The New York Jets are about to embark on a critical offseason. General Manager John Idzik is armed with ample cap space and an anticipated 8-12 selections in the upcoming NFL Draft. Rex Ryan is back for his sixth season as the team’s head coach. Here at Turn On The Jets, we were lucky enough to gather the opinions of the following to discuss the direction of the team:
- Joel Corry - Former sports agent and NFL salary expert, who writes for the National Football Post and CBS Sports
- Jason Fitzgerald - Founder of NY Jets Cap and Over The Cap, an expert on NFL contracts and the salary cap
- Jason McIntyre - Editor-In-Chief of The Big Lead, who has previously written for ESPN and CBS
- Brian Bassett - Editor of The Jets Blog
- Corey Griffin - Sports Producer for NBC Sports and columnist at The Jets Blog
- Chris Lopresti - WFAN Jets Reporter and Sports Anchor
- Kristian R. Dyer - New York Jets reporter for Metro NY
The discussion is divided into four categories: New York Jets Current Roster, Free Agency, Quarterback and the NFL Draft. I included brief thoughts at the bottom of each category. A huge thank you to everybody who contributed their insight.
NEW YORK JETS CURRENT ROSTER
In terms of their own free agents, who should the Jets prioritize bringing back and what type of financial commitment are they looking at?
Jason Fitzgerald – Austin Howard is probably the only free agent the Jets have that they should go out of their way to extend. Right tackle is not an expensive position but one of increasing importance. My guess is he would cost less than $4 million a year. If they don’t intend to bring him back then they better have designs on finding a better player in free agency. I also wouldn’t be against them bringing back Willie Colon and Jeff Cumberland as long as both are around $1.5 million for the year.
Do you think there will be any “surprise” cuts from the team this offseason or players quietly floated on the trading block that fans wouldn’t expect?
Jason Fitzgerald - I think if a team came calling for David Harris the Jets would definitely jump at the opportunity. Rex certainly seems to like Harris, but Harris will be a free agent after the 2014 season and there is no guarantee he will come back. The one way out in left field is Nick Mangold. Because of the changing dynamics of the salaries being paid for Centers, Mangold has slowly become one of the more overpaid players in the NFL. His contract will most likely require a renegotiation in 2015 so if a team made a great offer I think the Jets would be crazy to not listen.
How do you think the contract situation between the team and Muhammad Wilkerson will play out?
Joel Corry - There isn’t a sense of urgency for a new deal because of the 2015 option year, which the Jets will exercise, & Wilkerson’s reluctance to holdout. After the option is exercised, Wilkerson is one year away from being in a contract year. Wilkerson hasn’t been materially affected by the rookie wage scale. Jahvid Best’s deal as the 30th pick in 2010 was $10.6M over 5 years (worth a max of $12.7M). Best had better cash flow but Wilkerson will be around $13.5M in total compensation if he plays out the option year (expected to be around $6.62M). I think a new deal is more likely before the start of training camp in 2015 than this year.
TOJ Thoughts - Very good and important point to remember from Joel about the lack of urgency on Wilkerson’s deal. The Mangold thought from Jason is an intriguing one but I think the Jets would have a tough time finding suitors with his current contract. I do think 2014 will be David Harris’ last season in New York.
Who do you think is the highest profile veteran the Jets will target in free agency?
Brian Bassett - Other than QB I think the biggest name will come at wide receiver. Eagles free agent Jeremy Maclin makes the most sense as a fit for the Jets as they need more options in the passing game and the Jets might roll out the red carpet for the Eagle as he comes off his 2013 season ending injury on the cheap. Also, don’t discount the Jets jumping in for an aging veteran player who gets cut in the coming weeks like RB Chris Johnson or edge rusher DeMarcus Ware.
Corey Griffin - Are we assuming Jimmy Graham doesn’t make it to free agency? Taking that all-but-certainty into account, many would say wide receiver, but I’ll throw a wild card into the discussion. DeMarcus Ware. This is obviously contingent on Ware being released by the Cowboys, but he’d be a bigger “name” than any of the mid-level receivers on the market. There’s the link to the Ryan family (Rob was his DC in Dallas for a year) and Ware represents the type of player the Jets been lacking for years. Plus, due to injury concerns and offset language, he may not come at the cost that someone like Eric Decker would.
