New York Jets – Three Positions To Target In Free Agency

Michael Nania with the three positions the New York Jets should focus on in free agency

At this point, you are probably well aware the New York Jets are primed to be one of the most cash-laden teams in this year’s free agency period. According to Spotrac, the Jets currently have the 4th-most cap space in the NFL, and with a few cuts could find themselves with upwards of $100 million at their fingertips to rebuild a roster that is in dire need of talent infusion.

Free agency is only one part of the puzzle. There’s far more to it than throwing as much dough as possible to the biggest names on the market and welcoming whoever is willing to brave Florham Park. It goes without saying that the Jets (and any team, for that matter) need to be smart with their vast resources. There are many gaping holes on this team, but which should they focus on plugging first?

Here are the positions the Jets need to get figured out in free agency.

QUARTERBACK

The first order of business should be going all out for Kirk Cousins. Many scoff at his name. They say that he hasn’t won. That he is a marginal upgrade over Josh McCown.

In my opinion, all of that is blasphemy. His production speaks for itself. Over the last three seasons (since Cousins became the primary starter for the Redskins), among quarterbacks with at least 1,000 passing attempts, Cousins ranks 6th in passer rating behind only Brady, Brees, Wilson, Ryan, and Rodgers. He has had the durability to start all 48 regular season games over the last three seasons. He has a managed a winning record (24-23-1) over that span leading a team that has fielded three straight bottom half defenses (both in yards and points allowed), and three straight bottom half rushing attacks.

Do I think Cousins is in the company of the quarterbacks listed above? Certainly not as of right now. However, I think he is without a doubt an above average quarterback at the very worst, and it’s rare for a signal caller of this quality at just 29 (going on 30) years old to hit the market. For a team as hopeless at the position as any, with zero hope present on the roster and sitting behind three QB-needy teams in the draft, this is a shot that needs to be taken.

Now, if the Jets strike out on Cousins, the Jets should steer clear of the rest of the quarterback market, filled with deceiving names that have “Jets stopgap” written all over them. Case Keenum. Sam Bradford. A possibly available Nick Foles. These are middling options who have only recently found success with extremely talented teams. If they want to go the stopgap route ahead of a first-round quarterback, the QBs above will command far more dollars that could be used on other positions with little added present value in return.

The Jets need to be focused on finding a franchise player, not bidding extra on slight upgrades while kicking the can down the road. If Cousins goes elsewhere, I think the Jets should shift their focus squarely on grabbing a QB in the first round while focusing only on finding a stopgap/competition in free agency. If affordable, Teddy Bridgewater is a younger, higher upside possibility that comes to mind.

CORNERBACK

If the Jets played a game today their top three CBs would be Darryl Roberts, Juston Burris, and Buster Skrine. No, we’re not in 2014. It’s 2018, and a regime that kicked off with a triple splurge at corner now has arguably the weakest depth chart at the position in the league.

The cornerback market is deep, much more so than edge rusher. There are gobs of corners that perfectly fit the bill of what the Jets are looking for; young and good enough to represent an instant upgrade to relevancy at the position, and possibly much more.

This market is filled with solid to great 25-28 year old players. More so than anything else besides signing Cousins, I would love to see the Jets splurge on at least 1, and possibly 2 starting cornerbacks. Here are a few of the most intriguing names that fit the Jets’ timeline:

  • Trumaine Johnson, Rams, 28 – 2 interceptions, 75.8 PFF (#67 CB)
  • Kyle Fuller, Bears, 26 – 3 interceptions, 84.3 PFF (#22 CB)
  • Nickell Robey-Coleman, Rams, 26 – 2 interceptions, 84.9 PFF (#20 CB)
  • Bashaud Breeland, Redskins, 26 – 1 interception, 79.0 PFF (#54 CB)
  • E.J. Gaines, Bills, 26 – 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, 86.6 PFF (#12 CB)
  • Ross Cockrell, Giants, 27 – 3 interceptions, 81.6 PFF (#42 CB)
  • Malcolm Butler, Patriots, 28 – 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 81.0 PFF (#45 CB)
  • Rashaan Melvin, Colts, 28 – 3 interceptions (only 10 GP), 85.7 PFF (#18 CB)

CENTER

Anyone who watched the Jets this season knows that Wesley Johnson unfortunately provided some of the most destructive center play you will ever see in the NFL. Mike Maccagnan let the young heir to Nick Mangold take the job without much competition, a destructive error. Miscommunications, nonexistent run blocking, blow-bys in pass protection, Johnson was both literally and figuratively right in the middle of the Jets’ ghastly O-Line struggles. Other than QB, there is no position on offense where an upgrade would be more valuable than center.

It would be nice for the Jets to solve this issue as soon as possible. Luckily there are some possible solutions that could hit the market.

  • Matt Paradis, Broncos, 28 – #8 graded center (RFA)
  • Ryan Jensen, Ravens, 26 – #9 graded center
  • John Sullivan, Rams, 33 – #10 graded center

FINAL THOUGHTS

Edge rusher is another huge need for the Jets, but the market doesn’t look promising at the position. There are only four 9.5+ sack defensive ends available; DeMarcus Lawrence, Adrian Clayborn, Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, and Julius Peppers. Peppers is 37. Clayborn will be 30 and had six of those sacks in one game. Ansah will be 29 and had only 2 sacks last year. The only legitimate option is the 25-year old Lawrence, who had a dominant season. Problem is, he’s a strong franchise tag candidate. Edge is figuring to once again be a prime draft need for the Jets.

Though the positions listed are the gaping holes I believe the Jets should focus first on filling, this team could really stand to make an upgrade anywhere besides safety or defensive tackle. If Jeremy Bates has gleeful dreams of Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry thriving in his offense and they can be had for a reasonable price, then sure. Bring them in. The Jets have some promise at the skill positions, but are they that good to where they shouldn’t be looking to add as much playmaking as possible?

It’s all about value. What are you getting out of your money per dollar? The Jets have a lot of holes. The Jets have a lot of money. The Jets have a lot of options. They are likely going to be buying a lot of 2018 (and beyond) snaps come this spring. Will Mike Maccagnan acquire valuable impact snaps that contribute to sustainable success? We’ll see.

Photo Credit: NFL.com 

Author: Michael Nania

You can follow me on Twitter @Michael_Nania. I'll be hosting the weekly Jets opponent preview podcast, Know Your Foe, starting with the 2018 regular season. I've been writing for Turn On The Jets since January 2018, and you can also check out more of my work on the Jets over at Gang Green Nation.