From time to time throughout the offseason, we'll take stock of and analyze the moves made by New England's AFC East rivals, to get a better sense of if, and if so, where, the balance of power may be shifting.
First up, the Patriots' most intense foes, the New York Jets.
Since the Super Bowl ended in early February, Gang Green has been busy, mostly making transactions to alter their offense. Not surprising, since defense is the stronger of the two main areas in Florham Park.
Even before free agency began on March 13, New York made news by extending the contract of incumbent starting QB Mark Sanchez (after an apparently failed courtship of Peyton Manning), perhaps in an effort to mend any hurt feelings Sanchez may have incurred during the Manning saga. That happened March 9. Less than two weeks later, on the 21st, the Jets traded for cultural phenomenon Tim Tebow and have been trying to put out fires ever since.
"No, no," they insist, "Mark's the starter. Tim's the backup … but he'll play in every game this year because his talents are too good to waste on the sideline." I'm paraphrasing comments made by head coach Rex Ryan, owner Woody Johnson, and GM Mike Tannenbaum.
OK, fine. But just wait until Sanchez has a few bad games … no, Jets fans won't give him that long … a few bad passes, and Fireman Ed will be leading MetLife Stadium crowd with chants for Tebow to start full-time. Just watch.
In a little-hyped move, the Jets also created a convenient QB carousel when, after inking backup QB Drew Stanton to a free agent contract on the March 16, were forced to trade him to Indianapolis when the Tebow acquisition ruffled his feathers (so Indy's Manning goes to Denver, Denver's Tebow goes to NY, and NY's Stanton goes to Indy. Nice symmetry).
Elsewhere on offense, New York re-signed WR Patrick Turner the day after the Super Bowl. The big-bodied (6-5, 220) USC product is entering his fourth pro season and could be a rising star, or at least a more frequent contributor. He appeared in 15 games last season, after just five and two (then with Miami) in his previous campaigns.
The Jets got rid of two other receivers (Michael Campbell and DaMarcus Ganaway), before signing another pair: UFA Chaz Schilens, a part-time starter in Oakland the previous four seasons, to a one-year deal, then youngster Scotty McKnight, a first-year player out of Colorado. Like Turner, Schilens is a big receiver (6-4, 225) who's entering his prime. It seems that with the unlikely return of Plaxico Burress, New York is looking to keep that size at the position by developing these younger talents.
This tight end they signed, a 6-6, 255-pound, 27-year-old Australian rookie out of Metropolitan State in Denver, is quite a story. Hayden Smith was once a rugby player (although only recently – started in 2008 and quickly made the US team) who was first noticed playing basketball in college. He is now under contract with the Jets through 2014.
On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Sione Pouha signed a three-year extension, through 2014, to remain a Jet. He may have been a coveted commodity on the free agent market, despite his advanced age (33). Good move by New York there. They also brought in safety LaRon Landry on a one-year pact. He was the biggest name at the position this year, but has been an inconsistent player in his five previous years in Washington.
Meanwhile, OLB/DE Aaron Maybin just signed his RFA tender to remain with the Jets for at least one more season. He was over-drafted by the Bills, you'll recall, in 2009, yet had some production as a Jet last year (half-dozen sacks in 13 games). He's work keeping an eye on going forward.
New York made a couple of other minor defensive roster moves yesterday, at DE and corner, adding Jay Richardson and DeAngelo Smith, respectively. They also re-signed kicker Nick Folk back in mid-March. Thus far, he's they're only bona fide special teams addition.
The Jets' 2011 season ended with a locker room that had become decidedly fractious, and the addition of Tebow, in particular, seems to have done little to repair those fissures. But some of those directly involved in the public dirty-laundry-airing are doing their best right now to put a positive spin on the 2012 offseason.
On a conference call yesterday, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, a captain who was at the center of much in-fighting last season with Sanchez, went out of his way to praise the QB for his work this offseason, including going down to Florida to train with teammates.
"He is portraying those leadership qualities," Holmes said. "We are both looking forward to bigger and better days." Center Nick Mangold insisted the "future is bright" in New York, while head coach Rex Ryan acknowledged that mistakes were made in 2011, but that his club is "excited" about "focused on" 2012.
We'll probably revisit the Jets' situation at some point following the NFL Draft, as well as take a closer look at what's being transpiring down in Miami and over in Buffalo in the days ahead.