first-rounder, to land Brees.

Bush, Williams, it really doesn't matter to me. Both have their pros and cons. Bush is Westbrook with more ability, Williams is more of the complete package.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Boys, I agree with most of what you're saying. But Bryan, there's no way the Jets should give up a 2nd and 3rd round pick for Brees. As you said, the Chargers will be anxious to dump him, and while they may have a few suitors the Jets should pursue him seriously. The real issue is, what do they do if they can't get Brees? I can't see Chad being the option, especially to start the year. Fiedler would be an adequate stop gap, and I tend to agree with Ben that they should be looking to find a long term solution in the draft.

As for my quarterbacking the Jets, all I can say is that Herm has my number.

7:33 PM  
Blogger The Armchair Quarterback said...

I'm wondering if Herm and Mike Martz went to the same game managment school somewhere. Atrocious. But guys, I can't believe you are dismissing so easily the prospect of San Diego getting rid of Rivers and not Brees. It seems to me that Rivers is the one the Jets should be looking at. Maybe the contract makes that impossible. I know there are financial considerations here that complicate this thing more than my puny mind can comprehend (in addition to the fact that I'm not willing to take the time right now to research), but why would the Chargers risk alienating their entire team (including their two stars, Gates & Tomlinson--both Brees backers) as well as take a step backward while Rivers develops, on the chance he might be as good as Brees. Sure he might be the second coming of John Elway. Then again, he might be the second coming of Ryan Leaf. The Chargers have done that one already thank you. If they win a large majority of their games this year, even without making the playoffs (a real possibility in the AFC)and Brees maintains his play or even improves as the season progresses; they would be insane to dump him. Decent QB's in this league are a rare collectible. It's only true they can't afford to keep Brees if they keep Rivers. One has to go. My money is on Rivers changing addresses.
-Imagine this situation with the Jets in 2002 and put Pennington in the place of Brees. Would the Jets get rid of Pennington after that year just because they had a high draft pick on the bench. They'd move the draft pick. That's how people feel about Brees in San Diego right now. Now if Brees totally takes a dump the rest of the season and starts to look a lot like Joey Harrington then things might change. Otherwise the Chargers should hang onto a good QB and the Jets should start looking elsewhere.

11:16 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

TAQ, you can't dismiss the financial implications. First, because Rivers got such a huge signing bonus, the Chargers would take a huge cap hit if they traded him.

Second, Rivers is more of an unknown commodity to every other team in the NFL than the Chargers. Brees has established value. The best the Chargers might get for Rivers is a 3rd round pick, while Brees could bring back a 1st, or maybe more.

Yes, Brees has proven he can quarterback in the NFL. That's exactly the reason the Chargers should trade him. His value can't improve much, and adding another first round pick or two will allow the Chargers to add another player or two to an already talented team. It's the move they should, and will, make.

11:28 PM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

The major problem with Brees is that the Chargers franchised him for this season. What does that entail?

1) If he gets traded, two future draft picks must go San Diego's way.
2) It's a one-year deal, so he's not signed for next year, and whichever team he goes to would have to negotiate a long-term deal with him or risk another huge cap number by franchising him a second year in a row (which has its own major downsides, IIRC), or even letting him go entirely.

This whole thing hinges on whether or not the Jets would be willing to take on a second long term quarterback deal. To me, it looks like taking their chances with Pennington and hedging that bet by getting a Trent Dilfer-type stopgap to play in the event he can't play is the way to go (sounds a lot like Fiedler, eh?). That way, they don't have to burden themselves with reloading at RB and QB in the same year. They can spend their first rounder on a runner that they can ease in as Martin declines. They can use their remaining picks to add depth to what should be a very good team next year. Basically, I'm saying I don't think Brees or Rivers is worth it for the Jets unless Pennington retires this offseason. They can win with a slightly better than league average QB and Martin plus young stud in the backfield. Those picks could be backups/starters at other positions who provide depth that makes up any difference between Dilfer/Whomever and Brees.

4:34 AM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Also factor in John Abraham. The Jets will probably want to give him an extension after this year, since he's been healthy and fairly productive. I think most people realize the Jets have to build around that defense. They simply cannot have three players with long term deals in Brees, Pennington and Abraham. They could cut Pennington, but I don't see them doing that.

I figure the Jets take a back with their first pick and if there is a QB they like in the 2nd round, they take him. Otherwise they'll go for an O-Lineman. But it's hard to project that at this point since we don't know what underclassmen will be in the draft.

High round pick or not, can San Diego justify to its fans trading a top 10 NFL QB just to give a player a chance? This is the NFL where your job is to win games, not to make draft picks look good. I mean, this team will most likely make the playoffs this year and could be a Super Bowl contender next year. Cap hit or not, I'd be surprised if they dealt Brees.

2:42 PM  

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