This week's trade of legendary Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre to the New York Jets should make Packer fans happy and the NFL brass must be elated.
But, how do the Jets fare?
The fans in Packer land should be delighted for several reasons. Favre, the team's all-time leader in many passing categories, as well as the league leader in retirement innuendo, is gone, and the story can now focus on whether the Pack, 13-3 last season, can take that final step and return to the Super Bowl. The Favre situation had become more than a distraction; it was the dominant element of a preseason that should be about looking forward, not back.
When Favre un-retired last month, the Packers made it clear that they would take the PR hit of having their franchise icon for the last 15 years hover around their camp rather than simply release him and watch as he donned the uniform of their rival, the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikes are only some decent quarterbacking away from having legit Super Bowl aspirations of their own, to get them while—at least theoretically—weakening the Packers is every Viking fans' dream.
They must be jumping for joy in the NFL offices. One of sports most recognizable figures is now playing in the biggest market in America. For a league that lacks a franchise in Los Angeles, the second biggest market, having a superstar offensive player in New York provides substantial marketing options. The Jets and New York Giants often win and make the playoffs, but both teams tend to succeed without players who are Madison Avenue naturals.
Suddenly the Jets matter. They are a presence in their city that won't be overshadowed by the Super Bowl champion Giants. Favre jerseys in Jets green are flying off shelves. Even the most casual sports fan in New York City will want to know how Brett and the Jets are doing. In terms of PR value, that's a windfall in exchange for a conditional draft pick, which is all that Favre cost the Jets. But how will this work out on the field?
No team in the NFL has worked harder at making its fans bipolar than the New York Jets. For the last six seasons, the Jets have alternated winning seasons with losing ones; the last four years have been an alternating pattern of 4-12 (2005 and 2007) and 10-6 (2004 and 2006).
The Jets brain trust, GM Mike Tannenbaum and Head Coach Eric Mangini worked hard to address the failures from last season when the team ranked near the bottom of the league in both offensive and defensive categories. Jet QBs were sacked 53 times last season, and they probably rushed twice as many throws. The Jets have two solid young lineman in D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, and the team added perennial Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca and solid veteran tackle Damien Woody to stabilize the line.
The defense was hindered by playing a three-four alignment with personnel better suited for a four-three. The team fixed that with trades of lineman Dewayne Robertson and linebacker Jonathan Vilma and the drafting of linebacker Vernon Gholston and the acquisitions of nose tackle Kris Jenkins and defensive end/linebacker Calvin Pace.
So Favre inherits a team on the rise. Jet quarterbacking has been a mess lately. Incumbent starter Chad Pennington lacks the arm strength to throw the long ball accurately, and youngster Kellen Clemens is understandably erratic (in eight starts, he was sacked 27 times). Favre will remedy both ills. He has receivers that can get open; Jericho Cotchery caught 82 passes last season in a ramshackle offense; Laveranues Coles knows how to find holes in opposing coverage schemes. Favre has made stars out of receivers that were ordinary without No. 4 under center; this role shouldn't faze him.
A lot of announcers have compared this trade to Joe Montana going to Kansas City at the end of his career, but at Football Outsiders, they made the equally apt comparison of Warren Moon going from Houston to Minnesota in 1994. Like Favre, Moon was 38 when he changed teams. He took a moribund Viking offense and made it one of the best in the league. Brett will probably do the same with the Jets.
The track record of veteran quarterbacks changing teams is pretty good; most new teams experience a bump in their offensive production (the improved passing game tends to improve the running game), and Favre is on a team that had identified and addressed their most crucial weaknesses already. The only question is whether he and his new teammates can get on the same page in a mere month before the games start counting. Considering that Favre always seemed to play as if he scratched out the play on the turf during the huddle, I imagine that the new system won't be that hard for him to learn.
Without the upgrade at QB, I'd figured that the Jets would improve to 8-8, but with Favre it's easy to see them returning to rollercoaster peak and going 10-6 and possibly making it to the second weekend of the playoffs where Indianapolis, New England or San Diego will dispatch them. That would mark a very successful season for the Jets. And if they get Favre to mentor Clemens, then the trade will provide windfall benefits into the future as well.
Martin Johnson is a New York writer.