After a somewhat promising 2017 season, the New York Jets will look to build on their positives in 2018. Despite starting a 39 year old QB, with holes all over the roster, the Jets suprisingly hung around in the playoff hunt until December. In a weak AFC, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Jets could be playing January football next year. Especially since GM Mike Maccagnan will likely have over 100 million dollars in cap space and 8 draft selections, including 3 premium picks (thank you Seattle), Maccagnan has a terrific opportunity to completely turn around the franchise and make a serious playoff run in 2018. Here is part 2 (free agency) of a step by step analysis on what I think the Jets need to do over the next few months to make that dream a reality, and end the Jets 7 year playoff drought.
In this stage, we’ll be covering the Jets’ free agency plan in order to get back to the playoffs. In case you missed part 1, which covered re-signings and cuts, you can find it here. This section will work a little different than the first stage. With re-signings and cuts, I can be very exact on what I want the Jets to do, because we know all the variables at this time. However, it’s hard to predict who will hit free agency, available trades etc., and I don’t want one missed move to throw off the entire plan. So to combat this, I’ll give my dream free agency and what I would attempt to do, however with each part, I’ll try to add some successful alternatives. This will be the same with part 3 (the draft), in an attempt to avoid just simulating a Madden franchise mode.
Team Needs: Here’s what Maccagnan NEEDS to address in Free Agency/Trades/Draft, in order of necessity.
- Cornerback (preferably 2)
- Pass Rushing OLB
In addition to those needs, here are a few other needs that aren’t as urgent, but would provide great depth.
- Backup Defensive-Tackle
- Backup Quarterback
- Backup Guard
- Backup Offensive Tackle
- Backup Cornerback
- Backup ILB
Alright, that’s a pretty big list, but the Jets have plenty of cap and draft picks to check a lot of those needs off of it. Given that Mac likes to fill needs in free agency, and that he loves to trade down in the later rounds, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jets can address every position on this list.
Cap Remaining: 70 Million
- Get the franchise QB: Kirk Cousins (6 years, 186 M, 100 G, 2018 Cap Hit: 30 M)
WOAH. That’s a lot of money. Given the Jets have 70 million in cap, and are required to spend a lot of it, it doesn’t hinder the Jets that much. In addition, with the rising salary cap and rising QB deals, his contract won’t look that bad in a few years. Look, Cousins is a top 10 QB, the Jets haven’t had that type of production from a QB in ages. He’s good enough to get you to the playoffs and more, especially if he’s surrounded with talent. Only 29 years old, and given the Jets are not guaranteed a rookie QB picking at 6, the Jets make a bold move and get their Quarterback.
Hope Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, or Sam Darnold fall to 6: This would arguably be a better move than Cousins given that you would have a younger, cheaper, QB with a higher ceiling. But there are no guarantees that any of these guys fall, or that they’d even be close to as good as Kirk. If another team steals Cousins, signing a cheap veteran like McCown, Bridgewater, Keenum, etc. and hoping one of these guys fall is the next best choice.
Trade back and take Lamar Jackson: If another team steals Cousins, and the top three guys are gone, this is the best move. I’m a huge Jackson fan, and I think he will be a good QB in the NFL, but it will take some time. Stockpile resources and develop your exciting QB.
Cap Remaining: 40 Million
- Add a #1 WR: Allen Robinson (4 years, 55 M, 40 G, 2018 cap hit: 11 M)
While the Jets have a nice group of young receivers, they’re missing a true #1. Quincy Enunwa could be that, but he’s coming off of a neck injury. Plus he might be at his best dominating over the middle. Anderson is a homerun hitter, but his frame and weak hands will limit him from truly being a #1 WR. Not to mention, his legal troubles may hinder his availability at the beginning of the year. Jermaine Kearse is your prototypical slot WR, he is a great route runner and has safe hands. However, this group does not have a big #1 reciever who’s a redzone receiving threat (an area of the field where the Jets struggled last year), which is exactly what A-Rob would bring. From 2015-16 he put up 20 touchdowns, and his 6’3 frame was crucial inside the 20. Given he’s coming off an ACL tear and his rocky relationship with Blake Bortles, there’s a chance he hits the open market, if so the Jets should pounce and play some basketball in 2018.
