Around the AFC East, Week 3: New York Jets

The New York Jets finished 9-7 in 2008 despite rapidly declining play from QB Brett Favre, an underwhelming receiving corps and an underachieving defense.  How, then, were the Jets able to start the season 8-3 and take a firm grip on the AFC East (before ultimately squandering their early-season success late in the season)?  They rode their two workhorses, running backs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.

There are plenty of excellent two-headed rushing duos in today's NFL - in fact, one of them resides in Buffalo - but the Jones/Washington combo in New York was responsible for much of the Jets' offensive success.  The two backs combined for 449 touches, 2,312 yards and 24 TD (one of which came on a Washington kick return).  That happened even while Jets fans clamored for more touches for the explosive Washington, who carried the ball only 76 times in '08.

Yet problems still remain in the Jets' backfield, where both Jones and Washington have publicly expressed their desire for new deals this off-season.  Neither is holding out, but as Bills fans are well aware, lingering contract issues can quickly become a problem.  As a result, the Jets traded up to the top of the third round to nab Iowa RB Shonn Greene, limiting their number of draft picks to just three in the process.  Was the move made out of desperation considering the contract situations, or was there a different motivating factor?  John B from Gang Green Nation lends us some insight.

New York has dealt with two risky contract situations at running back, as both Jones and Washington have publicly squabbled about their respective situations this off-season.  Then the Jets drafted Greene at the top of the third round.  Was that selection the Jets hedging their bets on their two (at the time) potential holdouts, a 'best player available' scenario, or a combination of both?

John B: I do not think think either contract standoff played a role in this decision. Everybody around the team and Washington's camp seems confident a deal will eventually get done. Jones had absolutely no leverage. He is past the age many running backs hit the wall. No team would trade for a 31 year old back and give him a big contract.

The pick did have a lot to do with Jones' future status, though. Given his advanced age, he is a year to year proposition. His production could fall off the cliff at any time. The team can also save roughly $5 million in cap space by cutting him after the season. Finding a successor was a much greater priority than many believed at the time.

After the first day of the Draft, the brain trust reportedly had Greene rated far higher than anybody else on the board. I tend to believe it. Otherwise the Jets would probably not have traded three picks to move up. It was a case where best player available met a need, and the Jets acted decisively.

***

If I'm being completely honest, I love the Jets' backfield.  In fact, can I just go ahead and demand that someone find me a division in which all four teams have more impressive depth at running back than the Bills, Dolphins, Pats and Jets?  Each team has at least two guys that can hurt you; it's hard to find that elsewhere.

As for the question at hand, this is precisely the answer I expected from John, and I think he's absolutely right.  If I'm Mike Tannenbaum - and boy, am I glad I'm not - I'm giving Washington his extension, laughing in Jones' face, and preparing for a little Thunder and Lightning feature with Washington and Greene as soon as next year.  On the surface, the Greene selection may have looked a little luxurious for the Jets, but given Greene's college production and Jones' status, it's hard to argue too much with the selection.  Running backs are the driving force in Brian Schottenheimer's offense, and the Jets have three good ones.

That does it for this week's Around the AFC East feature.  As always, thanks to The Phinsider, Pats Pulpit and Gang Green Nation for dropping the knowledge - and if any of you have questions to submit to our rival bloggers for this weekly feature, drop a line in the comments section.

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