Florham Park, NJ - The 2016 season will go down as a complete and total disappointment for the New York Jets. Very little went right and damn near everything went wrong. Sweeping changes will be made to this roster during the offseason, but in order to make the right corrections we first must examine the cause of death for this season. So we've ordered a full and extensive autopsy report to do exactly that.
CAUSE OF DEATH: Blunt force trauma do to re-signing Ryan Fitzpatrick. The rest of the body (team) wasn't strong enough to withstand the impact and began to shutdown limb by limb.
EXTERNAL EXAMINATION: From a cursory glance at the corpse, this team suffered from numerous injuries (both metaphorically and real) throughout the body. The horrific quarterback play was apparent to all, except for a small segment of Fitzpatrick truthers that somehow still exist, as was the lack of a pass rush and the inability to cover receivers in the passing game. This team was projected to have a top five defense in the league, but to say they failed to live up to expectations is a whopper of an understatement. Special teams once again failed to do anything other than hurt the team and though the running game was mostly strong the Jets clearly relied on Matt Forte too much and not enough on Bilal Powell. The interior of the offensive line remained strong until the end, but the edges began to erode before the season even started. This team was in worse shape than any of us thought, what we assumed would be a good blend of veterans and young talent turned out to be a bad mix because they fractured instead of coming together to overcome their deficiencies.
This team was weak and flawed from the start, for different reasons Darrelle Revis, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson all failed to play up to their standards. For Revis it was a combination of getting older, skills already deminishing, and still clearly struggling to return to full strength after offseason wrist surgery. Wilkerson was clearly still hobbled as he returned to play before he was fully healed from his offseason surgery and he struggled to have any type of impact until the last couple of weeks in the season. Richardson was playing out of position to start the year, he's an extremely versatile and talented player but he should never be asked to play linebacker, and of course he and Wilkerson both had some problems with missing/showing up to team meetings. These were supposed to be the leaders of the defense, but following them clearly wasn't going to take the defense anywhere good.
EVIDENCE OF INJURY:
1) Fitzpatrick stats - 14 games played, 56.6 completion percentage, 2,710 yards for a lousy 6.73 yards average, 12 touchdowns, 17 interception, six fumbles, QB rating of 69.6 and a total QBR of 44.0, record of 3-8 in games he started.
2) After the aberration that was the 2015 season all anyone focused on was the few vocal supporters of Fitzpatrick, most everyone anointed Fitzpatrick the "undisputed leader" of the team while ignoring the reality that a, larger than you think, portion of the locker room thought Geno Smith should be the starter and they damn sure weren't happy about the long holdout and contract demands. Many players were more neutral, either Fitzpatrick or Smith would be fine, but they didn't think Fitzpatrick was deserving of holding the team hostage. We know who Fitzpatrick's supporters were, they were Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and the offensive line. It's not that the rest of the team didn't like or respect Fitzpatrick but they simply didn't think he was more talented than Smith and they didn't form a bond with him like the veteran receivers and offensive line did. Fitzpatrick fit in with that group, low maintenance, willing to pass the spotlight to others and just be one of those "blue collar, lunchpail and hard hat" type of guys.
Did Smith rub some veterans the wrong way? Absolutely, but it's clear there was a bit of a generational divide in the locker room. The younger guys, they thought Smith was more talented. They thought the team should just roll with him, but they knew better than to speak out since they figured he would eventually re-sign. When Fitzpatrick's struggles became too much, those tensions began to boil over.
3) Six picks in Kansas City, in an otherwise very winnable game, was the catalyst for those tensions to boil over. Richardson and Marshall got into a verbal altercation after the game, both players tried to brush it off as two teammates simply venting frustrations after a tough loss but clearly the relationship between the two star players continued to carry over as Richardson had no issue with calling Marshall out after the ass whooping the Patriots gave them. Revis said there was a "dark cloud" that hung over the team and they "lost the concept of team football" after that incident. Todd Bowles decided to stick with Fitzpatrick for the next three games before finally benching Fitzpatrick and players took note, wondering if Fitzpatrick isn't held accountable for his horrendous play then would/should anyone else. Even at that point in the season, Fitzpatrick certainly wasn't the only one failing to live up to expectations but the calls from the coaching staff to demand accountability began to fall on deaf ears.
In all likelihood the Jets would've still missed the playoffs and had a disappointing season even if Smith started the entire season, as we know now the rest of the team wasn't good enough to be a playoff team, but the in-fighting, the constant "communication mistakes," and lack of effort probably wouldn't have been so apparent, at least not so early in the season. Again, a bigger than you think portion of the locker room didn't think Fitzpatrick should return, but for the most part they were okay with it once he did. After that game in Kansas City though, all that changed and the team began to splinter even more.
INTERNAL EXAMINATION: The coaching staff failed on just about every level. Chan Gailey is getting too much blame, his "awful" play calling wouldn't have seemed so awful if his quarterbacks could complete simple passes. But Gailey wasn't without his flaws either. He shied away from the running game too much, especially in red zone situations, and at a certain point he should've recognized Fitzpatrick's limitations and tried to reign him in. On the other side of the ball, Bowles and Kacy Rodgers failed all around. Clearly they were hampered by some injuries as well as veterans not playing up to expectations but the blown assignments and failure to communicate was a season long problem that never got fixed. They can get a bit of a pass for Wilkerson's injury and the drop in Revis' ability, but blown assignments and miscommunications all season long has to fall on the coaches.
AUTOPSY FINDINGS: Again the body of this team was weak, re-signing Fitzpatrick didn't kill this season by itself. The Jets season was doomed to die before the playoffs either way, but from talking to players today, and throughout the season, it's clear that the holdout and caving by the front office was the root of what caused this team to completely split apart once things went south. Ultimately this team had too many high priced veterans who didn't play up to the standard we're all used to seeing, too many injuries, too many distractions and far too many repeating mistakes. All of these things would've eventually led to the death of the season before the playoffs, but the holdout and re-signing of Fitzpatrick was the blunt force trauma that expedited the process of the death.
Chris Nimbley is the editor-in-chief of JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@cnimbley), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)