The New York Jets sit at 5-7 with four weeks left to play. Following three straight blowout losses, the team and the fan base are understandably disheartened. After a 5-4 start, with wins over the juggernaut Patriots and Saints, playoff pipe dreams no longer seemed so farfetched. However, those miraculous wins have mislead the organization and its followers. The 2013 season was always a rebuilding year. It was always about the future, seeing what the team had to build on. The Jets surprised people. The Jets surprised themselves. However, forgetting the blueprint can be dangerous and set the franchise back years. With that in mind, it is time to change the conversation. This offseason, not this season, will go a long way into determining the Jets fate for the foreseeable future.
The New York Jets could have as many as twelve draft picks in 2014. As they stand right now, the Jets have $25,861,726 in cap space. With expected cuts of Santonio Holmes, Mark Sanchez, and Antonio Cromartie, the Jets should have $51,911,726 in cap space. That gives them a lot of room to work with.
This is a four part series. It will cover four offensive positions of need (QB, WR, TE, & G), free agent scouting reports, and draft options. This week, we’ll start with quarterback.
Geno Smith was drafted with the expectation that he could be the Jets franchise quarterback. Four game winning drives, sideline poise, and a big arm gave hope. However, since the Atlanta game, Smith has thrown one touchdown to eleven interceptions. Over that time, he has not completed double digit passes in a game. In fact, in the last four weeks, he has completed twenty-nine passes total. In that same time, Chad Henne of the Jacksonville Jaguars has completed eighty-six.
Granted, the Jets offensive talent around the quarterback is abysmal. David Nelson, Greg Salas, and Josh Cribbs are great role players for a team. The Jets are trotting them out as starters. Santonio Holmes and Jeremy Kerley have been injured. Stephen Hill has shown nothing. Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell have proven they can be the future at running back, but with no passing threat, teams are stacking the box against them. This problem is exacerbated by the offensive line playing like four turnstiles and a sieve.
Smith is being asked to do too much. Any quarterback put in a position where his receivers can’t gain separation and he faces a defensive line jail break every down is being set up to fail. However, these issues are not excuses for Smith’s overthrows and poor-decisions.
If Geno Smith is not the answer, the 2014 offseason gets complicated. The Jets badly need skill position players and it is never smart to reach for a quarterback. However, you cannot win in the NFL when your passer gets seven points for every eleven turnovers.
This leaves the Jets with three realistic options:
1) The team could load up on wide receiver, tight end, and guard in free agency and the first two rounds of the draft. They could then add a stop-gap quarterback in the later rounds or free agency. This method essentially builds the team around the quarterback position and expects to insert a franchise player when one becomes available.
2) The team could draft a quarterback in the first round of the draft with the expectation he would be their franchise player. This would require the team to use their extensive cap space to load up on the skill positions. The hope would be that the free agent spending improves offense enough to support the rookie passers growth.
3) The team could go all out and sell the farm for a big name, free agent quarterback or look to complete a trade. This would likely leave them little monetary flexibility to build the offense around him. Other upgrades would need to come from the draft.
Many will be clamoring for option two come draft time. However, the organization cannot continue throwing young quarterbacks into the fire that is the Jets offense. Without good pass protection and skill players, they will continue to fail.
Damien Woody and 109 of his Twitter followers agree:
Consider the case of Sam Bradford. Coming out of college, Bradford had all the potential in the world. He was the consensus number one overall pick and was expected to turn the Rams franchise around. Four years of Austin Pettis, Daryl Richardson, and the Rams offensive line later, Bradford’s job security is in question.
How about a counter example? When Matt Flynn stepped in for Aaron Rodgers in 2011, he threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns. Fast forward two years. That game earned Flynn starting opportunities in Seattle and Oakland. However, without Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones, Flynn failed to earn his spot.
The über-talented Bradford was given nothing to work with, and struggled. The boy-wonder Matt Flynn looked great with a supporting cast and flopped in an environment less conducive to success. The raw truth is, unless you’re quarterback’s name is Manning, Brady, or Brees, an NFL team needs both a good quarterback and a good supporting cast to have consistent success.
Whichever option the Jets chose, this coming offseason features this crop of quarterbacks in free agency and the draft:
Jay Cutler: Cutler has all the talent in the world and will most likely demand a massive contract. Cutler doesn’t miss many throws and fits the ball in very tight windows. Cutler’s arm strength is tops in the NFL. He knows how powerful his arm is and sometimes throws “fade away” passes. In other words, he will be under pressure, falling backward, and not step into the pass. This tendency is just one example of Cutler’s biggest flaw, decision making. One of the most tantalizing aspects of Cutler’s game (for the Jets) is how he made do with a receiving corps of Johnny Knox, Earl Bennet, and Kellen Davis.
Michael Vick: Somehow, at 33, Vick can still outrun most of the league. However, that and his unnatural arm strength are where the positives end. Vick struggles to complete passes under pressure and will chose to take off rather than move the pocket. He struggles to read defenses and is prone to bad decisions. His frequent injuries make Vick a risky choice as a franchise quarterback. However, Vick can make all the throws and has won in the league. As far as competition for the starting gig goes, the Jets could do much worse.
Jake Locker: Arm strength is not a problem for Locker. He displays great passing mechanics but could stand to refine his footwork. However, he does use his feet well to create passing windows and is a good athlete when he decides to take off. Locker’s biggest issue is accuracy. He will make that spectacular pass downfield but, too often, will miss the wide open player. Before having his season derailed by injury, Locker showed marked improvement in play and could prove an intriguing option for quarterback needy teams in 2014.
Chad Henne: Henne has surprisingly good mechanics. He shows great footwork and a fluid release. Henne does telegraph his throws, however, which results in too many pass breakups and turnovers. He has above average arm strength but often puts too much air under his throws. This affects his accuracy and results in many missed opportunities.
Draft: Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Hundley, Johnny Manziel, Tahj Boyd, Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron
*TOJ will have extensive draft coverage later in the season/into the offseason. Keep an eye out for scouting reports on the 2014 rookie class!
Keep an eye out for the remainder of the series on free agent options at wide receiver, guard, and tight end, complete with scouting reports!