This off-season will provide General Manager John Idzik an opportunity to make his imprint on the New York Jets. Flush with cap space (likely somewhere between 40-50 million dollars) and draft picks (likely 12 total after compensatory selections are handed out), Idzik will have the assets to address the team’s many roster holes. Let’s take an initial inventory of the Jets needs, position by position and examine how they could potentially attack their weaknesses.
Geno Smith had an overall rough rookie season. The numbers don’t lie (55.8 completion percentage, 12 touchdown passes, 21 interceptions). However, Smith played substantially better in the team’s final four games, showing an ability to bounce back after a brutal stretch of football in the middle of the season. In the season’s final quarter, Smith protected the football, showed an increased willingness to use his legs (he finished with a highly impressive 366 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns) and a better ability to read defenses. It is fair to think that with a full off-season with the same offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, along with improved skill position players around him he will take major strides in year two. It would take a surprising turn of events for him not to be under center in week 1 of the 2014 season.
That being said, the Jets must improve their depth chart at quarterback. Smith needs to be pushed in training camp by a proven veteran and potentially another draft pick. I don’t anticipate the Jets adding a quarterback in the first round unless somebody falls into their laps at #18 that they simply cannot pass on. However, I think quarterback will be looked at long and hard in the middle of rounds, especially with all the extra draft picks. As for veterans, we aren’t sure exactly what the market will shape up to being yet but players like Matt Schaub, Mike Vick and Chad Henne will be out there, along with potentially Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel and maybe even Jake Locker.
Mark Sanchez is likely going to be cut before March 25th (when 2 million of his contract becomes guaranteed). Some people have raised the notion of him restructuring and coming back. I just don’t see it. I think the ship has sailed on both sides of the relationship and it is time for him to move on, which I think the Jets new front office will happily oblige. Matt Simms should be back in camp competing for a roster spot with a draft pick or an undrafted free agent, while David Garrard could be back with the team as a coach in 2014.
Santonio Holmes will be cut sooner, rather than later and likely walk into a very limited free agent marketplace for his services. The Jets would be wise to extend Jeremy Kerley now before he enters the final season of his contract. Kerley is a consistently productive player who showed good chemistry with Smtih. He can be lethal in the slot with some actual weapons on the outside of him. David Nelson will be back next year, likely as a rotational 3rd/4th receiver. He played well for the Jets in 2013 and is a valuable, reliable receiver to keep on the depth chart. Stephen Hill will be back but should be doing nothing more than competing for a roster spot or a limited role as a deep threat. Do not be surprised if the Jets attempt shopping him around for a late round draft pick or another receiver. This front office and offensive coordinator didn’t draft him. Similar to how Jonathan Baldwin and AJ Jenkins were moved last summer, the Jets may simply cut bait on the so far disappointing second round pick.
Clyde Gates and Greg Salas could be brought back into camp next year but I wouldn’t maintain any type of expectations for either. The Jets need to aggressively attack their weakness at receiver this off-season, both through free agency and the draft. Hakeem Nicks, Anquan Boldin, Golden Tate, Eric Decker, James Jones and Jeremy Maclin headline an intriguing and reasonably talented group of free agents. The Jets would be wise to avoid overpaying for Nicks, who has injury and attitude baggage. Maclin may be able to be had on the cheap, since he is coming off surgery and is already familiar with Marty Mornhinweg’s offense. Decker is likely to return to Denver and it is fair to wonder how he’d produce away from Demaryius Thomas and Peyton Manning. Tate or Jones deserve serious consideration, as both could be productive starters for the next 3-5 seasons, particularly Tate who is coming off a career year in Seattle.
The NFL Draft is loaded with talent at wide receiver this year. Expect many mock drafts to link the Jets to a first round name like Mike Evans of Texas A&M or Marquise Lee of USC. While it is always smart to stick with taking the best player on the board, regardless of the position, the Jets do need to give a little bit of priority to wide receiver and tight end. They cannot continue to function with groups of retreads and substandard talents rotating through at both positions. We’ve said this before and haven’t seen it come to fruition but considering their quantity of picks, it would be very surprising to see the Jets not add at least two receivers this April.
