As soon as the final seconds of the Super Bowl ticked away, analysts and fans across the spectrum began their offseason assessments. For some diehards, the hypotheticals began as soon as their team was out of playoff contention. Though we at Turn On the Jets are already neck deep in offseason content, this article should provide a good overview of where the New York Jets will focus their attention in the coming months.
Priority #1: Wide Receiver
It feels like the conversation around the Jets dearth of pass catching options has been on the table for years now. In case you just close your eyes and cover your ears every time the Jets offense steps on the field, here is a list of who the team has trotted out as “starters” since 2011:
- Santonio Holmes
- Jeremy Kerley
- Plexico Burress
- Derrick Mason
- Stephen Hill
I challenge you to find a successful team whose depth chart has featured an equal lack of talent in the past three seasons. Jeremy Kerley has led the Jets in receiving yards for both 2012 and 2013. He accomplished this as the Jets only legitimate threat and playing out of the slot over 50% of the time. Granted, Kerley is a versatile, reliable playmaker but he cannot carry an offense alone.
A modern day offense needs receiving talent to function. Look at the top five offenses of 2013 and their top receivers:
- Denver: Demaryius Thomas – 92 rec, 1430 yds, 14 TDs
- Philadelphia: DeSean Jackson – 82 rec, 1332 yds, 9 TDs
- Green Bay: Jordy Nelson – 85 rec, 1314 yds, 8 TDs
- New Orleans: Jimmy Graham – 86 rec, 1215 yds, 16 TDs
- San Diego: Keenan Allen – 71 rec, 1046 yds, 8 TDs
Say what you want about the quarterbacks and the systems, but the truth is that the Jets lack the top end talent that makes offenses tick. The last time a Jets receiver broke the 1,000 plateau? Jericho Cotchery in 2007. I grant you, finding a talented receiver (like those listed above) is easier said than done.
The Jets will look for quantity in the receiver market, likely acquiring 2-3 new pass catchers and completely revamping the depth chart. Don’t be surprised to see the Jets sign two free agent receivers, improving both the depth and overall talent level.
For further TOJ reading on the 2014 FA/Draft WR class see:
- New York Jets Countdown to the 2014 Offseason: Wide Receiver
- New York Jets Specific NFL Draft Rankings: Wide Receiver
- New York Jets Free Agency Primer (Wide Receiver)
Priority #2: Tight End
The tight end position faces a similar overhaul in the 2014 offseason. The Jets primary option at tight end, Kellen Winslow, is likely a goner after an uninspiring second half of the season and infamous “Boston Market” incident. Jeff Cumberland, an unrestricted free agent, has had enough opportunities to “take the next step” and floundered. Chris Pantale and Konrad Reuland are passable blockers but barely saw the field and are likely gone as well. Zach Sudfeld showed something in his limited role this season and has earned a spot going into camp. Outside of “Mini-Gronk”, expect all new faces at the tight end position.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that this tight end class (both in free agency and the draft) is lacking. Dennis Pitta is the highlight of the free agents but word is that he won’t be leaving Baltimore. In the draft, Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro are not “elite” prospects but offer intriguing pro potential. After these two, the draft class drops precipitously. Unless the Jets snag Ebron or Amaro in May, look for the team to rely on stop gaps and projects.
Expect the Jets to sign one of the low end free agents (e.g. Brandon Pettigrew or Fred Davis), hope Sudfeld continues to develop, and draft a mid-round prospect (e.g. CJ Fiedorowicz or Crockett Gillmore )if Amaro and Ebron are off the board at 18. Tight end is obviously a glaring need but if the value does not present itself, expect Idzik to look for his coveted low risk, high reward type player (e.g. Willie Colon and Antwan Barnes).
