Then there's the case of quarterback Ken O'Brien's tired arm. We were assured that it was all right, but it died on him late in the season. Coach Joe Walton gave him a vote of confidence and then benched him. The players scratched their heads.
And there's the matter of money. The Jets have the highest payroll in the NFL. They can sign the big-money guys, but where do they cut costs? At the $150,000-$200,000 level. They play hardball with guys like cornerback Bobby Humphrey, who, besides tying for second in the AFC in kickoff returns, unbelievably tied Klecko for the team lead in sacks with four. Humphrey made $130,000 last year. Two starters, fullback Tony Paige and linebacker Rusty Guilbeau, made even less.
O.K., with all their injuries last year, including a crippler to Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Mehl, the Jets rallied around backup Pat Ryan and were a tick away from beating Cleveland in the playoffs. The going will be rough this year. Backup noseguard Tom Baldwin broke his foot and is out until October. That leaves the spot to 35-year-old Derland Moore, who's the oldest noseguard in football. Mark Gastineau, whose sack production fell to two in 1986, has shed 35 pounds and is down to 255. Teams will run at him. His best place is outside, as a wide pass-rusher. Lacking any kind of rush last fall, the defense finished last in the NFL against the pass and tied for 26th overall.
It might be November before the Jets get themselves together. Before then they face New England, Dallas, Miami, Washington, plus Pittsburgh at Three Rivers. November might be too late.
The Buffalo Bills are spending money. Last year they gave quarterback Jim Kelly an $8 million contract, and he rewarded them by breaking two club passing records and throwing more than twice as many touchdown passes (22) as a trio of Buffalo signal callers did in '85. The Bills paid their top draft selection, linebacker Shane Conlan, $1.7 million over four years, and the contracts given to the second-round picks, cornerbacks Nate Odomes and Roland Mitchell, were generous, too. Conlan is expected to start on the left side and Odomes at right corner. Mitchell could be the nickelback. Veterans' salaries also went up 20% this season. Nice things happen when the club finally turns a profit after three years in the red. Further, the Bills are selling more tickets than ever, thanks to Kelly's magic.
In short, Buffalo is moving in the right direction. The Bills traded down in the first round of the draft, gambling that they would get the guy they wanted all along, which they did, and they got Odomes with the extra choice. New coach Marv Levy brought in Kansas City defensive coordinator Walt Corey and old pro Ted Marchibroda, who will handle the quarterbacks.
Aside from Kelly, superstars are scarce in Buffalo, unless you count defensive end Bruce Smith, who had 15 sacks last year. He has trimmed his body-fat count to a cornerbacklike 7.5%. The major problem, though, is the schedule. Buffalo faces only four teams that had losing records in '86.
Gary Hogeboom is no dope. The former Dallas quarterback came off injured reserve and led the Indianapolis Colts to three straight wins to close out last season, thereby saving himself from having to compete with Vinny Testaverde for a starting job at Tampa Bay. You know who would win that one. Those three victories, the only ones of the season, coincided with the arrival of coach Ron Meyer.
So the Colts will try to do it with Hogeboom; wideout Billy Brooks; a running attack without big-league runners; a line with one star who's established (center Ray Donaldson)', one who's rising (guard Ron Solt) and one who's slipping (tackle Chris Hinton); and a defense that has a good old pro in free safety Nesby Glasgow and a couple of good young ones in end Jon Hand and linebacker Duane Bickett. No. 1 draft choice Cornelius Bennett, the Lawrence Taylor clone out of Alabama, is slated to be the linchpin of the defense, but the team that has made a fortune from its sweetheart deal with Indianapolis had trouble getting up the bucks to sign him. A short history of the Colts' four previous No. 1 picks: In 1986, Hand signed the day before their first exhibition game; in 1985 Bickett signed three days before their first exhibition; in 1984 cornerback Leonard Coleman went to the USFL, returning in '85; in 1983 John Elway was traded to Denver.
That this franchise is thriving financially is one of the great injustices in sports. But even the Indy faithful are starting to get the picture. The Colts went into July with 3,000 season tickets unsold, a far cry from the honeymoon, when 150,000 fans clamored for 60,000 seats. Call it justice.