A popular line of thinking that emerged shortly after the New York Jets loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game was that their "window" had closed and they would now be forced to rebuild their roster. Despite the Jets adding a slew of high-priced veterans last year to gear up for a Super Bowl run, that simply isn't the case. This team is built to be a contender for the foreseeable future, on both sides of the football.
The best thing the Jets have going for them that many teams do not, is that they have their coach and quarterback in place. Say what you want about Rex Ryan's bluster and attitude but the guy knows his X's and O's and is already the most successful coach in franchise history not named Weeb Ewbank. The questions about Mark Sanchez can go away now. He isn't the quarterback in New York who threw 25 interceptions this year and hasn't won a playoff game since the 2007 season. He is the quarterback with four road playoff wins in his first two seasons and has turned in two big-time performances in the AFC Championship Game, despite his defense letting him down in both games.
Behind Sanchez, the rest of the offense is ready to grow. The offensive line is in place with Nick Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Brandon Moore all being All-Pro or Pro-Bowl caliber players who are under contract for the long haul. Matt Slauson showed he is capable of being the long-term starter at left guard. Damien Woody or Wayne Hunter are both quality options to start at right tackle next year. Sanchez has a young, promising running back in Shonn Greene and hopefully a third-down back if Joe McKnight can wake up next year. Even if either Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards walks this year, Sanchez will have a quality top three options with the one who stays, Jerricho Cotchery, and Dustin Keller.
You are going to see this team expand beyond the "Ground and Pound" approach as Sanchez is ready to take the next step in this league. If he continues to develop at his current rate, there will be no need to reign him in and the Jets will be able to consistently attack with both their running game and by spreading teams out.
On defense, I am of the belief the Jets will always put together at least a respectable unit since they are led by Rex Ryan. They should remain a top 10 unit in the coming years, pending a few things.
There is no question there is some re-tooling needed, starting with finding a pass rusher and getting younger on the defensive line. It is time to find a replacement for Shaun Ellis and Bryan Thomas. It won't be easy this off-season since the Jets will sinking major money into bringing back David Harris and potentially Antonio Cromartie. However, Tannenbaum needs to make good use of his first-round pick and get creative in free agency, pending the new rules of the CBA. The focus needs to be on the front seven, since Darrelle Revis and Jim Leonhard should be able to hold the fort in the secondary regardless of who is lined up alongside them.
The Jets had personnel issues on defense this year and still managed to have one of the better units in the league. Rex Ryan deserves the benefit of the doubt from the previous two years on his ability to make a defense productive, without all the necessary parts.
This won't be the same team that reached the AFC Championship Game in 2009 and 2010, as it shifts to a more offensive centered approach. However, unless every single free agent walks this year and the Jets add nobody, which we all know isn't happening, the Jets are poised to be one of the AFC's elite teams again in 2011.