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What a roller coaster ride it's been for the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason, especially this past weekend and on Monday. The 2009 season ended in disappointing fashion for the Steelers, but fans quickly found solace in the fact the front office found ways to re-sign most all of the fan favorite veteran free agents. In traditional Steelers fashion, the organization didn't over-pay or over-commit to any one player, and to the delight of the fans, in some instances it was clear that certain players were accepting less than what they would probably command on the open market in order to stay with the Steelers. Then, more recently, the Steelers surprised everybody by bringing back Larry Foote and Antwaan Randle El. Both guys have plenty of scratch in the bank at this point in their careers, but neither seem content just yet with their playing careers. Both Foote and El are a bit past their prime, but they still have enough physical prowess and desire left in them to want to be a part of something bigger than themselves for the final years of their career.
That's where the good news ends this offseason. I don't need to remind you of what followed - Ben Roethlisberger's incident in Georgia, followed by Santonio's Orlando mishap two days later (we just didn't hear about it until later in March). As of Monday, there was at least some sense of closure to the Big Ben situation - at least from a legal standpoint. We'll see if the NFL or the Steelers decides to punish him in some manner despite there being no criminal charges pressed against him.
There's closure now too with regards to Santonio Holmes. He's been shipped out of town to the New York Jets in exchange for a 5th round draft pick later this month. There's been quite the debate amongst Steelers denizens about whether or not the front office blew it by only getting a 5th rounder in return for Holmes - a 26 year old proven play maker coming off his best season as a pro by a long shot. If you're brave enough, make your way through that maze of a debate to see what Steelers fans are thinking about the subject.
I'll turn my attention though to the Jets and what they've done this offseason to (they hope) improve their roster following an impressive first year of the Mark Sanchez/Rex Ryan era. There's a million speculative angles that can be taken here, but I'll just say this. Sometimes less is more. In all facets of life, including how you fill your 53-man roster if you're the GM of an NFL team. Sure, you want top notch talent above all else, but unlike Major League Baseball and the NBA, the NFL truly is a team game. The best way I can say it is that unlike MLB and the NBA, if you don't do your job in the NFL it doesn't just mean your personal statistics go down or you hang a teammate out to dry for a single play, it means you may just get your teammate lit up and possibly injured...seriously injured possibly.
I just wonder if the Jets are compromising some of what made them special and a very tough out come December and January when the weather turned and there was an even higher premium placed on playing hard nosed physical football. There was nothing pretty about how the Jets went about their business late last season. Unless you consider playing grind it out, patient football to be beautiful. Don't get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for what Rex Ryan did last year in his first ever crack at running the show for an NFL team. He said 'the hell with style points, let's ride our elite offensive line as far as we can, bring our spunky and capable but mistake prone rookie quarterback along slowly, and rely on our defense to keep us in every last game.'
There's very little individual glory to be had with that kind of approach. Sure, Mark Sanchez got his fair share of pub, but rookie quarterbacks tend to receive their fair share. Other than that though, name me one Jets player outside of Darrelle Revis who basked in any type of national spotlight last year. There were none. That's why you heard so much about Rex Ryan. He was a great quote, great theater with the press, but there was also nobody on the Jets roster competing for airtime.
Something tells me that all changes this coming year with the additions of LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes. In the case of Cromartie and Holmes, I believe both are in the final year of their respective rookie contracts. Both feel like they have something to prove, both to the teams that traded them away, and to the rest of the league as they try to position themselves for a huge payday after this coming season. Same goes for LT, though he's not trying to market himself for another contract beyond the one he has with the Jets for the next several years. LT though will be very much interested in proving the Chargers wrong, that he still has plenty left in the tank, and that they were fools to let him go as he helps lead the Jets to Super Bowl glory. Will LT be willing to prove his doubters wrong in a complimentary role?
Will Holmes be able to make the transition from the pass-happy Steelers offense of the last several seasons to the run, run and then run some more offensive philosophy of the Jets? Sure, Mark Sanchez should be given some more freedom in year two, but Rex Ryan isn't going to change his core philosophy just because his signal caller is a bit more mature. Ryan will always prefer to rely on the defense he's built while minimizing any sort of unnecessary and poorly timed risk taking by the offense. Rumor has it that Holmes butted heads with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin through the 2009 season -- presumably about his role on the offense and perhaps even some of his daily habits on the practice field and in the film and weight rooms. Will he be able to keep his mouth shut and just play when the Jets take the conservative route more often than not on 3rd down? Heck, he complained last year when the Steelers aired it out all the time. What's going to happen when he's playing for an offense that might only throw the ball 22 or 23 times per game next season?
We'll see. The Jets sure do look good on paper. Rex Ryan seems to be the real deal in terms of running a successful program at the NFL level -- by that I mean it seems like he's got the knowledge, experience and pedigree to know the nuts and bolts of how to operate a franchise on a daily basis, while also being comfortable enough in his own skin to lay it all out emotionally and really get his guys to want to play for him.
I'm very curious to see though if he's going to be able to run such a tight ship with this new cast of characters. Last year, the stalwarts of the team were a humble rookie quarterback, an anonymous offensive line, a no-name rookie reserve running back and of course Darrelle Revis. That says something though in and of itself. A cornerback -- who often times didn't even get much action as a result of teams throwing away from him at all costs -- was the star of the team.
That all changes in 2010. On paper it looks like the Jets have added some much needed elite talent to a solid, but unremarkable roster. I'm not so sure that will be the case though. What may have made the Jets built for success last year is just how 'unremarkable' their team was. They could all play, but there were very few guys who felt they had individual goals to uphold for whatever reason. That allowed them to collectively do some very remarkable things. If there's a guy to make it work, it may just be Rex Ryan, but in my mind, he's in for a whole new experience in 2010 that will challenge him in ways he rarely, if ever, encountered in 2009.
April 13, 2010; 11:08 AM ET
New York Jets
San Diego Chargers
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