Rex Ryan's bravado always has been as big as his presurgery waistline. Still, when the colorful New York coach, who had a lap band weight-loss operation in March, met with his players on Monday for the start of off-season team activities, there was no need for him to say anything about the franchise's expectations; they were implied with each roster move this spring.
"The organization has made the statement with its actions that [the Jets are] going for a Super Bowl this year, and guys understand that," eighth-year guard Brandon Moore says. "The feeling is different from any season I've been a part of. It is Super Bowl or bust."
The Jets' quest for their first championship since 1969 has been as subtle as a Tiger Woods text message. Instead of standing pat after reaching the AFC Championship Game last season, they boldly added three former Pro Bowlers and a Super Bowl MVP, among others. While the moves made headlines, they also raised questions: Can running back LaDainian Tomlinson, 30, and outside linebacker Jason Taylor, 35, turn back the clock? Can cornerback Antonio Cromartie and wide receiver Santonio Holmes avoid off-field trouble?
To the Jets, the potential reward far outweighs the limited risk. Tomlinson and Taylor were signed to team-friendly deals, and Holmes was acquired from Pittsburgh for only a fifth-round pick in this year's draft while Cromartie was brought from San Diego for a conditional third-round choice in 2011.
The last team to stockpile this many big-name veterans in one off-season was the Redskins in 2000, but Washington won just eight games, despite the league's first $100 million payroll.
"I don't know how much better we are, but we're really optimistic," says general manager Mike Tannenbaum. "We had trouble playing with a lead in the fourth quarter a year ago, so we felt if we could add a guy like Jason Taylor with his pass-rush acumen, that would be a really good thing. We added Cromartie and [rookie cornerback] Kyle Wilson and [veteran safety] Brodney Pool to a defense that ranked Number 1 overall against the pass and in points allowed, so athletically we should be better on the back end. Offensively, Santonio gives us some explosiveness and LaDainian gives us three-down versatility."
If there is a major question facing the Jets—besides how the newcomers will perform—it has to do with how long it will take the players to mesh. New York had great chemistry last season but still chose to release or trade several players who were popular in the locker room and productive on the field, most notably leading rusher Thomas Jones, guard Alan Faneca and running back--returner Leon Washington.
"Every season doesn't carry over," Moore says. "You build new chemistry through your workouts and training camp and the ups and downs of the season. When you look at us on paper, it's a pretty solid team from top to bottom. Guys are going to be pretty confident going into games. Pressure is what you make of it. I think guys are really excited about the challenge of living up to expectations."
Stated and implied.
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The standoff between the Redskins and Albert Haynesworth is not going to end soon, even though owner Dan Snyder has publicly expressed disappointment with the ample 350-pound defensive tackle for skipping the team's off-season workouts. The Redskins' displeasure is understandable: They're seeking to rebound from a 4--12 season, are installing a new 3--4 defense and want to build camaraderie under new coach Mike Shanahan. But Haynesworth (below) has other concerns, like staying as far away from the nosetackle position as possible. Sources say Haynesworth would welcome a trade; barring that, the only workout he'll do for Washington is exercising his collectively bargained right to skip all but the mandatory events.
SCOTT A. MILLER/US PRESSWIRE (TAYLOR)
AGE-OLD QUESTION How quickly will (from left) vets Taylor, Tomlinson and Holmes mesh with an already strong roster in New York?
TIM HEITMAN/US PRESSWIRE (TOMLINSON)
[See caption above]
JOHN BIEVER (HOLMES)
[See caption above]
DAVID BERGMAN (HAYNESWORTH)