The rivalry between the Jets and the Patriots didn't need more juice, but it got some anyway over the weekend.
Defensive end Shaun Ellis signed with the Pats as a free agent, pocketing somewhere between $4 and $5 million for the chance, and prompting Rex Ryan to make it clear that he will not be wishing the longtime Jet well in his new home. The Jets only offered Ellis the veteran minimum of $910,000, making the decision easy for Ellis, and making criticism easy for those who wanted Ellis back with the Jets.
A team that could find $3 million in guaranteed money for a guy who was making license plates this time last year couldn't find more than the bare minimum for a leader of their defense for the last decade? It's not hot hard to understand why some would find that to be a pretty poor move for the Jets, even if Ellis didn't wind up playing for their archrivals.
The Jets probably should have just wished Ellis well if that was all they thought he was worth because the message sent by the move would have been the same either way. After years of relying on big acquisitions from outside the organization, the Jets' plan for success in 2011 is focused almost entirely on developing what's already on hand or what they picked up in the draft.
Yes, we know they went after Nnamdi Asomugha, but after hearing the details of their three-year, $30 million offer, it is hard to know if they were really dying to sign him or if they felt they needed to make a public play to satiate the public. Burress and Derrick Mason will play big roles in the offense, but they aren't the game-changing moves of past years.
If these Jets make it back to the AFC Championship Game, it will be because they guessed right in the draft on Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis being difference-makers on the defensive line. It will be because David Harris takes the next step at linebacker, Kyle Wilson becomes a productive NFL corner and the Darrelle Revis-Antonio Cromartie tandem is more productive in its second trip around the carousel.
The same goes for offense, where Wayne Hunter trumped more experienced right tackles when it came time to hit the free agent market. One of Hunter's main jobs will be protecting Mark Sanchez, the player who the Jets are banking on making strides this season than all the rest of them put together.
You can quibble over decisions about Ellis and Jerricho Cotchery as much as you want, but there's not much point arguing that their presence wouldn't make much of a difference if Sanchez doesn't show a great deal of growth this season. They might hedge the bet that the team is making on Sanchez, but they wouldn't make it much likelier that their bigger bet on a title would come up a winner.