The New York Jets have had inconsistent play at the safety position since Rex Ryan took over as head coach. The problem is magnified because they play in the same division as the New England Patriots, who have the best tight end in the league, Rob Gronkowski, and another top ten tight end in the league in Aaron Hernandez. It isn’t just New England who attacks the middle of the field on the Jets, any team with an athletic tight end smartly stays away from the outside of the field, where the Jets have Darrelle Revis, Antontio Cromartie, and Kyle Wilson and instead attacks their safeties.
Currently the Jets have Eric Smith under contract and nobody else. (Sorry Tracy Wilson and Gerald Alexander, until you play a down for the team, I can’t count you). The free agent market is thin, as it is currently headlined by LaRon Landry, Dwight Lowery, and Reggie Nelson. Jim Leonhard and Brodney Pool were with the team last year but both are free agents now as well.
In the draft, Mark Barron is considered the top safety by a good margin. His recent double sports hernia has prevented him from working out thus far, keeping his positioning on most draft boards in somewhat of a flux. He will be available at #16 but might slide far enough where the Jets could consider trading up their second round pick to snag him in the back end of the first round, or just trading back in the first round to take him. Harrison Smith, Markelle Martin, Antonio Allen, and Brandon Taylor could all be 2nd or 3rd round options for the Jets at safety if they don’t end up with Barron.
So, how will the Jets proceed? Brodney Pool most likely isn’t coming back. He can’t stay healthy and hasn’t distinguished himself in the past two years with his play. It would likely be wise to bring Leonhard back on the veteran’s minimum, considering how well he knows the defense. Eric Smith is coming back and if used in the proper role, can be an effective player. Don’t forget how well Smith was playing in 2009 when he was used as a situational player and on special teams. He simply lacks the skill set to be a full time starter.
What that equates to, is that you need two more safeties in a bad way. Smith should be the #3 safety, used in certain packages and as an emergency starter. Leonhard should be the place holder for the rookie the Jets add in one of the first rounds of the draft, helping ease his transition and gradually sliding into a part time/depth player only role. A free agent needs to be brought in who can start immediately or the Jets need to swing a trade for one.
LaRon Landry is a big name that will get people excited. The problem is that he will command a big price tag that comes with durability concerns and questionable coverage skills. In reality, Lowery could be the best option out there. He spent last off-season preparing to be a full time safety and then the Jets traded him to Jacksonville where he took advantage of that off-season by putting together his best year in the NFL. Mike Tannenbaum would have to swallow his pride but bringing Lowery back makes plenty of sense.