Take a trip to the New York Jets training camp in Cortland, NY. If you close your eyes and listen carefully, over the sound of pads colliding you can faintly make out Laurendeau’s “Thunder and Blazes” playing on a loop in the background.
For a team tired of the “Sideshow” headlines, the Jets are doing precious little to hush that narrative. The star receiver is battling accusations about milking an injury, a fourth-year running back collapsed after 45 minutes of conditioning drills, and Mark Sanchez is on the Internet dancing naked with young women. He also has a Fu Manchu. Oh, and anonymous ex-teammates are questioning Geno Smith’s leadership abilities.
You could reasonably expect a trapeze artist to swing down from the goal posts.
The problem is a faulty organizational structure. It’s unclear who is in charge. Rex Ryan admitted he’s no closer to naming an Opening Day starter, but made clear he gets to pick the winning QB. But in July, new GM John Idzik told reporters it will be a group decision between the coaching staff and front office. If owner Woody Johnson gets to sit in on that meeting, the team might end up with another contract extension for Mark Sanchez.
The problem is identity confusion. Rex Ryan loves to run the football, but the Jets brought in former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Morningweg whose offense last year attempted passes on 62 percent of their snaps. Ryan conceded earlier this year that he would like to return his focus to defense and let the OC handle the play calling. His comment only supports the argument that he has regressed as a head coach.
The problem is an out of control house. Where are the parents? Idzik signed free agent RB Mike Goodson to a three-year, $6.9 million deal this offseason. Good. Within weeks, New Jersey state police arrested him when they found Goodson and his buddy passed out in a car with marijuana and a loaded handgun. Bad. Joe McKnight was also recently arrested, albeit on far less severe charges (outstanding traffic violations). As if that weren’t enough clownery, on Monday, McKnight also challenged a Twitter heckler to a fight. That’s just a bad look.
These aren’t uniquely New York problems. Every team deals with legal issues, baby momma drama and training camp fights. Certainly not every team deals with YouTube videos of their QB dancing naked with young women, but the point remains. The problem is that Johnson and Ryan vowed to clean up the mess, but have failed to produce results. Ryan, like his father Buddy, embraces the open-mouth policy. He encourages his players to be themselves and speak their minds. Unfortunately, since 2011 winning has decreased, while anonymous dissent continues to rise at an alarming rate. Something clearly needs to change.
It may be time for the Jets to steal a page from the Patriots’ playbook. Tom Brady is an all-generation QB, but dynasties are built on sturdier foundations than just a single golden arm. The Patriots are what they are because everyone is on the same page. Bill Belichick is an extension of Robert Kraft, and Tom Brady is their incarnation on the field. Every player understands that and falls in line. Any player who deviates from the group get cut loose, and the team moves on without him. Bob Kraft clearly doesn’t have time for that.
The Patriot Way is a tired narrative. They aren’t as Americana as their crisp red, white and blue uniforms suggest. As a club they’ve dealt with as many, if not more extreme, headaches (Richard Seymour, Ochocinco, Hernandez et al.) than the Jets, but they handle adversity better than Woody Johnson or Rex ever have. When Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder in July, the Pats cut him and his ties to the organization. Searching through Pats shops or strolling the halls of Gillette Stadium will produce no evidence that he ever played a down in Foxborough.
If that sounds harsh, that’s only because it’s extremely harsh. But it sends a resounding message to current and future players: no individual is more important this team. If you act in a manner ill-befitting the emblem on your helmet, you will not play here. It’s the “get in line, or get out of town” gambit. And it’s a much better move than whatever the Jets have been telling their players these last two years.