Rex Ryan addressed the media at the NFL combine Thursday as only a shell of the brash, supremely confident coach he once was.
Just two years ago, Ryan stepped to the podium and guaranteed the combine media in Indianapolis that the New York Jets would win the Super Bowl.
This year's prediction for the Jets?
"I did figure this out: I’m not in the prediction world," Ryan said sheepishly, backing down. "I’m usually not real good on my predictions."
This is a different version of Ryan. He’s been humbled, beaten down and worn out the past two years in New York. Ryan has had to deal with Tebowmania, Mike Tannenbaum’s awful decision-making, Mark Sanchez’s regression, and constant infighting and in-house controversies. The Jets went 14-18 the past two seasons under Ryan, but it felt more like 0-32 under the bright lights of New York.
Just barely, Ryan has survived. But long gone is the coach who thought he would win multiple Super Bowls with Gang Green. Ryan is merely a coach trying to survive the very circus he helped create the past four seasons. He has only 2013 to make everything right for a Jets team with a lot of holes and a lot of issues.
In many ways, Ryan appears destined to fail. The Jets are tearing down their roster in what amounts to a must-win year for Ryan. New York lacks a franchise quarterback, has limited players on offense, and a tight salary cap. In addition, Ryan works for a new general manager, John Idzik, who won't hesitate to hire his own head coach if things go poorly.
This upcoming season is make-or-break for Ryan, but it doesn’t appear he's ready to go out quietly.
"We’re stepping up to plate with a bat in our hand and we’re not going to let any strikes go by without swinging," Ryan said. "We are going to take our cuts. We may take a cut at a ball in the ground as well, but we are definitely going to take our cuts. When we talk about being aggressive, I don’t know if we really know what that looks like."
There still are a few moments, like this, when Ryan shows some of his old spunk. But much of that swagger is lost, and now it mostly comes off as hot air following back-to-back non-winning seasons.
The Jets were an awful, 6-10 team last season. It’s going to take at least two or three years to rebuild New York into a contender again.
Unfortunately for Ryan, he doesn't have another two or three years. Here are the many issues Ryan must overcome to save his job in 2013:
Quarterback quandary: Sanchez is not the long-term solution in New York. The problem is the Jets were the last to realize it. New York inexplicably gave Sanchez a $58.25 million contract extension last March and is stuck with Sanchez's $8.25 million guaranteed salary this season. The Jets want competition at quarterback, but have limited options. New York does not have the cap room to trade for Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers. But a trade for Seattle Seahawks backup quarterback Matt Flynn is more realistic. Flynn is familiar with the West Coast offense, which the Jets are implementing under new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Drafting a quarterback is another option for the Jets, although there are a lot of questions about this year's class.
Find resolution with Revis: The Jets have found a way to upset their best player. New York didn’t deny reports of putting Revis on the trade block last month, and now that Revis is angry, the team has gone into full spin mode. The Jets say they haven't had conversations with teams about Revis, but it's only February. That doesn’t mean there won’t be trade discussions closer to the draft and/or before the season. Revis will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014 and should become one of the NFL’s highest-paid defensive players. The Jets probably can't afford Revis' price tag, and would be smart to test the market to see what they can get in return. But trading Revis helps the Jets in the long run and hurts Ryan's chances to succeed next season.
Further manage the cap: The Jets had to cut five veterans this week, including starting linebackers Bart Scott and Calvin Pace, to get under the salary cap. New York slashed about $30 million in salary. But with free agency and an incoming draft class, New York still has more cuts on the way. Idzik was hired, in part, because of his ability to manage the cap. But making wholesale changes makes it increasingly tough to field a competitive team. Again, it’s best for the Jets in the long run, but doesn’t help Ryan at all this year.
Still, Idzik sounds confident that he can field a competitive team in New York next season.
"We're going to be attacking, we're going to be aggressive, we're going to be physical, we're going to play smart," Idzik said this week.
Unless Idzik can fix all of New York’s problems in one offseason, it's hard to see Ryan thriving next season and leading the Jets to the playoffs. Three consecutive seasons without a winning record and missing the playoffs doesn’t bode well for Ryan’s future.
Ryan started fast in New York with back-to-back AFC title games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. But at this point, his tenure with the Jets appears to be running on fumes.