Sammy Watkins – Flashes of brilliance mixed with inconsistency and injury, Watkins would be an interesting signing for the Jets. Mixed with a group of solid WR’s and a good QB, he could finally reach his potential as a #1 WR. However, if Allen Robinson is franchise tagged, he would be the best receiver on the market, and the Jets shouldn’t overpay.
Donte Moncrief – Another incredibly talented but inconsistent receiver. His success seems to be dictated by the QB play around him and given he’s only 24, the Jets could sniff around.
Terrelle Pryor – After a terrific season in Cleveland, Pryor did not live up to his “prove it” deal from Washington. With great size and solid production in Cleveland (of all places), the Jets could sign him to a one year contract to see which version of Pryor they’d be getting.
Allen Hurns (if cut) – If the Jaguars cut Hurns, in an attempt to free cap space, he could provide the big bodied receiver the Jets need. He’s struggled to stay healthy and produce since his breakout 2015 campaign. If cut, and the Jets miss out on his teammate, the Jets should bring in the 26 year-old possession receiver who’s full of potential.
Wait for draft – If all else fails, the Jets could wait for the draft to add the big receiver they need. In a poor class, they could use one of their picks on Courtland Sutton, Equanimeous St. Brown, Auden Tate, or another big bodied receiver.
Cap Remaining: 29 Million
- Smartly attack CB market: Rashaan Melvin (4 years, 50 M, 36 G, 2018 cap hit: 10 M)
Arguably the Jets’ biggest need outside of quarterback is cornerback. Mike Maccagnan needs to add at least two this offseason (given my re-signings and cuts). Morris Claiborne is better suited as a #2/#3 corner. Rashaan Melvin, the 28 year old CB from the Colts, is a bit of an unproven gamble but it could be the most fruitful move of the entire offseason. His production this past year reminds me a lot of A.J. Bouye, who signed a big contract with the Jaguars last offseason and went on to be a cornerstone in their defense. Melvin was pushed to the #1 corner this season, and he did not disappoint with an 85.7 PFF grade. For anyone still questioning his skill, go watch his film vs Antonio Brown…unreal production against the best receiver in the league. His height (6’2) makes him the ideal top corner on any roster, however he’s overshadowed by the top corners on the market, such as Trumaine Johnson and Malcom Butler, who will get top level contracts for arguably less production. The Jets should steer clear of them and smartly pursue a guy like Melvin, giving the Jets a real steal.
Kyle Fuller – Again, instead of overpaying for Johnson or Butler, the Jets could target my second favorite cornerback on the market. It was a close call for me to go with Melvin over Fuller because they both are great corners. With an 84.3 PFF grade, Fuller shutdown the opposing team’s top WR. If the Jets can snag either Fuller or Melvin, Maccagnan did his job right. If Big-Mac has the space, he could even sign both and create one of the most exciting secondaries in the league.
Marcus Peters – He would be my clear top choice, but because I don’t think it will happen, I’ll put him here. Marcus Peters is one of the top corners in this league, however the problem with Peters has been his off-field issues, from locker-room concerns to throwing penalty flags, his Kansas City career has been filled with bumps. On the field, however, it’s been a different story as Peters has ascended to a interception machine and a shutdown corner. In fact, no defender has allowed a lower passer rating since 2015 (per PFF). If I were Maccagnan, I’d offer one of the 2nd round picks in a heartbeat, however I just can’t see Peters being traded this offseason.
Aaron Colvin – The unheralded 26 year-old corner from Jacksonville could be a great signing for the Jets. Arguably the best slot corner in the league, and hasn’t disappointed when he’s been on the outside. I would be all for signing Colvin.
EJ Gaines – Gaines has talent, no-doubt, but the thought of pairing him with Morris Claiborne is frightening (probably not in a good way) given both of their injury histories. If the Jets bring in Gaines, and don’t sign another FA corner, they’ll need to take a corner high in the draft. He can be scary good at times and won’t come too expensive. If the price is right, it could be a steal for the Jets.
