There is no doubt the New York Jets need a massive offseason focus on improving their offense. This is a job of course correction and overcompensating for years (decades, really) of negligence to one side of the football. The Jets are in a unique situation for four reasons: they have neglected offense at a staggering rate in recent years, they have an excessive amount of cap space paired with a lack of homegrown talent they need to pay, they have a promising quarterback entering year two of his rookie deal and they have not made the playoffs in eight years, dragging league wide perception of the organization to one of its lowest points.
This unique set of circumstances means the Jets need to think unconventionally when it comes to team building and bringing themselves back to respectability in the NFL. Below is a prospective strategy for rebuilding their offense to make it a competitive unit during Darnold’s rookie contract and give him the necessary infrastructure to aid in his development, which if handled properly, will benefit the Jets for 10-15 years.
Running backs are highly replaceable and it is generally a low value position. Pittsburgh’s offense has not slowed down much,if any, without Le’Veon Bell this season, so why should the Jets lay out a big contract for him?
This is a unique situation where a player who has produced at a Hall Of Fame level is available in free agency. Bell is a three down back, who would not just immediately become the team’s best running back, he’d also become their best receiver. He would also make life substantially easier for Sam Darnold by giving the team a semblance of a running game, a reliable option in the short passing game and a player capable in pass protection. Right now, the Jets are barren at running back, with Bilal Powell likely not returning, Isaiah Crowell coming off a disappointing year and situational players like Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon incapable of handling larger roles.
As for Pittsburgh’s ability to keep producing without him, on an offense with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Vance McDonald, Jesse James and a quality offensive line, there is a limited drop off. On a talent barren Jets roster with a rookie quarterback, Bell’s impact is substantially bigger than just another running back. The teams are in completely different situations.
The Jets have so much financial flexibility, they can pay Bell around 15 million dollars per year over the next 2-3 years without hindering their ability to still add talent around him, namely on the offensive line. If this team moves on from Crowell, Powell and a few other replaceable parts, they are going to be nearing 110 million dollars in cap space. You are paying Bell to line up with Darnold’s rookie deal and to help his progression and change the complexion of your offense.
Let’s use an analogy: The Jets got a 250 dollar gift certificate to a nice steakhouse. Darnold is the steak they order, at a special holiday discount rate. They still have enough to spend on the meal to pair it up with a good bottle of wine and two quality sides. Instead of the wine, they could just order a bottle of soda and have some money leftover for the next time they come back but unfortunately when they do, they won’t be able to pair everything above together because the steak is going to be way more expensive then. So, they have a rare opportunity to get the wine with the steak and still afford two sides. When you can get the perfect meal, get the perfect meal. Don’t shortchange the steak by having a glass of Diet Coke with it.
It is very possible the Jets could make a run at Bell and come up empty. The Colts are going to have interest. The Chiefs could end up having interest, along with a few other teams. If the Jets strike out, Tevin Coleman is a logical fallback option, moreso than Mark Ingram, who will be 29 this week and over 8 seasons has only exceeded 1,050 yards once, the first season he played with Alvin Kamara.
The Jets need a lead back and Isaiah Crowell or Bilal Powell is not it at this point. Elijah McGuire could potentially be a number two back with a situational role but the Jets shouldn’t be shy about taking another swing in the mid to late rounds at the position.
Pay Attention To The Offensive Line
The Jets have drafted two offensive lineman in the past four years and none in the first four rounds (!). Needless to say, this needs to change immediately as the unit badly needs an infusion of both young talent and overall talent. Despite coming off an injury, the Jets should take a major run at Denver Broncos center Matt Paradis in free agency. If Spencer Long is sticking around, he needs to play guard and maybe just be a backup there. James Carpenter is finished in New York and the Jets should also look at adding Roger Saffold and/or Quinton Spain. Saffold is a superior player but is already 30 years old. However, they may be able to get 2-3 solid years out of him still during Darnold’s rookie contract. In the NFL Draft, if the Jets are not in position to add a game changing edge rusher, Jonah Williams or Greg Little deserve serious consideration.
Basically, the Jets need to put their irons in many fires on the offensive line. Between the first four rounds of the draft and free agency, they should not be shy about adding 2-3 new bodies and still holding on to Kelvin Beachum and Spencer Long. Sort out the depth chart in the OTAs and camp. More depth is better than less depth, especially with Brandon Shell recovering form injury and this unit needs at least two new starters for 2019.
Wide Receiver Swings
The wide receiver free agent market is less than exciting. The Jets are going to extend Quincy Enunwa, tender Robby Anderson and cut ties with Jermaine Kearse (so long!). More is needed to support Enunwa and Anderson who have not proven to be consistent enough to be relied on as the top two guys and as referenced above, depth is important. Devin Funchess is an uninspiring option for what he is likely to be paid and the same goes for Randall Cobb. Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams is an interesting swing, who could be cheaper and provide more upside as a downfield threat. Golden Tate has struggled in Philadelphia and is on the wrong side of 30 but on a 1-2 year deal at reasonable money is a reliable target in the short passing game with strong YAC ability. Outside of that, the market is filled with spare parts like Bruce Ellington and Philip Dorsett. The lack of receiving options is part of what makes Bell so enticing, when you consider his ability to potentially add 50-75 receptions.
One other potential route is attacking the trade market. AJ Green is the most intriguing name who is regularly being discussed as an available veteran option. Green is coming off a major injury and will be 31 years old this season with one year left on his contract, which limits what you can reasonably give up for him. However, considering all the circumstances discussed above that are unique to the Jets, it is worth exploring if a pair of mid round picks can pry him away from Cincinnati, particularly if the Jets do something bold like move Leonard Williams for a 2nd or 3rd rounder (they already have two 3rd rounders this year). It is a high risk move but the Jets are going to need to take some swings to give Darnold the best chance to succeed. A healthy AJ Green is one of the five best receivers in the NFL and if they can get themselves more draft collateral to play with, it is worth exploring.
Tight End Depth
The Jets have a promising rookie in Chris Herndon but that does not mean they should stop adding talent to the tight end position. NFL offenses frequently use two players in the passing game and there are a few names worth exploring on the free agent market, including Demertius Harris of the Kansas City Chiefs, Tyler Kroft of the Cincinnati Bengals and Jesse James of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Another way to compensate for the lack of available receiver talent is to load up at tight end and stop giving major reps to players like Eric Tomlinson and Jordan Leggett. The Jets should also not be shy about taking swings at receiver and tight end in the NFL Draft, rather than continuing to compile interior defensive linemen.
Welcome To The 21st Century
No matter who the Jets hire at Head Coach, they need to install a playcaller who will move them into the 21st century of the NFL. The Jets have consistently ran a slow paced, behind the play clock unit that is eminently predictable and bland. It is time to spread the field out, increase the tempo, gradually give Darnold more responsibility at the line of scrimmage. Diversify the screen game, utilize RPOs, take more vertical shots down the field and stop running on 1st and 2nd down. every. single. series.
Overall, the Jets need an ambitious, outside of the box approach to adding offensive talent this offseason. They need to take multiple swings at the same position or positions they “appear” to already have depth at and use their excessive cap space for pursuits of premium, elite talent the skill positions. There is enough in the war chest to make needed additions at every offensive spot and still have money/draft capital to spend on pass rushers to aid the defense.
Go score points. This is an offensive league and you may finally have an answer to your quarterback question. Support him in every single way possible, no matter how absurd the numbers may look on the surface for certain additions.