Jets making noise, but will it all fly?
The names are bold-faced ones, NFL players who have accumulated their share of accolades in recent seasons:
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the league’s single-season rushing-touchdown king and 2006 Most Valuable Player.
Wide receiver Santonio Holmes, MVP of Super Bowl XLIII.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie, a 2007 All-Pro and Pro Bowler.
Since March, the New York Jets have acquired all of them, signing Tomlinson as a free agent and trading with Pittsburgh and San Diego to get Holmes and Cromartie, respectively. And they may acquire another big name if pass-rushing specialist Jason Taylor, a member of the NFL team of the decade for the 2000s, agrees to come aboard.
Add them to a team that already boasts one of the best defenses in the league, a coach who loves nothing more than to boast about his club, and a quarterback whose play should receive a boost with a year of experience as a starter under his belt, and many are looking at the Jets, and not defending division champion New England, as the team to beat in the AFC East.
With its myriad moves, New York has gotten the attention of the league, and of the Patriots. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork used the word “great’’ when asked about the machinations of New England’s rival.
Wilfork, meanwhile, represents one of the few moves the Patriots have made this offseason; he was re-signed by them, as were Leigh Bodden, Tully Banta-Cain, Kevin Faulk, and Stephen Neal. The only players the Patriots have signed who weren’t on their roster last year are the underwhelming Alge Crumpler, Damione Lewis, and Marques Murrell.
The Jets have boldly — and, it may turn out, foolishly — taken on players whom other teams would consider risks. While Tomlinson has not had any off-field incidents, Holmes will be suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He also has a lawsuit pending over an incident at a Florida nightclub in which he allegedly threw a glass at a woman, and he was involved in a 2006 domestic violence incident.
Cromartie comes with baggage, too — namely, the seven children he has fathered with six women in five states. His paternity issues were enough of an problem that the Jets gave him a $500,000 advance on his salary to help take care of them.
Toss in Braylon Edwards, another receiver with suspect hands and a checkered past New York got from Cleveland via trade last season, and it’s easy to see why some are joking that the Jets have become Raiders East, a team willing to take on any player in pursuit of winning.
Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum has made some smart deals over the last couple of years, trading up in last year’s draft to take quarterback Mark Sanchez, and trading up again in the third round to take running back Shonn Greene, who will be the team’s lead back, spelled by Tomlinson.
But the deals for Cromartie and Holmes are different.
Tannenbaum defended his decision to acquire Holmes thusly: “The young man’s had a lot of indiscretions, but we’re here to work with him collaboratively, and hopefully he’ll learn from his indiscretions of the past . . . We thought it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.’’
With Holmes 26 years old and entering the final year of his rookie contract, Tannenbaum felt that giving up a fifth-round pick in next week’s draft for a player who is coming off a career-best season was a low-risk, high-reward opportunity, even though he’ll only be available to play 12 regular-season games.
The Jets’ ability and desire to take on the players they have in recent months — and the Patriots’ reticence to do so — may speak to a strength and weakness of each club: the locker room.
It has been well-documented that leadership was in short supply in New England last season. The players who once policed the room were gone, and there were not enough longtime leaders left to make sure the room ran as it should, nor were there enough players willing to step into the void (or enough with the cachet to do so).
But New York trusts its leaders, players like Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard, brought from Baltimore to the Jets by coach Rex Ryan, and Alan Faneca and Damien Woody, to keep Cromartie, Holmes, and Edwards in line.
If it works, the Jets may prove the pundits right and become the class of the AFC East.
If it doesn’t, being slapped with the “Raiders East’’ brand may be the least embarrassing thing that happens for Gang Green.