With the news on Thursday that the Jets were parting ways with wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, a team labeled as an “asylum” and “Animal House” by the media has lost one of the quiet leaders of the locker room.
Quiet is something that sticks out in the boisterous Jets locker room, but Cotchery’s impact with the team was nevertheless quite loud.
There was no one as widely respected in the Jets locker room as Cotchery. Quiet and unassuming, he came to work with his lunch pale and never sought the bright lights. When he spoke, which was rare, his teammates always listened. On a team that is good at talking, the ability to grab the volume above the shouts that made great fodder for the back of the newspaper was a rare ability.
It is now an ability that is completely gone from the Jets.
He was never a truly great wide receiver, yet the true measure of the seven-year veteran was not in his catches and touchdown grabs. Instead, Cotchery was undoubtedly one of the core players of the Jets and part of their moral backbone; now there is a void where his locker was located. It is a void the Jets will surely fill on the field with the signing of veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason but off the field, there may be no one ready to step up to take Cotchery’s place.
To paraphrase Simon & Garfunkel: “Where have you gone Jerricho Cotchery? Jets fans turn their lonely eyes towards you.”
It should come as no surprise, however, that the Jets were willing to cut ties with Cotchery as the team has been more than willing to jettison much of its solid-citizen types over the past two years. They have sent the likes of Alan Faneca and Tony Richardson packing during that stretch. The NFL is a tough business and held to a strict salary cap. Faneca last year and Richardson and Cotchery this offseason were victims of the unforgiving cap cuts. It is a near-sighted approach that might win the Jets a battle or two in free agency, but could lose them the war.
To get the prize head coach Rex Ryan has been promising for two years, the Jets need to play 16 regular season games and — if they get a first round bye — win at least two playoff games to get to the Super Bowl. The Jets have done a good job of stockpiling talent, but where will the leadership come from? And if they get to that Super Bowl, who will be that calming, reassuring voice of reason to keep them focused? We know it won’t be Jerricho Cotchery.
The word from Ryan and the Jets players is that leadership abounds in the locker room and isn’t focused in just one spot. Ryan was so impressed with the way Sanchez orchestrated two offseason workouts during the lockout that he named the third-year quarterback a team captain. And then there is the verbose Bart Scott, a natural at one-liners and sound bites. Team owner Woody Johnson praised D’Brickashaw Ferguson for his leadership last summer when he signed the left tackle to a long-term deal.
But who will be willing to step up and provide the leadership when the ups and inevitable downs of the NFL season take their toll on the Jets?
The Jets have signed two star wide receivers in Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress, both of whom have rap sheets and character issues galore. When the going gets tough, Cotchery is the type who gets going. How will Holmes respond? Will Burress speak up during a tough game to get the team focused?
The Jets got the star talent they wanted this offseason, but players who win games don’t always win championships. Can the current talent on this 2011 team not only make plays but make stands on the sidelines and, most importantly, lead by example?
It got a bit tougher on Thursday when the Jets cut Cotchery and lost the backbone of their team.
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.