For further TOJ reading on the 2014 FA/Draft TE class see:
Priority #3: Safety
Rex Ryan’s defense has varied so much in his time here that it is hard to say what position he covets most. However, it is clear that while he relies on his safeties to play smart and quarterback the secondary, he does not value the position as much as say, defensive line or cornerback. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, so here is a list of the Jets starting safeties in Rex’s tenure:
- Jim Leonhard
- Kerry Rhodes
- Brodney Pool
- Eric Smith
- LaRon Landry
- Yeremiah Bell
- Dawan Landry
- Antonio Allen
Of those, only LaRon Landry has made the Pro Bowl as a Jet. There is a reason for this. Rex relies on tight, man-to-man coverage from his cornerbacks and prefers to let his safeties play in the box. While some of the above have been effective in the roles they have been assigned, the Jets haven’t had a playmaker on the back end since Rhodes left town.
The top two free agent options are Jarius Byrd and TJ Ward. Both excel in most facets of the game and would prove to be major upgrades in green and white. Byrd will likely demand a massive pay day, Ward less so. There are some who fear that a talent like Byrd will be wasted in Rex’s system that rarely plays a single high safety. Ward, arguably, is a better fit because he excels in the box and hits like a ton of bricks. It also helps that he is above-average in coverage.
Either of these players would provide an immediate upgrade in the Jets secondary and if anybody can scheme them into coverage, its Rex Ryan. Perhaps an upgrade at safety is what this defense needs to be put over the top.
Priority #4: Guard
Some may argue corner. A few may even argue linebacker. Yet, the Jets guard position looks more dire heading into the offseason than many expected. Willie Colon provided consistency and a blue collar mentality in 2013. However, Colon is aging and is consistently responsible for a few gaffs and penalties per game. Brian Winters had an abysmal 3/4ths of a season only to finish the last quarter strong. However, with Vlad Duccasse a goner and Colon a free agent, the guard position is bare.
Resigning Colon for a year or two would not be surprising and a recent ESPN New York article suggests the Jets expect Oday Aboushi or William Campbell to start. This sounds like wishful thinking. The guard position, though undervalued, is vital to a functioning offense. The Jets mediocre pass protection (27th in the league according to Football Outsiders) is reason 1b for the team’s passing struggles.
An upgrade at guard could go a long way to keeping the quarterback upright and the passing game moving. There are a plethora of guard options available this offseason and each should come at a reasonable price. Jon Asamoah and John Greco highlight a deep and talented free agent class. David Yankey and Cyril Richardson ought to be available when the Jets pick in the first and second rounds respectively. Guard play may not be flashy but, save a major jump in production from Winters or Colon, an upgrade is needed.
For further TOJ reading on the 2014 FA/Draft G class see:
Priority #5: Cornerback
We can all take a deep sigh of relief after Dee Milliner’s finish to the 2013 season. Had the ninth overall pick continued to seem lost, the cornerback position could have shot up to priority number one or two. Equally as inspiring should be the fact that Antonio Cromartie’s down season seems to have been due to a lingering hip injury and not some drop in ability. With Kyle Wilson, Darrin Walls, and Ellis Lankster rounding out the depth chart, the Jets seem pretty set at the position. However, Cromartie will likely be cut and wether he returns or not depends on his health and asking price.
If Cromartie returns, then the cornerback situation becomes less dire. However, the Jets don’t appear to have a long term starter opposite Milliner. Kyle Wilson, though effective in the slot, has failed to prove his worth on the perimeter. Darrin Walls, though talented, does not appear ready for a major role on defense.
The free agent cornerback class is an intriguing one:
- Brent Grimes
- Aqib Talib
- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
- Alterraun Verner
- Walter Thurmond
These players make up the top of the class and could all be reasonable targets for the Jets. Though you can expect the team to allocate most of their funds to the aforementioned positions, Thurmond or Verner may come cheap(er) and Grimes’ age could limit his asking price. The draft also presents a good deal of potential at the position but don’t expect the Jets to draft a corner until day three.
Priority #6: Linebacker
Much like the safety position, Rex Ryan’s tenure as a Jet has lacked a decent edge rusher. The Jets are set (at least for 2014) at middle linebacker with Demario Davis and David Harris. At outside linebacker, the Quinton Coples experiment continues as the team holds its breath for him to put together a complete season. A healthy Antwan Barnes can provide an explosive pass rush but may be overmatched if asked to play every down. Resigning the resurgent Calvin Pace may be an option but the Jets are still thin at the position.
