For a team that preaches “ground and pound,” and has been in the bottom half of league passing ranks for countless seasons, the New York Jets took bold steps in tinkering their wide receiver corps for the 2011 NFL season.
After re-signing their top priority in free agency, WR Santonio Holmes, to a five-year deal, the Jets (namely GM Mike Tannenbaum’s) focus immediately shifted to cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.
The Jets fell short in their pursuit of pairing “The Black Hole” Asomugha with Darrelle “Revis Island,” and after that, addressing the WR position after Holmes was back on the agenda.
With free agent WR Braylon Edwards seeking a multi-year deal, the Jets made their first move by signing 34-year-old fresh out of prison WR Plaxico Burress to a one-year deal for over $3 million in guaranteed money.
Edwards went on to sign a one-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers, netting only $1 million in guaranteed cash. The deal could reach $3.5 million if he achieves some pretty lofty (and highly unlikely) incentives—90 receptions and a Pro Bowl berth.
The Jets then turned their attention to veteran WR and slot man Jerricho Cotchery, who at 29 was coming off back surgery and due to make $1.8 million this season. It was an amount the Jets didn’t feel was reasonable, and Cotch was cut in favor of 37-year-old veteran Derrick Mason, previously of the Baltimore Ravens, who inked a one-year contract with Gang Green for the veteran’s minimum of $910k.
Now that we’re all up to date, let me start by saying this: I was initially displeased, better yet, distraught, over these WR swaps. As a firm believer of the slogan “In Tannenbaum We Trust,” I still couldn’t help but think that the Burress signing was a panic move following the Asomugha-to-Philly fallout.
I was especially peeved when Edwards (who is younger than Plax by six years) signed with the 49ers for less money, and was convinced that if Tannenbaum just held out for one more week, realizing that the market on Edwards was very low, he could have had the WR back at a reasonable cost.
As for the Cotchery-Mason trade-off, any Jets fan was sad to see Cotch go, a player that stuck with this team through some bad years and is tougher than a microwaved steak. A third-down conversion against the Cleveland Browns last year, in which Cotch pulled his groin seconds before making a limping/diving grab, epitomized his “tough as nails” mentality.
Meanwhile, Mason is on the wrong side of 37 (not sure there’s a right side), and while the move saved the Jets $1 million in salary, none of it really made sense from a rational perspective. Why replace two younger, capable WRs with two considerably older ones, especially if the contracts end up being a wash? Did the Jets make a huge mistake, or is it simply wrong to question the all-mighty Tannenbaum?
It’s still way too early to tell, but in the debate of Burress v. Edwards, the Jets are looking like geniuses following Plax’s display vs. Cincinnati this past Sunday. In rainy weather conditions, and coming off a rolled ankle that all but erased an already abbreviated camp, Burress looked like a stud.
He tallied three sizeable receptions for 66 yards, including a vintage Plax TD—fade route to the end zone, over the shoulder grab for six. Sanchez targeted his big 6'5'' weapon seven times, and the pair left little doubt on whether any chemistry existed on the field—it does.
Not to mention that Burress looked in tremendous shape; flexing the type of muscle that one who’s done nothing but lift weights in prison over the past two years would understandably gain.
While several detractors pointed to his incarceration as a negative; like Michael Vick, Burress appears to have a newfound focus and dedication to the game. No one wants to associate “prison” with “positive,” but the fact remains—jail is where people are sent to be rehabilitated. It shouldn’t be such a shock if Burress really is a new man, and a better football player as a result.
Meanwhile, Edwards is still facing suspension for a few offseason offenses (DWI, bar brawl), and with all things considered, it’s almost comical, ironic even, that so much doubt existed when the Jets chose Plax.
The jury is still out on whether Mason (who is resting a knee injury) was the better choice over Cotchery, but if we’ve learned anything from the Jets passing display against the Bengals, it’s that this unit is confident the decisions made at WR were the right ones.