Now or never

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. --Take a quick look across the New York Jets' depth chart and you will see a Pro Bowl player or a former first-round draft choice in every positional group -- more than one, in some cases. Go closer and you will notice something more unusual than that:

Eleven of the top 28 players are in contract years.

Though he never will admit it publicly, general manager Mike Tannenbaum -- the architect -- has assembled a Super Bowl-or-bust team. In an era where teams plan ahead to avoid too many big negotiations in one year, Tannenbaum has defied the trend, making the Jets a fascinating case study.

Let's put them on a slide and place it under a high-powered microscope: In theory, the Jets' roster should be filled with hungry, highly motivated players looking for big paydays. But there's some risk involved. Will too many individual agendas threaten Rex Ryan's team concept?

"If you win a Super Bowl, that's good for everybody," Ryan said. "Even guys with individual goals and assistant coaches wanting to be head coaches, if you win, that's the best thing that can happen to you.

"Sometimes it's good that guys are in the last year of their deal. In baseball, you see it all the time because a guy is motivated and has an unbelievable year. I know baseball is a team game, but it's really about the numbers. Here, it's about wins and losses."

Maybe Ryan is right, but the situation has made for an unusual dynamic. Over the last couple of weeks, Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Shaun Ellis and David Harris have talked openly about their desire for contract extensions. To be fair, they were prodded by reporters -- it's not like they got on a soap box and started yapping -- but they also weren't shy about expressing their opinions on why they deserve bigger paychecks.

Some might argue that players should keep money matters to themselves, lest they create feelings of jealousy, but Ryan believes in free speech and evidently has no problem with it. Privately, some players said they're curious to see how the big money grab plays out, especially at wide receiver.
Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, both in the final year of their contracts, will be fighting for playing time with Jerricho Cotchery. A receiver needs numbers when he goes to the negotiating table, but with so many receiving options on a run-oriented team, it would be a mild upset if one of them has a 1,000-yard season.

"I would trade 90 catches and 1,000 yards for a Super Bowl," said Holmes, echoing a sentiment expressed by Edwards.

Owner Woody Johnson said last week it was "pretty much a miracle" that Tannenbaum, restricted by the so-called "Final Eight" rule in free agency, was able to acquire Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie and Jason Taylor -- the Big Four. Johnson also dismissed the notion that it's an all-or-nothing season. Obviously, he's not concerned about team chemistry being corrupted by a potential free-agent exodus. An opposing general manager agreed.

"I would rather have the players hungry than not," said the GM, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Ultimately, you have to perform. If you don't perform within your position group, you won't get playing time and you won't get the desired end result -- the big contract."

But the GM added, "If you managed your cap correctly, you wouldn't have this type of situation, but the Jets feel this is their year. The New England Patriots are down, the Miami Dolphins could go either way. They feel they're the best team in the East. Their window is now. Every move they made was with that in mind."

Management has a tremendous amount of faith in Ryan's ability to manage different personalities and different agendas. If the ever-confident Ryan were around 1,500 years ago, he wouldn't shy away from coaching up Attila the Hun.

"I think this is a good situation for us to be in," said Ryan, referring to the litany of potential free agents. "We've got a lot of great players."


"But next offseason," he said, "is going to be really tough for Mike Tannenbaum, trying to get all these things done."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.