At what position do you think the Jets can get the best value in free agency?
Jason Fitzgerald - I think there could be value at wide receiver this year. While the quality may not seem extremely high, I feel that the league has to begin pulling back on the spending at the position. That is exactly what happened at cornerback in 2013 and enabled teams to get pretty good players at bargain rates. Safety is a deep position this year and when that happens sometimes it can lead to some good players being lost in the shuffle and you can get them on favorable terms. If the Jets dont grab one of the top FA Safeties they might find a nice bargain player here to fit into their rotation.
What veterans would you prefer the team pursue in free agency?
Jason McIntyre - The Jets needs are clearly WR, TE, OL, CB, S, LB. Plenty of those players can be had in free agency. Among the guys I’d target or consider:
WR: Tate, Boldin, Maclin, Cooper, Danario Alexander (the latter is worth a longshot flier)
OL: Geoff Schwartz, Eugene Monroe
CB: Alterraun Verner, Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes
S: Donte Whitner, Jairus Byrd
I’d love Boldin: The Jets need a tough, over-the-middle receiver and Whitner, who is one of the toughest defensive backs in the NFL and fits Rex Ryan’s style. If they managed to land those two, PLUS Schwartz and Maclin on a 2-year deal, I think that’s an impressive start to the offseason. That way, they could target DBs, a TE, and maybe one more WR in the draft.
Hypothetically, if the Jets were to pursue the following players, what type of contract are they looking at: Jairus Byrd, Golden Tate, Emmanuel Sanders, Jon Asamoah, Jason Worilds?
Joel Corry - Jairus Byrd: Assuming he isn’t franchised for a second time by the Buffalo Bills at $8,299,600, Byrd will look to top Dashon Goldson’s deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($41.25M/5 years/$22M guaranteed/$26M in the first three years).
Golden Tate: We’ll see how serious Tate is about a hometown discount. I would look for a multi-year deal in the $7.25M per year/$18M guaranteed/$22.5M first three years if representing him. Robert Meachem signing for $25.5M/4 years ($14M guaranteed) with San Diego after a 2011 season of 40 catches, 620 yards & 6 TDs would be a primary reason for setting that asking price.
Emmanuel Sanders: I would look for upper echelon #2 WR money with the Brian Hartline neighborhood ($6-$6.25M per year/$12.5M guaranteed) as my target.
Jon Asamoah: Losing his starting job to Geoff Schwartz is a little troubling. The Matt Slauson ($3.2M per year)/Donald Thomas ($3.5M per year) range seems appropriate. There are enough teams with interior OL needs (Falcons, Giants, Redskins, etc.) that he might exceed those deals.
Jason Worilds: Worilds could benefit from Brian Orapko re-signing or getting franchised. He becomes the top rush LB if Orapko is off the market. I would look to top Paul Kruger’s deal ($40.5M/5 years/$20M guaranteed/$27M in the first 3 years) as his agent.
TOJ Thoughts - I haven’t been shy about about expressing my preference of Tate at wide receiver and not being hesitant about paying big money for Byrd. I don’t think it is reasonable to expect both to occur but I’d be more than comfortable paying the rate Joel mentioned for one of them and then spending on cheaper players after that. I don’t disagree with Jason’s thoughts on Boldin – he’d be a terrific veteran addition here – but I wonder if he’d be hesitant to join a team that isn’t considered a true Super Bowl contender at this stage of his career.
What veteran would you prefer the team pursued at quarterback?
Brian Basset – If the Jets are going to go after a veteran they might as well go after someone who has a chance at starting … unlike say David Garrard. That leads me to the Michael Vick option. I am a proponent of having two viable starting options at quarterback and while I don’t think Vick can stay healthy for 16 games anymore, having a player of his abilities either on the bench or as the starter could help boost the Jets offense one way or another.