If you don’t see a mock draft with the Jets taking a wide receiver with the 18th overall pick, it will likely have them taking a tight end. The position needs to be addressed and it would be nice to provide a young talent at the position to Geno Smith or whoever is under center. Kellen Winslow Jr could be brought back on a one year deal and he has value in a situational role. It is time to let Jeff Cumberland walk, considering he hasn’t progressed as a blocker and is still inconsistent catching the football. Zach Sudfeld is a more intriguing young tight end to keep around and could be a valuable role player next season. Again, we’ve said this before and been let down but do not be surprised if the Jets spend one of their first few draft picks on a tight end.
In free agency, maybe a veteran like Brandon Pettigrew or Fred Davis could be considered for depth. I wouldn’t waste your time getting excited about JImmy Graham. He isn’t going anywhere.
The Jets offensive line had their share of struggles throughout the 2013 season. Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson had an inconsistent year and is no longer a top tier player at his position. Nick Mangold was relatively steady but is also no longer the All-Pro caliber player he was from 2008-2010. Rookie Brian Winters finished the season strong but had a very rough middle patch of the season. However, it should be remembered that he was a tackle at a small school in college and missed most of training camp and the pre-season with injuries. He should improve substantially with a full off-season under his belt at his new position. Willie Colon gave the Jets 16 solid starts at the other guard spot. Austin Howard was the star of the group in 2013 and earned himself a new contract from the Jets, which should be one of John Idzik’s first orders of business this off-season.
Despite their struggles, expecting any type of major overhaul is probably unrealistic. Colon tore his biceps in the Jets week 17 win, which may actually help the Jets get him back on another short term, affordable contract. If Winters takes the strides he should this off-season, he will likely be the opening day starter at one guard spot. Ferguson may be approached about restructuring his deal but ultimately the money sunk into him and Mangold basically guarantee their return in 2014. As previously mentioned, Howard is looking at a new long term contract from the team.
The Jets would be wise to add insurance at guard by examining low-cost players with some starting experience. A few names to watch could be Travelle Wharton, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah. However, it wouldn’t be shocking if the Jets didn’t just return their five starting lineman but also three of their backups. The team invested draft picks on Oday Aboushi and Will Campbell last year and kept them on the 53 man roster all season, the same goes for Ben Ijalana who was signed off waivers right before the regular season. Considering the pick and time investment, it is reasonable to assume the Jets think they have long term potential to be both backups and starters. Dalton Freeman was also promising in training camp last year before suffering a season ending injury. Ultimately, the Jets top 9 or 10 offensive lineman may not look that different in 2014 than they did in 2013.
The Jets first move this off-season should be giving Muhamamd Wilkerson a long term contract extension, so he avoids playing in the final year of his contract. Wilkerson was 2nd team All-Pro this season and is the team’s best overall player. With the cap space available, the Jets should properly reward him.
Damon Harrison, Quinton Coples, Kenrick Ellis and Sheldon Richardson will all be back next season on their current deals, to help round out one of the league’s best defensive lines…if not the league’s best. Leger Douzable is a free agent and had a very nice season for the team in 2013. The Jets will likely attempt to bring him back but it is fair to wonder if another team will offer him more money and more extensive playing time. If the Jets do bring Douzable back, they could consider floating Ellis in a potential trade. With the emergence of Harrison, Ellis has seen his role shrunk but remains an intriguing talent who could easily start elsewhere.
The Jets have drafted a defensive lineman in the first round the past three seasons and we are willing to bet the streak is broken this season.
