I know that it has become fashionable to bash the Jets these days and take shots at them no matter what they do, but through two days, free agency 2013 has actually not been even close to the disaster it seems like for the team. Fortunately, it appears as though the team actually has a plan for the first time in a few seasons, and it’s off to a good start. While it may look like the team is being dismantled as free agent after free agent leave for greener pastures, it is actually the best thing that could be happening for this franchise, and in most cases, they already have a replacement on the roster and ready to step up, which is the best way to fill these holes.
It doesn’t really make much sense to me that for the past two seasons, everyone liked to say the Jets had such a poor roster, yet now that those players are leaving, they still want to complain and act like things are spiraling out of control. Let’s take a look at the roster changes for 2013 and debunk some of these myths, while showing that the Jets are not in nearly as bad of a spot as the “experts” will have you believe.
Quarterback – No, the QB position is not ideal right now, as the team is simply unable to move on from Mark Sanchez due to his large price tag for the upcoming season. The team will have to live with him in 2013, but he will have some actual REAL competition for the first time in his career. Jets fans wanted a solid veteran like oh, I don’t know, David Garrard to be brought in, and now he has been. John Idzik also looked at Chase Daniel and is still sniffing around Jason Campbell, so while this spot isn’t perfect, at least we don’t have to think about Tim Tebow or Mark Brunell getting in there. And if Sanchez falters in training camp or early in the season, he’ll be on an extremely short leash. It’s also worth mentioning that the team will have a real offensive coordinator that has had NFL success here for the first time in…well, a very long time.
Running Back – Shonn Greene signed a 3-year/$10 million deal with the Titans, and I’d think most Jets fans would agree that is too much money to pay for what he offers. He wouldn’t be a good fit in Marty Mornhinweg’s new West Coast Offense, so him leaving is not that big of a loss at all. Last year, most would agree Bilal Powell was actually more impressive than Greene down the stretch of the season as they entered into more of a 50/50 split, and he is likely to have a big role next year. The team has also been linked to free agent Mike Goodson, and a running back is likely to be drafted, perhaps as early as the second round (Gio Bernard, Johnathan Franklin?). Joe McKnight is also still hanging around, but at this point it’s unlikely he will ever get a real chance to contribute as a running back. Either way, the position is likely to be improved in 2013, especially as it pertains to the new offensive system. Losing Shonn Greene doesn’t change that.
Wide Receiver – WR was arguable the worst position on the team last season, and was quite possibly the worst corps of receivers in the entire NFL. This year, however, Santonio Holmes will be returning from injury and he has agreed to restructure his contract and save $3.5 million on the cap for this season. Joining him will be their best receiver from a year ago, the rapidly improving Jeremy Kerley. He is entering his third season, which is historically the big breakout year for receivers. Last year’s 2nd-round pick, Stephen Hill, will also be back playing a role, and you’d have to think he will be much-improved heading into his second season. The team won’t be relying on him to start from Day 1 like Mike Tannenbaum foolishly did, as they’ve inquired about free agent Brandon Gibson and are also rumored to be bringing back Braylon Edwards. A top four of Holmes, Kerley, Edwards, and Hill is a major improvement on last year’s group of Kerley, Mardy Gilyard, Jason Hill, and Clyde Gates. That’s just horrible to even think about.
Tight End – Losing Dustin Keller will hurt in the short-term — there’s no denying that — but it’s not like he was around much in 2012 anyway, so it’s hard to consider him a big loss. It’s especially hard when you factor in the amount of money and years it would cost the team to keep him around. Jeff Cumberland actually played pretty well last season and he could hold down the fort for a season if need be. The team is also highly likely to draft a tight end in the middle rounds to be the future answer at the position, which will be a nice addition. The wild card in the group, of course, is former Australian rugby player, Hayden Smith, who was supposedly very impressive in practice last season as he learned the ins-and-outs of American football. He could be a contributor this season. Tight end won’t be the strength of the team, but it also won’t be the wasteland it was a year ago.
Offensive Line – Three positions on the line are solidified and set in stone as D’Brickashaw Ferguson will return as the left tackle, Nick Mangold as the center, and Austin Howard as the right tackle. Brick and Mangold are amongst the best in the league at their positions, and Howard played surprisingly well after the human turnstile, Wayne Hunter, was sent packing last August. As a restricted free agent, he will be tendered and will return.
The guard position is a completely different story though, as both starters — Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore — are free agents. The team has shown no interest in bringing Moore back, and only tepid interest in having Slauson return. Having two new guards in 2013 will be a good thing, not a bad thing, as both Slauson and Moore were average at best and are dead weight. Moore is in a serious decline and Slauson was rotating series with Vlad Ducasse last year. Most Jets fans hardly even noticed when Ducasse was subbed in, which tells me having him in one of the starting roles isn’t as bad as we might think. He graded out positively as a run blocker, won’t cost much on the salary cap, and can easily fill in at either guard spot. Is it ideal? No, of course not. But it isn’t any worse than what the team fielded last year, and he’ll do it for much cheaper, which is important. To fill the other spot, a rookie is likely to be plugged in, or the team may pursue a quality veteran like Geoff Schwartz. Whichever route the team goes, expect the guard play to improve in 2013, not get worse. Those touting Moore as a big loss have clearly not been paying attention the past two seasons.