Corey Griffin – I’ve given this a lot of thought, but I keep coming back to Michael Vick. The links to Mornhinweg, the ability to start and (hopefully) win right away and the headline factor are all alluring. If Vick is interested in a one-year, show-me deal or a multi-year deal masquerading as the former, then he’s the best option. Injuries aside, Vick is bar the most talented option in a free agent QB class devoid of it. I see no reason to give up assets for Kirk Cousins or to sign a backup-in-waiting like Rex Grossman or Chad Henne. Even Shaun Hill, the best of the bad other options, isn’t going to win you more than seven or eight games. If the Jets are determined to win next year while also giving Geno legitimate competition, it’s Vick or nothing.
What type of production do you expect from Geno Smith in 2014?
Chris Lopresti – I think the realistic and level-headed expectation here needs to be “steady improvement”. We all saw with our own eyes that it was a very up & down rookie campaign for Geno but it certainly ended on a high note which provides reason for optimism.
He definitely made encouraging strides throughout the season and you can’t discount the fact that he was Quarterbacking an offense that lacked explosion/play-makers. It seems pretty clear that the Jets are committed to upgrading their offensive personnel this off-season so I’m anxious to see Geno operate when he’s surrounded by better players. It will also be year two in Marty Mornhinweg’s system so that should help Geno from a comfort and knowledge standpoint.
Production-wise, I’d certainly like to see him cut down on the turnovers. That was a glaring negative in 2013 and needs to be improved. I’ll set Geno’s goals at 3,500 yards passing, 400 yards rushing, 20 passing touchdowns, 5 rushing touchdowns and 15 total turnovers. Those are moderate improvements across the board except for the passing TD’s category (he only had 12 in ’13). I would expect the Jets to employ a much more aggressive passing attack in 2014 so that accounts for the increased expectation.
Kristian R. Dyer - I’ve been rather critical of Geno, in terms of his development last season and the outlook for the future. I’m not sure he is a long-term solution and I’m not sure if he is the starter next year but you look at his performance over the final month of the season and you seem someone who has earned the right to challenge for the starting position next year. Not trying to be negative – just that Geno has to show more this year and I see stumbling blocks with his development into a top 20 NFL quarterback.
He was more composed and went with his instincts over the final four games. He didn’t try to force things as much to his first-read. There was definite improvement. That’s what I like and those were good, much needed strides.
Where I’m concerned is his pocket presence – he still watches the rush way too much. In college, the Air Raid Offense masked his deficiencies. In the NFL, he doesn’t have that luxury. So much of his success the final quarter of the season was based on dump passes, routes over the middle. If defenses can clamp down on that in 2014, his development will take a hit. Cut off those routes and it could be trouble as his deep ball was erratic this year.
I’m not sold on him being the Jets franchise quarterback moving forward, but I am sold on the fact that he has the tools to develop. If he can improve that pocket presence and not throw from his toes, I think that will help. If he continues to throw the ball away in tight spots, as he did late in the year, that can only help as well. Did he take a step forward at the tail end of the season? Yes he did. But the job is still very much open.
With that being said, his final four games – to me at least – showed that he has earned the right to compete for the starting job.
TOJ Thoughts - On the field, I like the addition of Vick but will his previous relationship issues with Marty Mornhinweg would prevent him from coming here? Outside of him, I’d be content with Chad Henne or Shaun Hill as veteran additions. I do think Geno will take strides in 2014 and be a competent starter for this team. I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t under center to start and finish the season, barring injury.
It is early but who are two or three players you think are reasonable targets for the Jets at #18?
Jason McIntyre – In my last two mock drafts I had the Jets taking Mike Evans, the Texas A&M receiver. As we get closer to free agency, and I’m able to look closer at the draft’s deep receiving corps, I’m starting to wonder: Would it make more sense to grab a OT at 18, or perhaps a TE? I don’t think there’s a safety to be had at 18; the cornerback depth in the draft is excellent. Could Taylor Lewan of Michigan or Zach Martin of Notre Dame be an option? Obviously, Eric Ebron, the UNC TE would be a very good option if he’s available.
Let’s see what happens in free agency. If the Jets get nobody at receiver, I think you’ve got to take one in the 1st round (preferably Evans; not nearly as enamored with Lee).
