Fourteen months ago, Eric Mangini was a made man. A cameo on "The Sopranos," during which Artie Bucco ID'd the New York Jets coach as "Mangenius" to the duly impressed Tony, served as a conspicuous coronation of his status as the NFL's boy wonder.
That seems like a long, long time ago. Now, in the wake of Wednesday night's trade for Brett Favre, we can conclude this about the 37-year-old Mangini: He is a desperate man.
Coming off a disastrous 4-12 season, the Jets approached this past offseason like a franchise gasping for air. Suddenly, a team that had appeared so promising in 2006 (a 10-6 record that included a road upset at AFC East rival New England, and a surprising playoff appearance) looked lifeless and bereft of talent.
While the Patriots rubbed Spygate in the faces of Mangini and general manager Mike Tannenbaum with a 16-0 regular season and the Giants took over New York – and the NFL – with their stunning Super Bowl XLII upset of New England, the Jets became irrelevant. They had no clear-cut quarterback, no stars and no identity.
Tannenbaum and Mangini could have remained patient, attempted to develop their young players and drafted a quarterback, perhaps trading up from the No. 6 overall slot to snag Matt Ryan.
Instead, with the blessing of owner Woody Johnson, they threw money at the problem in what appears to have been an all-out effort to win now.
Forty million dollars over five years for free-agent guard Alan Faneca.
Forty-two million over six years for free-agent linebacker Calvin Pace.
Thirty-five mil over five years for defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, acquired in a trade with the Panthers that cost the Jets third- and fifth-round draft picks.
Twenty-five over five for free-agent center Damien Woody.
Throw in pass-rushing linebacker Vernon Gholston, the team's top draft pick, and the Jets seem to have been seriously upgraded for 2008.
FAVRE SAGA: JUDGMENT WEEK
Silver: Five Favre scenarios
MJD: Anything could happen
AccuScore: Impact on Packers
Favre back with the Packers
Fans turn out for Favre
Silver: Blame Favre for mess
MJD: Big headlines, no news
Fantasy: Favre draft dilemma
Favre leaves Lambeau
Other stars to delay retirement
Silver: McCarthy's boiling point
Silver: Desperate move by Jets
Cole: Wild ways will test Mangini
Johnson: Chad finally G-O-N-E
MJD: Time to rejoice. It's over!
Fantasy: Impact with Jets and beyond
Fantasy: Favre or Rodgers?
Chart: Favre vs. Jets QBs
Puck Daddy: Favre on skates?
Headed to the Jets
Happy Jets fans
All of this is theoretically a good thing, at least in the short term. But in the wake of the trade for Favre, which reportedly could cost the Jets as much as a first-round draft pick in '09 (though short of a Super Bowl berth, the most New York would pay is a second-rounder), I wonder whether this was a shrewd move by a team on the verge of contention or a wild swing in the dark by two men (Mangini and Tannenbaum) in the process of losing a bloody bar fight.
When you break it down, are the Jets really a team that can ride the acquisition of a premier quarterback, albeit an aging one, to immediate success?
The Vikings, I get that. Minnesota is coming off a surprising season in which it narrowly missed the playoffs and unveiled a superstar in rookie halfback Adrian Peterson. An already potent defense was bolstered by an offseason trade for ex-Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen, and the team's biggest uncertainty surrounds the quarterback position, where second-year starter Tarvaris Jackson remains raw and unproven.
Throw Favre into that mix – into an offense with which he's familiar – and it's easy to start dreaming Super Bowl.
Can Jets fans legitimately entertain those same dreams? That's a little bit of a stretch. Favre hasn't been involved in any organized football activities since January, and now he's showing up in the second week of August, in what his former coach Mike McCarthy describes as a shaky emotional state, with only three preseason games to get ready to play for a team that features an unfamiliar scheme.
Even if Favre, 38, can overcome all of these obstacles, there's no guarantee that the Jets are getting the player who finished second in the MVP voting last season. They could be getting the guy who had a mediocre season in '06, or the train wreck who threw an insane 29 interceptions in '05.
Put it this way: If the '07 Favre and the '06 Jets join forces in '08, New York can make some serious noise.
However, if the '05 or '06 Favre is added to the '07 Jets, duck for cover.
One other thing to consider: Favre's NFL-record streak of 275 consecutive starts. If things go horribly wrong and Mangini is hoping to salvage the season – or, failing that, to see if young Kellen Clemens really is his quarterback of the future – will he have the guts to bench a legend who was born before he was?
It's possible, I suppose, but if it were to happen I'd sure love to hear that conversation.
With all of that said, I don't want to be overly negative about the trade. I commend the Jets for being aggressive, and I realize the NFL is a win-now league in which things change dramatically from season to season.
Still, a case could be made that Mangini and Tannenbaum are running scared.
Would they have made a trade like this after '06, when they were coming off that blockbuster first year of their regime? I don't think so.
Now, amazingly, both men have reason to feel as though their jobs are on the line. Johnson, the owner, told the New York Daily News in March that Mangini would definitely be back for the final year of his contract in '09, no matter what happens this season. But owners have gone back on such statements before, and if nothing else another disappointing season would prevent Mangini from getting the lucrative contract extension that seemed a given a year ago.
Then there is Spygate. In league circles, though there is little respect for what Bill Belichick did, there is also a sense that Mangini is a hypocrite. As Belichick's former defensive coordinator in New England, many NFL power-brokers feel, he surely was aware of the long-standing practice of taping other teams' signals. For him to then turn in Belichick for the same offense, they believe, was a bit of an audacious move.
That's the charitable view. Some coaches simply regard Mangini as a rat-fink.
Tony Soprano most certainly would not approve.