The Jets are still need of a full time pass rushing outside linebacker. Quinton Coples is listed as an outside linebacker but is really more of a defensive lineman in the Jets scheme. Calvin Pace had a career year statistically in 2013 and is a valuable player but obviously isn’t the long term answer. It is likely Pace will be back on a one year deal, perhaps for a little more than the minimum after he locked up 10 sacks last season. Antwan Barnes will be back from injury but isn’t more than a situational pass rusher. It will be interesting to see if the Jets make a run for either Brian Orakpo or Jason Worilds of the Steelers, especially with the amount of money they have free. The Jets are also in a position to consider pass rush options off the edge with one of their early draft picks, if not one of their extra mid-round compensatory selections.
At inside linebacker, David Harris is overpaid but had a nice bounce back season in 2013. He still struggles in coverage but is solid against the run and in defending the screen game. The Jets may approach him about a restructure but he will back as a starter in 2014. Demario Davis had a decent sophomore season but similar to Harris is a liability in coverage. He is likely to be back as a starter but the Jets may invest a mid-round pick on another inside linebacker, if not explore adding a little depth in free agency.
This is an interesting position for the Jets this off-season. Without question, Antonio Cromartie will be released at his current price tag (about 9 million). Yet, there is a chance they could bring him back on a restructured deal and hope that with a healthy hip, he will improve in 2014. There is talent on free agent market if the Jets want to go a different direction. Brent Grimes, Alterraun Verner, Aqib Talib are top level free agents who could step into starting roles immediately opposite of Dee Milliner. The Jets could also target second or three tier options like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Vontae Davis, or Sam Shields to compete with Cromartie if he is brought back on a cheaper deal.
Kyle Wilson is likely to be back as the nickel corner and Darrin Walls is talented player who deserves a longer look from the coaching staff. Overall, the Jets would be wise to add another veteran to their group of corners and consider using one of their extra mid-round picks for a developmental player.
The Jets are overdue to make a big investment at this position. Both Jarius Byrd and TJ Ward are Pro-Bowl talents who will be on the market and the team should consider making a run at one of them. Antonio Allen played well enough to merit a starting job in 2014 but the team could do better than Dawan Landry and a beaten down Ed Reed playing major reps. There is a push among some to bring Reed back because of his influence on the young defensive backs, particularly Dee Milliner. However, can Rex Ryan help himself? Reed shouldn’t be playing more than 10-20 snaps per game this point of his career and if he is around, can Rex properly give the starting job to Allen and use Reed in that manner? I wouldn’t bet on Reed being back but crazier things have happened. Regardless, it is time to invest at safety and stop starting retreads from the Jaguars and Texans.
Nick Folk has more than earned a multi-year commitment from the Jets, which will likely be one of their first moves this off-season. Ryan Quigley will likely be pushed by another punter in camp next year, which is fine. Tanner Purdum is a steady long snapper. The Jets need to figure out their kick and punt returning situation, which was a bit of a mess this season. Let’s see what they come up with in the draft and if nobody is stepping up in the summer, they could also bring Josh Cribbs back on a low cost deal.
1.0 Approach To The Off-Season (What I’d do, not necessarily what I think will happen)
– Cut Santonio Holmes
– Cut Mark Sanchez
– Cut Antonio Cromartie
– Extend Muhammad WIlkerson
– Re-Sign Austin Howard
– Extend Jeremy Kerley
– Re-Sign Nick Folk
– Re-Sign Leger Douzable
– Re-Sign Calvin Pace
– Explore trading Kenrick Ellis for a 5th or 6th round pick.
– Explore trading Stephen Hill for another team’s struggling young project receiver. Nick Toon of the Saints?
– Let Jeff Cumberland and Ed Reed walk.
– Gear up to make a big free agency run at Golden Tate or Jeremy Maclin, TJ Ward or Jarius Byrd. Also prepare to pursue for Jason Worilds and Vontae Davis. Bring Antonio Cromartie back on a low cost deal. Explore adding a low cost guard with starting experience.
– Add a veteran quarterback with previous starting experience, potentially Matt Schaub (depending on price), Shaun Hill or Chad Henne.
– Stick with taking the best player available in the draft, with a priority on locating a TE and WR in the early rounds.