Defensive Line – This is where people are overreacting the most when it comes to changes the Jets are making. Defensive end Mike DeVito signed with the Chiefs, and while DeVito was a nice run-stuffing role player that any team would like to have, the Jets were simply unable to give him the $4 million per season that the Chiefs did to be a backup. The main reason that DeVito is no big loss is because last year’s 1st-round pick Quinton Coples happens to play the same position and is a far more talented player. Heading into his second season, he’s ready to become a full-time player, and he is going to approach double digit sacks in 2013. The other starter at defensive end, of course, is Muhammad Wilkerson, who is perhaps the best 3-4 DE in the NFL not named JJ Watt. Between those two, there isn’t much room for DeVito, and a backup run-stuffer can be found either in the later rounds of the draft, or cheap through free agency. DeVito leaving so Coples can play more is a major boost for the line.
It’s pretty much the same story at nose tackle, as long-time starter Sione Po’uha was released to save over $3 million on the salary cap, and Kenrick Ellis is poised to take over the starting spot. Po’uha battled back problems all of last season and really had a pretty poor year overall. Ellis, meanwhile, really flashed on the film as Chris Gross noted here on his defensive breakdowns early last season. Had he not suffered a knee injury of his own, he was on his way to a big season. The talented 2011 3rd-round pick was drafted with this year in mind to take the starting job and run with it. At this stage in their careers, he’s a better player than Po’uha and as he gains more experience, along with Coples and Wilkerson, the defensive line is going to become more potent than it has been in years. Depth is always a concern, but with Damon Harrison also in the fold, and Rex Ryan’s ability to find unheralded defensive linemen and coach them up, the defensive line is going to be a major strong point on this team, not take a step back.
Inside Linebackers - David Harris and his albatross contract will be back in 2013, and you have to figure he won’t have back-to-back down years. Last season he was hampered by injuries on the defensive line in front of him, and a tendency to try and do too much, which resulted in him often times being out of position. With more dynamic players around him (read: guys not slow as crap), he should return to being the player he was in 2011. Next to him, Bart Scott has been released, and 2012 3rd-round pick Demario Davis is set to take his spot. This is a move that many people were calling for mid-way through last season, but a combination of Rex’s loyalty to Scott and Davis’s inexperience prevented it from happening. Now Davis is being thrown into the fire, and his speed and coverage ability are going to be a major boost for the linebacking corps as he will be able to play all three downs. Backing them up will be Josh Mauga, the solid run stuffer who is returning from an injury. Davis replacing Scott, combined with Harris returning to form, make this position much better than the unit we saw a season ago.
Outside Linebackers - With Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas being jettisoned, we are witnessing a clear case of addition by subtraction. At this point, I have run out of jokes to be made about them. They are old, slow, and totally washed up. Garrett McIntyre was clearly the best OLB on the team last season and his playing time down the stretch of the season reflected that. Expect him to nail down one of the starting spots heading into 2013. On the other side, it is very likely that the #9 overall draft pick will be used on a pass rushing OLB, whether it’s Jordan, Ansah, Mingo, or Jones, which will finally add some athleticism and speed to the position. I’d also expect another linebacker to be added to the mix in the mid-to-late rounds to add depth. The Jets have been linked to some under-the-radar type free agent OLB’s including the former Cowboy Victor Butler. That would be a very solid signing, although Butler is drawing a lot of interest on the market, and could be a tough get. Should they get him, it will allow whatever rookie that’s brought in to develop at his own pace rather than be thrown into the fire. Ricky Sapp is also still around and he will compete for a roster spot, but he’s far from a lock to make the team, as there will be plenty of competition brought in for playing time.
Overall, I expect the linebacking corps to play much, much better in 2013 than they did in 2012, and the influx of youth and speed across the board is going to be a breath of fresh air for the defense.
Safety - This is the position where the Jets might take a step back in 2013 as both starters from a year ago are not likely to be back. Yeremiah Bell signed with Arizona and Laron Landry is likely to leave as well, which would be bad for continuity. Last year’s primary backup Eric Smith was also released, but that’s another case of addition by subtraction. The other backups were rookies Josh Bush and Antonio Allen, and one or both of them could be in a position to see much more playing time than they did last season. There are a lot of solid safeties on the free agent market, so I’d expect the Jets to wait it out and then catch a solid veteran who is willing to take a lesser deal just to land a starting job as there become less and less job openings out there, much like they did with both Landry and Bell a year ago. In addition, there’s also a very deep safety draft class coming in, so there’s no need for the team to rush into anything or overpay for anyone. I doubt the team will get a pro bowl caliber season from whoever steps in the starting spot like they did with Landry, but don’t forget, Rex was able to put together a top-3 defense with Jim Leonhard and Brodney Pool back there, so it won’t be all bad.
Cornerback - It’s impossible to break down the corner position without knowing what will happen with Darrelle Revis, but even if he is traded (which is likely), the cupboard is not bare. Antonio Cromartie showed himself to be one of the top cover corners in the league last year, and after a rough start even Kyle Wilson played pretty well. There is some depth behind them with Aaron Berry, Isaiah Trufant, Darrin Walls, and Ellis Lankster, but it’s obvious that this position is all about Revis. If he isn’t on the team next year, then the secondary is taking a major blow that can not be fixed in one offseason or with one player. On the other hand, if he is somehow re-signed, the Jets corners are again the best in the NFL and the defense as a whole may be too.
As you can see, the Jets aren’t as depleted from top to bottom as some of the experts out there would have you believe. With a good draft and a few shrewd free agent signings, it’s entirely possible the team will be able to compete this season and not be the 3-win laughingstock the media would like them to be. With a new running back in the fold, a healthy receiving corps, new outside linebackers, and the continued development of players like Coples, Wilkerson, and Ellis on defense, and Powell, Kerley, and Hill on offense, this team might actually surprise you come September. Rex Ryan is a damn good coach, and the players will give him everything they have. And when it comes to quarterback play, well, Sanchez has taken this team far before, right? Maybe I’m crazy, but in the NFL, you just never know…