Cap Remaining: 19 Million
- Replace Muhammad Wilkerson: Adrian Clayborn (2 years, 8 Million, 4 G, 2018 cap hit: 4 million)
Now while I’m tempted to put Ezekial Ansah here, I’m not for a few reasons, but I’ll put those down below. Clayborn, 29, has had a nice two seasons in Atlanta. His size, 6’3 280 lbs., makes him the ideal 3-4 defensive end. He has played in a lot of 4-3 looks during his career, but he’s shown his versatility throughout that time as well. I believe a 3-4 defense would actually suit his skillset quite nicely. He is a terrific run defender and can even get after the QB with 9.5 sacks last season (6 in one game!). When Maccagnan is filling this position, it is not neccesary to find a flashy pass-rusher, but they need a guy with a high motor, who’s good against the run, and will do all of the dirty work. Clayborn is all of that and a little more, and I think he’d be an under the radar but homerun signing for the Jets, freeing up Leonard Williams and allowing him (and the rest of the Jets’ defense) to flourish.
Ezekiel Ansah – Now Ansah is a freak. He is great at getting after the QB (12 sacks in 2017), his athleticism allows him to play all over the front seven, and he would be a major upgrade over Wilkerson. However, I would only pursue Ansah if the Jets don’t land a few of the guys above. With Demarcus Lawrence receiving the franchise tag, Ansah becomes the top edge rusher in this FA class. He is about to make a boatload of money, and the Jets could possibly do it, but pairing him with Cousins would limit their ability to add really anybody else. I think he is great, but defensive-end is not as important as some of these other needs, so with this current plan, the Jets would pass.
Family-size bag of Doritos – Honestly, given the effort and production given by “Big Mo” last season, anybody (or anything) is an improvement. On a serious note, the Jets could wait until later in the draft to address this or even use an in house canidate such as Kony Ealy or Xavier Cooper to plug the hole (as long as they add a big time pass rushing OLB in the draft).
Remaining Cap: 15 Million
- Add a pass rushing OLB: Alex Okafor (1 year, 6 million, 2018 cap hit: 6 M)
While I think the solution to the Jets’ constant lack of a pass rusher is in this year’s draft, the Jets would be naive not to address it in free agency, just in case they miss out in the draft or just to add some depth. Alex Okafor is one of my favorite low-risk but high-reward players in this class of free agents. In the middle of a breakout year in New Orleans with 4.5 sacks, he tore his Achilles and missed the last 6 games. He spent his first 4 seasons in Arizona, 2 of which under then defensive-coordinator Todd Bowles, and he could choose to team up with the Jets’ head coach this March. His contract should be fairly cheap, but the 27 year old would be, at the very least, great depth and a rotational pass rusher. He can play either DE/OLB, and at best, he could lead the Jets in sacks.
Trent Murphy – Another one of my favorite low risk prospects, the 28 year old from Washington can get after the QB. A 9 sack breakout year in 2016 was unfortunatley followed by a torn ACL in the preseason this year. If healthy, Murphy could easily start. Like Okafor, he would provide a pass rushing specialist, depth, and versatility.
Shaq Barrett – The 25 year old undrafted free agent from Denver is full of potential. If he weren’t a restricted free agent, he might be the move but I expect Denver to try to keep him after his quietly productive year. Not just a pass rusher, Barrett has starting OLB potential, if he becomes available, the Jets should add him to their list.
Cap Remaining: 9 Million
- Add O-line depth
There’s really no preference for me here out of the available offensive lineman. I think they should attack the center postion in the draft, so their starting five will look like this: Beachum, Carpenter, Rookie, Winters, Shell. It’s a pretty solid group when healthy. Carpenter struggled a lot last year due to the scheme and he could be a cap casuality in 2019 if things don’t turn around. After these guys, the depth is pretty bare after releasing Ben Ijalana. Brent Qvale, Jonotthan Harrison, and Dakota Dozier headline a pretty weak bunch. Given this lineup’s injury concerns, they need to add 2-3 new guys this offseason. At tackle, guys like LaAdrian Waddle, Chris Hubbard, or Cameron Fleming are solid options. At guard, Zach Fulton, Jonothan Cooper, or Senio Kelemente would be solid options. Ultimatley another player (in addition to the center) should be added in the mid-rounds of this draft. Maccagnan has never believed in expensively addressing offensive line, instead he takes them in the mid rounds of the draft and attacks B-level free agents. Ultimately whoever he signs is not integral to this playoff plan as long as they just provide depth and security.
Cap Remaining: 6-7 Million
With these free agency moves, the Jets aggresively pursue some of the top players on the market and yet smartly attack areas of need. With 8 picks in the draft to bolster the roster, this Jets team looks primed for the playoffs.
Next week, the final part of my offseason plan will be unveiled. Covering the NFL draft and a final overview.
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