The long New York Jets nightmare of a season is now over, and team owner Woody Johnson is hopeful to put behind him more drama than MTV's "The Hills." Not that we would know.
The Jets endured a disappointing 8-8 season after an offseason spent retaining the core that made consecutive AFC championship game appearances. But after a 2-3 start, the Jets began to splinter with teammates calling each other out in the media and wide receiver Derrick Mason being shipped out to the Houston Texans in what appeared to be a move to make him the team's scapegoat.
Then on Wednesday night, on Showtime's "Inside the NFL," the usually even-tempered LaDainian Tomlinson called the Jets locker room "as bad as I've been around."
"And I've been around some locker rooms and quarterback-receiver situations and what-not, but it was as bad as I've been around," Tomlinson said.
But predictably, Johnson came to the defense of his team and the management decisions that brought in players with questionable character in an effort to make the team's first Super Bowl appearance in over four decades. Johnson told the media on Thursday he "didn't feel a toxicity in the locker room" and disagreed with Tomlinson's characterizations.
"A locker room is kind of like alchemy, putting it together. You have to put it together. You hope that the leaders like LaDainian take charge and squash some of these conflicts that arise. That kind of leadership you need. I know LaDainian. I know him pretty well; I know that he probably tried to do it. He's a very honorable guy, a tremendous player and a tremendous person," Johnson said.
"Losing the way we [did], winning eight games and not making the playoffs is frustrating. It's frustrating for LaDainian, who is a Hall of Famer, and it's frustrating for the 53rd guy. It's just none of these guys that make it to this level are used to losing and that has its own repercussions."
Johnson said that wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who after getting into a fourth-quarter fight in the huddle was benched during the regular-season finale loss in Miami, will return to the team. Holmes signed a five-year, $50 million dollar deal with the team this past August but had the lowest reception number of his career while making enemies with his unfiltered mouth.
Driven out of Pittsburgh as a cancer, Holmes showed a similar mood with the Jets and was critical of quarterback Mark Sanchez throughout the season, even as Sanchez showed limited improvement from his previous two NFL seasons. The long-term deal is not something Johnson regrets giving to Holmes.
"He's a great receiver that won us a lot of games. He and Mark and the team will be successful in the future," Johnson said. "That's what you pay for people that have a lot of talent in the reception business."
Sanchez was blamed for a stagnant offense that ranked in the bottom third of the league this year in total offense. He, along with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, were lambasted by fans for the subpar numbers. Rumors have begun to circulate that Peyton Manning, who appears on his way out of the Indianapolis Colts, could be headed to New York.
While Johnson defended his young quarterback, whom the Jets traded up to take with the No. 5 selection in the 2009 NFL draft and called him "our guy," Johnson didn't downplay any Manning rumors. The Jets owner would like to see Sanchez pushed and competition at starter, something that was a complaint by unnamed players following the season.
"He has to have someone breathing on his back," Johnson said. "I think you could maybe argue that, but these guys aren't that easy to find that can go in and step in for a starting quarterback if you want to win games."
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