The New York Jets enter the 2014 season with a messy situation at the cornerback position. You don’t need us to tell you that, as it has become the number one story surrounding the team in the absence of any quarterback circus or controversy. Geno Smith has just played really well and Mike Vick has settled into being an ideal backup. Carry on to cornerback, where there is plenty to talk about.
Without getting too bogged down in what happened in the past, let’s take a quick roll through the Jets recent offseason activity. They made an early play for Vontae Davis in free agency this offseason but basically ended up being leveraged by him for money from the Colts. They had a visit with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie but were never going to match the 12 million guaranteed the Giants threw at him. They were more interested in a short term, prove it type deal from a player who has had inconsistencies throughout his career and openly discussed retirement this past February. Antonio Cromartie was never seriously considered for a new contract due to health concerns and his play in 2013. Their plan B after Davis ended up being Dimitri Patterson on a 1 year contract with 1 million guaranteed as a hold the fort starter until a draft pick (who ended up being Dexter McDougle in the 3rd round) was ready to play opposite of Dee Milliner.
Plan B hasn’t worked. Patterson has struggled to stay healthy (which has plagued him throughout his career), hasn’t performed when on the field and recently went AWOL during a pre-season game. McDougle tore his ACL in training camp the same day that Milliner suffered a high ankle sprain, which will likely hold him out until week 2 or 3. Cornerback was a question mark coming into training camp and that question has only been amplified.
John Idzik has admirably rebuilt this roster from the scrap heap it was at the end of the 2012 season, while compiling young players and opening up cap space to keep key pieces long term. Yet, he has opened himself up to fair criticism at cornerback in 2014 as Patterson continues to be a messy, unproductive signing.
Now, to say Idzik has completely spurned the secondary since coming here is factually incorrect. He has used his highest pick in the draft in consecutive years on a cornerback and then a safety, along with adding another 3rd round corner and signing a starting caliber safety (Dawan Landry). The injury to McDougle and struggles of Patterson shine a brighter than expected light on two lower key moves he made to start this offseason, re-signing Darrin Walls and Ellis Lankster.
The Jets will likely head into week one with Walls and Antonio Allen starting at cornerback, as this year’s first round pick Calvin Pryor has shown himself capable of starting right out of the gate at safety. With Milliner still out, putting Allen at corner allows the Jets to keep their best 11 on the field at most times and further flex his versatility as they are likely to play plenty of three safety looks going forward anyway. Lankster should see plenty of rotational action as well, especially with Kyle Wilson playing so poorly in the slot. Wilson’s struggles are also the reason Patterson is still being kept around, as he has shown himself to be a capable slot corner when healthy.
When Milliner returns, the Jets will be relying on him to be their top cover guy while Walls can hopefully be a competent starter opposite of him and allow Allen to move back to his more natural safety spot. Rex Ryan will adjust his defense to put more on his safeties, where the Jets have three very capable players and less on the corners. Beyond that, the team will be counting on their front seven, particularly their dominant defensive line to help bail out their corners as well.
It is not strong situation for the Jets at corner but it should not be a deathblow to their season that they don’t have a proven second starter after Milliner hopefully returns from injury in September. They have too much top talent upfront and potentially at safety, nevermind if Demario Davis and Quinton Coples take the next step at linebacker. Rex will need to get creative to hide the shortcomings on his depth chart but all good coaches need to do this, as every team has spots that are inevitably weaker than others and thinking Rex can’t coach a defense without top end corners is shortchanging him.
Bashing Idzik for the Patterson signing is fair. Yet, let’s see the season Dee Milliner, Calvin Pryor, Antonio Allen, Darrin Walls and Dawan Landry put together before overreacting and saying the secondary is a disaster, nevermind the rest of the defense. It would seem to make more sense to weigh the positive of hitting on Milliner and Pryor in the first round (IF they have good years) more than the negative of missing on a 1 million guaranteed, 1 year contract. Just like it meant more that Idzik hit on Sheldon Richardson last season than that he missed on somebody like Antwan Barnes (another low-cost veteran addition who didn’t end up panning out, although his was due to injury).
…One final note – Can we stop with the “Jets had opportunity at Darrelle Revis and passed on him this offseason” articles?” This completely misconstrues the situation. Look at the relationship between the Tampa and New England front office. Revis went directly to New England after being released with a contract ready to roll for him. There was never high level discussions between TEAM REVIS and the Jets organization. Revis’ manager texting Manish Mehta or Jason Cole doesn’t equate to his agents sitting down with John Idzik or Woody Johnson.