Analysis  

 

Why did New York Jets cut Danny Woodhead? Rex Ryan's ego

Associated Press
Danny Woodhead (left) has become a versatile weapon for the Patriots since being released by Rex Ryan's Jets.

I can answer Tom Brady. I can answer him in spades. I can talk rings around him with my answer. I can give it to him backward, forward, in different tongues and even in hieroglyphics.

I can tell Brady why the New York Jets let go of Danny Woodhead. And my answer will shed light on one of the 3-6 Jets' biggest problems.

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Playing Danny Woodhead would have meant Rex Ryan admitting a mistake, and Rex doesn't like to do that. It's why the Jets are where they are.

In the 2010 NFL Draft, Ryan was coming off a surprise AFC Championship Game appearance. He had a grand plan and the momentum to fortify the roster with players he wanted out of the draft. The Jets dealt Leon Washington to the Seattle Seahawks and traded up to draft running back Joe McKnight in the fourth round, expecting the USC product to be one of those sleeper picks who make coaches and general managers look smart in retrospect. McKnight was going to be a game breaker, both on special teams and out of the backfield. It was a role Woodhead could have excelled in, as he had been involved with the team for two years at that point, having been signed three different times.

New York went into the summer of 2010 with a running back cadre of Shonn Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson, McKnight and Woodhead. McKnight was more famous for vomiting during his first minicamp than for anything he did on the field. He wasn't in shape and he couldn't hold on to the football, fumbling three times in the preseason. He was inactive the first month of the regular season. When he made his debut, it wasn't just at running back, but also at defensive back -- a role he's cropped up in again this season.

In the meantime, Woodhead was waived and picked up by New England, and has since become an invaluable weapon at Brady's disposal.

So tell me if this makes sense: A fourth-round pick shows up out of shape, struggles with ball security and changes positions before he's been with the team four months, yet the team keeps going forward with him. Normally, this kind of player would be waived in a millisecond. To McKnight's credit, he has become a terrific kick returner. But you can get a kick returner in plenty of places.

Why did things unfurl the way they did? Because keeping Woodhead (a player Ryan inherited) would have meant drafting McKnight was a mistake, and Ryan never cops to personnel mistakes. He's loyal to a fault, but is it out of his responsibility to his players, or his ego?

How many times did we see him drool over fullback John Conner -- a Rex Special -- on HBO's Hard Knocks? Conner never proved he was ready for a big role with the Jets, but they stubbornly stuck with him for more than two years before finally admitting they needed to go in another direction. Now Gang Green's stuck with journeyman Lex Hilliard.

Ryan said he knew he was going to draft defensive end Quinton Coples in April's first round after testing him in drills for five minutes during his pro day, despite questions about his motor. Coples has been underwhelming so far. Ryan wanted to sign receiver Plaxico Burress after seeing a tape of his best plays before going to prison. Really? That's how easy it is to make those calls? That's like proposing to a woman after seeing her profile on a dating website.

I'm not blaming him for continuing to stick with quarterback Mark Sanchez. At this point, you have to play out the season and get a do-over at the position. But Ryan has been a Sanchez backer because Sanchez was his hand-picked quarterback in the 2009 draft, not because of his work on Sundays. Yes, all NFL head coaches live and die by the guys they bring in to be franchise signal-callers. But Rex, having been to two straight AFC title games, had the rare opportunity to say, "Know what? My guy isn't working. Let's move on." And his job wouldn't have been in jeopardy. So it's ego. No one wants to be told they're wrong, especially after repeated swings and misses in the draft. The earlier you admit a mistake, the easier it is to recover from it. But if you never do so? Good luck.

When Ryan said before this season that this could be his best team yet, I thought at the time that it was just something he liked to say. But now? I think he felt he had to say it to back up all his hand-picked personnel. It's ego that prevents you from seeing the faults on your team. It's clear that the Jets -- and Ryan -- overvalue their players more than anyone else in the league.

I constantly say this in the NFL.com newsroom: If the Jets waive Mark Sanchez tomorrow, and money isn't a factor, which team picks him up to be a starter?

[Insert cricket sound effect here.]

This doesn't mean Ryan is a bad coach. It means he, and Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, are bad talent evaluators. So that task should fall to someone else. Rex is a great coach, but to borrow a little bit from Bill Parcells, sometimes the cook doesn't buy the right groceries.

Jason Smith hosts "NFL Fantasy Live" on the NFL Network and writes fantasy and other pith for NFL.com. Talk to him on Twitter @howaboutafresca and listen to his "NFL Fantasy Live" podcast with Michael Fabiano and Elliot Harrison every week on NFL.com. He only asks that you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.

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