As fans, one of our favorite things to do is throw ourselves in the big chair. This one that humbly sits before you is no different so let’s give it a whirl and lay out a multi-step plan to fix the New York Jets…
Take Care of Your Own
The Jets have 13 players slated to be unrestricted free agents once the new league year begins. Many of whom the organization and fans alike will not shed tears for when they are inevitably gone including Willie Colon, Kyle Wilson, and Dawan Landry. However, there are decisions that need to be made in regards to players that have proven to be solid contributors and that add much-needed depth to this team such as Bilal Powell, Leger Douzable, Nick Bellore, and maybe you can add Kenrick Ellis to that list depending on your opinion of him. Of course, there is also the matter of David Harris being slated to hit free agency for the first time in his decorated career.
Even more important than the unrestricted free agents are a Restricted Free Agent and a player entering the final year of his contract. Two of the founding members of the “Sons of Anarchy,” Damon “Snacks” Harrison and Muhammad Wilkerson. Both of these guys are cornerstone players on one of the deepest defensive lines in football. Wilkerson has exuded Dalai Lama-esque patience in waiting for the Jets to give him a new deal he has unquestionably deserved. You have to believe that despite his vilification by the fans and media alike, John Idzik probably made some sort of (albeit fruitless) effort to extend him and considering he is no longer employed, I am making extending “Beast Mo” my first order of business as GM.
With a projected $50 Million in cap room before cutting the proverbial dead weight in the form of Chris Johnson, Jason Babin, and Calvin Pace, which can free up an additional $7.1 Million in cap space, I have a lot of ammunition to pay Wilkerson the money he deserves. Provided that Wilkerson is realistic in his expectations and is not asking for anomaly contracts like the Texans gave JJ Watt and the Bills gave Mario Williams, a contract of 5 years worth $50 Million with $20 Million guaranteed could work.
The next order of business will be to figure out a cost-effective way to extend “Snacks” as he is one of the anchors of the defensive line. However, given his status as a cost-controlled RFA, the need to extend him is not as imminent as it is with Wilkerson nor is he the same caliber player. Another factor to consider is the fact that the Jets have a tremendous amount of depth along the defensive line, especially inside with the emergence of TJ Barnes. There is no doubt that Harrison is a talent you would want to have around for the long-term but perhaps he ends up being the odd-man out among the defensive linemen. It might become untenable to have so much money wrapped up in one unit between Wilkerson, inevitably re-signing Sheldon Richardson, and seeing if Coples becomes a player that warrants an extension. The best option here would be to feel out what he’s looking for in terms of a deal and see if it makes financial sense because the worst case scenario is that the Jets tender him at the first round level and see how 2015 plays. The bottom line here is you do not let “Snacks” walk out the door for nothing.
Before moving on to the Unrestricted Free Agents, there is the lingering matter of a certain WR slated to make $10.5 Million next season. I have it on good authority that Woody does not want to pay Percy Harvin anything near the salary that his contract currently dictates. There has been some posturing on both sides with Harvin claiming that he will not restructure or take some kind of discount. I think the market will ultimately dictate the feasibility of retaining Harvin as this is a stacked free agent WR class and the Jets might be able to reap the windfall. Harvin provides the Jets with the dynamic, offensive play-maker they have been missing seemingly forever and to let him go would be a mistake.
In regards to the remaining Unrestricted free agents, I am declaring my intention to make a concerted effort to re-sign Bilal Powell and Nick Bellore as both are continually unheralded players that provide depth at key positions. Bellore perennially grades out as one of the best Special Teams players in the league and since Special Teams is a unit that has suffered greatly since the departure of Mike Westhoff, the Jets would be remiss to let Bellore go. Powell, on the other hand, does just about everything the coaching staff asks of him and does it well. However, given the nature of the Running Back position in football, cost is the chief concern here as third-down running backs are not difficult to find and usually come cheap.
The lesser priority players are Leger Douzable and Kenrick Ellis, with Douzable being the higher priority among the two. Since making the team out of camp in 2013, Douzable has proved to be a very good rotational defensive linemen, so much so the Jets opted to bring him back for 2014 and he put up another good season. However, given the depth at the position and the possibility of putting Quinton Coples hand back in the dirt on a more consistent basis, there may not be enough room for him. Ellis on the other hand, was drafted relatively high by the Tannebaum regime but has never really lived up to expectations of becoming the heir-apparent to Sione Pouha and is now staring down the possibility of being third on the depth chart at Nose Tackle if brought back. The only reason I even entertain the notion of bringing back Ellis is that I like having multiple enormous space-eaters who can line up over center and occupy two blockers in the base defense. However, considering the evolution of the NFL into a pass-first league and the popularity of the hurry-up offense, the limited amount of potential snaps he could see might not justify a roster spot let alone a contract.
The last and final puzzle piece for Step One is figuring out what to do with David Harris, a decision that could be made much easier by the sway Rex Ryan will have with the front office in his new outpost. If Matthew McCounaghey is right and time is a flat circle, then 2015 David Harris looks a lot like 2009 Bart Scott in that both are likely on the proverbial “back nines” of their respective careers and both are entering free agency as Rex Ryan is assuming a new Head Coaching position. In 2009, we heard the stories about Rex waiting outside of Scott’s house, counting down the seconds until the clock struck midnight on the eve of free agency. It was not long until the Jets handed him an exorbitant contract for a big-mouthed Inside Linebacker pushing 30 years of age. However, Rex wanted him to bring the swagger of his Ravens defenses to New York and to have someone familiar with his defensive scheme. As most Jets fans know, communication (both on and off the field) was something Scott was more than comfortable with.
This time around, Rex has a much quieter but still just as tenacious, Inside Linebacker with an intimate knowledge of his system hitting free agency. As a player, Harris has been borderline-to-a liability in coverage but has always been stout against the run and is a very good pass rusher from that position. More important to both the Jets and Rex are Harris’ intangibles, most notably his leadership abilities and his role as the signal-caller for the defense. The latter may make Ryan and the Bills want to pay a premium for Harris but I don’t know how realistic that is given the fact that the Bills already have one of the best young Inside Linebackers in football already on their roster in Kiko Alonso. It might come down to the fact that Harris was already paid (and some would argue overpaid) handsomely by the Jets and might be willing to accept a reasonable deal just to stay home. However, something tells me he will draw some significant interest in free agency, especially with the market so thin at that position. I am still inclined to make him a competitive, incentive-laden offer just to create continuity.