Brian Orakpo is the best of the free agent bunch but will likely return to Washington. With Orakpo off the market, Jason Worlids’ (the next best option) asking price will likely shoot up. Rumored cuts of Terrell Suggs, Lamarr Woodley, and even DeMarcus Ware could spice up some bidding wars but all will likely be out of the Jets’ price range and may be over the hill.
If the Jets address their major areas of need prior to the draft, don’t be surprised to see them take a look at the available pass rushers. Don’t get your hopes up for Anthony Barr or Kahlil Mack but Kyle Van Noy, Kony Ealy, Jeremiah Attaochu, Dee Ford, and Jackson Jeffcoat could all be on the Jets radar.
Priority #7: Quarterback
Geno Smith’s rookie year was a bit of an enigma. At times (@Atlanta), he looked like the franchise quarterback of Jets lore. The next week (@Buffalo), he looks like a JUGS machine during a DB drill. And yet, the hot-and-cold Smith finished the season with an inspiringly strong few games.
Regardless of how you view Smith, the Jets need to bolster the quarterback position. A competent backup and serious competition for the young-gun is a must this offseason. The reason this position is so low on the priority list, however, is that (in all likely-hood) Smith will be the starter next year and any new addition will ride the bench. That being said, the addition of a player like Matt Schaub or Chad Henne could help push Smith and provide insurance should the incumbent falter or get injured.
The Jets will also likely draft a quarterback in May. Look for the mid to late rounds for a new signal caller and expect names like Aaron Murray, Tahj Boyd, and Logan Thomas to be thrown around. The caveat to all of this, however, is if a quarterback that the Jets covet falls to them or to early in the second. With Smith unproven, it shouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.
For further TOJ reading on the 2014 FA/Draft QB class see:
- New York Jets Countdown to the 2014 Offseason: Quarterback
- New York Jets Free Agency Primer (Quarterback)
Priority #8: Running Back
It may seem strange to see a playmaker this low on the Jets list of priorities but the nature of the running back position lends itself to the ranking. Running back has been slowly devalued over the past few years as the league transitions to a new era of offense. The position is still impactful but in a different way. Long gone are the plodding, bruisers of yesteryear. A running back today must be able to run outside the tackles and create big plays on limited carries. The ability to find cheap running talent late in the draft and the proliferation of running back by committee further devalues the position.
The Jets hope Chris Ivory can be their guy for the foreseeable future, with Bilal Powell and Mike Goodson (hopefully) taking some of the load. However, any player that can help move the Jets down the field is one worth considering. Free agents Knowshon Moreno, Ben Tate, and Darren McFadden could provide some explosiveness the Jets running backs have been missing. That being said, the team just committed a fourth round pick to Chris Ivory and like his style, making any serious free agent acquisition unlikely. The draft is a more likely source for a new ball carrier, particularly if a player presents himself that could help upgrade the return game as well.
For further TOJ reading on the 2014 FA/Draft RB class see:
Priority #9: Offensive Line (Center and Tackle)
Austin Howard is a free agent but look for the Jets to resign the big man quickly. D’Brickshaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold are no longer in their primes but they have provided remarkable consistency and play positions that are not so easily replaced. The truth is, these three will likely return as starters and Oday Aboushi, Will Campbell, and Ben Ijillana will remain as back ups. Perhaps a center or tackle could be taken in the late rounds as a development prospect but Ferguson, Mangold, and Howard are not going anywhere.
Priority #10: Defensive Line
Any addition here is luxury. There are barely enough snaps to go around for Wilkerson, Richardson, Harrison, and Ellis. If Douzable returns, then any addition is superfluous. Even if the Jets fill all their positions of need prior to the draft, selecting a defensive lineman early would be a poor assessment of value.
Disagree with this assessment and enumeration of priorities? Sound off below, we would love to see your lists!
Follow Cole Patterson: @CPatterson_TOJ