Brian Bassett – We’ll keep it with pass-catchers and give you a trio from unlikely to be there to outright reach. First would be Mike Evans. Evans has some work to do as a pass-catcher but is a big aggressive receiver who can fight for a pass or make a downfield catch. Tight end Eric Ebron is the top prospect in this class and can be an effective vertical threat for an offense looking for more options. Lastly, Jordan Matthews seems to have fallen out of favor as a first round talent, but while his athleticism might not shine, the distant relative of Jerry Rice is a football player first and foremost.
Corey Griffin - I’d love to see them grab Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans – a big, athletic target that excels at high-pointing the ball and winning in the air (Still waiting, Stephen Hill). He’s the kind of target we thought Hill would end up being for Geno Smith, a player who could “win” some of those toss-ups Geno was prone to throw. Also not to be discounted – Evans would be an instant red-zone threat, which the Jets desperately need because at some point teams are going to figure out Geno’s just trying to run it in.
Eastern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward also intrigues me. The Jets are desperate for a big-time safety and I’m a firm believer in the theory of “building down the middle.” From QB all the way to safety, the great teams are built with that idea in mind. Plus, Ward’s coverage skills are strong enough that he can move to the slot, which would fit into Rex’s beloved scheme flexibility.
And while a lot of people are predict UNC TE Eric Ebron to the Jets, I’m not a huge fan of first-round tight ends. They can be a bit of a gamble and they can be found in later rounds. I would love for the Jets to take OLB Dee Ford from Clemson. As I wrote earlier, they desperately need an edge-rushing presence and Ford is the kind of absolute freak that could make Rex’s defense frightening next season. And as we saw with Seattle, you can never have too much defense.
Is this the season the Jets finally go offense in the first round?
Chris Lopresti – Simply stated, yes. I know it’s still very early and there’s no way to predict what the draft board will look like by the time the Jets make their first selection but I really think this is the year they go offense and, more specifically, WR or TE.
I know some are opposed to that strategy BECAUSE this is such a deep offensive draft and there will likely be plenty of value available in the middle rounds. However, the Jets really need to upgrade Geno Smith’s weapons and I think you do that with multiple selections and players who bring different skill sets to the table. We know Marty Mornhinweg likes to get creative with his formations and play-calling so you need to provide him with as much versatility/talent as possible.
However, we’ll probably need to revisit this question after the dust has settled on free agency. If the Jets make some major offensive upgrades via FA, they might not be as desperate to go “offense” with their first draft pick.
Kristian Dyer - They almost have to, with Rex Ryan saying he wants to bring in playmakers. It isn’t the road I’d go, however. My preference would be to look offensive line, maybe a left tackle and move ‘Brick’ into the interior. I know that isn’t popular, but ‘Brick’ was getting killed off the edge this year and a move inside can mask that problem and perhaps extend his career.
It would be hard to pass up a left tackle like Zack Martin if he’s available at No. 18. The line may not be a pressing issue, but wide receiver can be addressed in free agency and tight end in the middle rounds of this draft. I think Martin is a cornerstone player at tackle. Then Winters can be moved to right guard.
I’m not thrilled with what would likely be available in the middle first round at wide receiver or tight end. I think Marqise Lee is a reach at that spot for wide receiver and I have questions about tight end Eric Ebron’s hands.
Value can be had in the middle rounds. I like Paul Richardson out of Colorado, although there are injury concerns there and Rutgers Brandon Coleman could come in and be another big target wide receiver, but he must work on his separation.
Of course, there could be some good talent at linebacker that might fall there, and the Jets in their 3-4 might want to get a bit younger at that spot. It would be hard to pass up a C.J. Mosley if he falls to the Jets. I know defense might not be the pick the Jets want, but John Idzik has to be looking at that Seahawks defense and thinking that his Jets unit has some intriguing pieces of their own. There’s also a couple young safeties who could work well with the Jets scheme
TOJ Thoughts - As of now, I’d be very pleased with Mike Evans or Eric Ebron at #18 but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jets strongly considered a safety or linebacker if the board breaks a certain way. This is a deep draft for wide receivers and they may be able to get good value in the mid-rounds when it comes to pass catchers.