After being shut out 34-0 by the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, what's left to say about the New York Jets? They are cooked. It was simply a miserable performance, with or without Santonio Holmes' injury. While the Jets are 2-2, they look much more like a mediocre team than one contending for the playoffs. What they need to do the rest of this season is some big-picture thinking and figuring out how to get this team back to being a contender.
That's right: It's time for the Jets to think about rebuilding.
When the Jets were a highly competitive team early in Mark Sanchez's career, they really had everything else besides the difference-making quarterback. Not only has Sanchez possibly regressed, but his supporting cast has gotten worse, as well. The offensive line and running game are the most glaring example.
A power running game and a dynamic, reliable tight end would be great comforts for a struggling quarterback like Sanchez. But Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller haven't helped this offense one bit for differing reasons. In fact, I think Greene is one of the worst starting running backs in the NFL. He has little burst, no home run potential and doesn't make anyone miss or contribute as a receiver. Bilal Powell might not ever be a star, but he has to be the lead back going forward. Because New York has so many pressing needs, running back might have to wait, with Powell being the placeholder for 2013 much like Donald Brown currently is for the Colts. Keller hasn't done enough to warrant a big contract (and has been injured since Week 1), but he is a player the Jets must get a lot of opportunities going forward to see what exactly he is worth. Greene and Keller are both free agents after this season and I wouldn't give either player big money, particularly Greene.
As for the offensive line, the Jets still have three high-end linemen in D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Brandon Moore and Nick Mangold, but they aren't getting any younger. New York is subpar at the other guard spot, weak at right tackle and the line is very short on depth. This is no longer a dominant front five. An upgrade at right tackle is a must, preferably through the draft to infuse youth up front.
Although Holmes, who looked to possibly be seriously injured Sunday, isn't the easiest guy to defend, rarely have I seen an elite wide receiver more frustrated with the guy throwing him the football. Sanchez has left so many plays on the field when targeting Holmes. That has to eventually weigh on Holmes, as he must have no confidence in the ball being where it needs to be. That doesn't excuse Holmes' effort at times, though. Such actions only compound New York's problems and therefore it might be best if the Jets shipped Holmes out of town for draft picks -- even though he is clearly the best receiver on a receiver-starved team. Holmes also makes a lot of money for all the problems he causes. The Jets have to give Stephen Hill a ton of game experience going forward. He is very, very raw, but he is talented. They need to accelerate his development and live with the growing pains. Jeremy Kerley looks like a keeper, but he is a role player and best in the slot.
The Jets' biggest problem, however, lies at quarterback. Sanchez has very average tools, and if you have very average tools, you must excel in all other areas. Sanchez, who hasn't connected on 50 percent of his passes since Week 1, simply doesn't excel in the other areas including decision-making, anticipation, dealing with pass-rush pressure and, of course, accuracy. What has been particularly frustrating about Sanchez this year is that his accuracy in the short zones has been very poor, as it was again on Sunday. The Jets should thoroughly explore trading Sanchez. A change of scenery with lower expectations could help his career, and getting him off the books would be fantastic for the Jets' ability to sign free agents and improve their football team.
The draft is the path I would take to improve the Jets' QB, as rarely do franchise quarterbacks hit the free-agent market. If it takes New York using all of its offseason resources or draft picks (like the Washington Redskins did to get Robert Griffin III) to land a great quarterback prospect, the Jets have to do it. Even if they can't get into the top five of the draft, could you imagine how much better off the Jets would be with a prospect like Christian Ponder or Ryan Tannehill right now? Also adding a placeholder in the Jason Campbell or Shaun Hill mold could make sense with the plan of eventually making the veteran a strong No. 2 and mentor. I feel obligated to mention Tim Tebow, but the reality to me is that he is rather inconsequential in the big picture. He can't throw well enough to succeed as a pure QB in the NFL and I sure wouldn't be the one to spend the multitude of hours and snaps to develop him into even an average passer, if that is even possible. If keeping him around would be a distraction to the new rookie quarterback, the Jets should ship him out even if they get nothing in return.
It's easy to say that the upcoming offseason should be solely dedicated to the offensive side of the ball. And I wouldn't totally argue with it, especially if New York was to draft a quarterback high in the draft, like Indianapolis did this offseason. But the Jets aren't without issues on defense. The biggest problem is that Gang Green lacks a pass-rusher that frightens the opposition. Instead, Rex Ryan has to dial up blitzes to get pressure. That works fine with a stacked group of cover men, but the Jets desperately need a 3-4 outside linebacker who is a consistent double-digit sack guy. It might be wise for New York to field calls for any of its high-priced veteran defensive talent when the trade deadline rolls around. Maybe a contender bites on Antonio Cromartie, Bart Scott or David Harris. Of those three, Cromartie would be one New York should be most reluctant to part with.
The bottom line is that the Jets need a lot of help right now and are far from contending. Compounding matters, they need serious help at positions that are difficult to find or expensive to acquire. Even if done right, this will not happen overnight. But they could be worse off. A decent quarterback would make the lesser problems go away. That must be the Jets' priority and they must find that quarterback at all costs.