Beginning with the hiring of general manager John Idzik in January, 2013 marked a year of significant changes for the Jets.
Upon taking the job, Idzik was given the unenviable task of dealing with a messy contract situation involving star cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Revis, hands down the best player on the team, was coming off a torn ACL after missing much of the 2012 season and felt the Jets weren’t paying him the money he was worth.
Doing the right thing, though not necessarily the popular thing, Revis was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a first round draft choice.
It’s not every day a team trades their franchise player, but the Jets did quite well in selecting defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson with the pick acquired in the deal.
While the loss of Revis created a giant void in the secondary felt throughout this past season, the addition of Richardson helped strengthen what has become arguably the best defensive front seven in all of football.
Richardson was a force in his first year as a pro and was part of a unit that allowed the fewest yards per rush in the NFL.
As the Jets continue to transition from a rebuilding team to a playoff contender, Richardson figures to play a major role in their leap forward.
Taken with the team’s original draft pick just a few slots before Richardson, the selection of corner Dee Milliner hasn’t worked out as well thus far.
Milliner was thrown into action and forced to learn on the job despite missing minicamp. He was named a starter due to the Jets’ lack of alternatives at the position and struggled mightily for much of the year.
After going most of the season without an interception, Milliner finished in solid fashion by recording three interceptions in his final two games.
Considering how poorly Milliner played at times, it was certainly encouraging to see him take a few positives with him into the offseason.
Though at one point it was entirely possible quarterback Geno Smith would be the first player taken overall in the draft, his stock plummeted as he fell to the Jets in the second round.
Smith proved a lot of his critics right while throwing far too many interceptions and being terribly inconsistent for much of the year. However, Smith did mix in a few promising starts and closed out the year by looking far more confident and making better decisions than he did just weeks prior.
Thanks in large part to his strong finish, all signs point to Smith being the team’s starting quarterback in 2014.
The Jets opted to trade their pick in the fourth round, and in doing so acquired running back Chris Ivory from the New Orleans Saints.
The move worked out incredibly well for the Jets as Ivory proved to be the team’s best player on offense. Ivory averaged an impressive 4.6 yards per carry and has cemented himself as a part of the team’s future.
With the draft out of the way and the preseason nearly coming to an end, it appeared as though Mark Sanchez was set to begin his fifth season as the team’s starting quarterback.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Sanchez was inserted into the fourth quarter of a meaningless preseason game against the Giants. While playing behind a third-string offensive line, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
The questionable decision ended up altering the entire season for the Jets. Had Sanchez not been injured, Smith likely would have been given time to develop while sitting on the bench and waiting for his eventual chance.
There’s no way of knowing whether the Jets would have done better or worse than the eight games they won had Sanchez been healthy – but it will go down as one of the great “what if” moments in franchise history.
If Sanchez was the starter for much of the year and the team got off to a slow start, there’s a very good chance Rex Ryan wouldn’t be coaching the Jets next season.
Sanchez still has a few years remaining on his contract but will probably be released due to the large sum of money he would be owed.
Likewise, it appears as though we have seen the last of cornerback Antonio Cromartie and receiver Santonio Holmes in a Jets uniform due to similar contract situations – though the possibility always remains that they are invited back on a more team-friendly deal.
Just a few short years ago, it was hard to imagine the Jets without their nucleus of Revis, Sanchez, Cromartie, and Holmes. But when the Jets return to action in 2014, in all likelihood none of them will be on the roster.
As a result of the impending releases, the youth movement will officially be underway next season.
The acquisitions this past year, in addition to youngsters already on the team such as Muhammad Wilkerson, Demario Davis, and Damon Harrison, will form the new core and attempt to cement their own legacy.
With newfound flexibility under the salary cap and money to spend, Idzik will once again be given an unenviable task – however, this time his job will be to put the pieces together for a team that hopes to advance farther than the AFC Championship Game in the years to come.