New York Jets: How To Move Forward Without Jim Leonhard

How will the New York Jets handle moving forward without Jim Leonhard on defense and special teams?

For the second year in a row, the New York Jets have lost starting safety and punt returner Jim Leonhard for the last stretch of the season. They managed to overcome his injury in 2010 and still make a run to the AFC Championship Game but replacing Leonhard will be a more difficult task this time around.

Last year, the Jets had Eric Smith, Brodney Pool, and Dwight Lowery all rolling through as Leonhard’s replacements on defense. Lowery was traded to Jacksonville before this season started, leaving the Jets with just Smith, who has been below average all year and Pool, who has been hurt most of the season. Their number three safety is currently Tracy Wilson who was just signed to the active roster two weeks ago, after the team surprisingly released Emmanuel Cook who had been with the team since last season. Basically, they have absolutely no depth behind Smith and Pool, who are question marks themselves.

The Jets will have to bring in another body, but the options are slim at this point of the year. It will be on Smith and Pool to elevate their play and stay healthy. Rex Ryan will also have to get creative and may need to move somebody like Marquice Cole over to safety in certain packages.

On special teams, the Jets have been a nightmare returning punts all season when Leonhard hasn’t been back there. Jeremy Kerley, Antonio Cromartie, and Joe McKnight have all muffed kicks. Kerley will be the primary option to replace Leonhard now and looked good yesterday, but can he be trusted in the swirling winds of Philadelphia and MetLife Stadium the next two weeks? The Jets no longer have Jerricho Cotchery to drop deep as a reliable option when a team is trying to pin them deep, so it will be on Kerley, a rookie, to assume the full responsibility of replacing Leonahrd on special teams.

Injuries are never an excuse. Every team is dealing with them at this point of the season. Now it is going to be about Pool playing to his potential in Rex Ryan’s defense as the free safety and Eric Smith handling the strong safety roll full time, without giving up too many back breaking plays. Kerley has a chance to be a great punt returner, we have seen flashes of that this season but he needs to remember that nothing exceeds the importance of avoiding turnovers.

New York Jets Defense: Can They Rise To The Occasion?

TOJ wonders if the New York Jets defense has the personnel to slow down Buffalo’s high powered offense

The Buffalo Bills have surprised this season led by a high powered offense. Running back Fred Jackson is playing as well as any back in the league and possesses the type of game breaking ability on the edges that has given the New York Jets defense fits this year. Ryan Fitzpatrick quarterbacks a spread attack that is built around his quick release and timing.

In terms of Buffalo’s passing attack, the Jets are built to stop them. They have the corners to match-up with their receivers, who have the ability to be physical enough with them to disrupt their timing and push them around the field. Aaron Maybin is going to lead a charged up pass rush that should have the ability to get after Fitzpatrick.

It is going to come down to stopping Jackson both as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield, if the Jets defense wants to have a respectable showing on Sunday. There still remains a chance Mike DeVito won’t play this weekend, which means the pressure will be on Muhammad Wilkerson and the rotation of Marcus Dixon and Ropati Pitoitua at end to set the edge, along with Calvin Pace at outside linebacker.

When it comes to covering Jackson out of the backfield, that is on the safeties and extra corners. I would expect the Jets to spend most of this game with 5 or 6 defensive backs on the field. Kyle Wilson and Brodney Pool should play the bulk of the game and need to help in run support, along with disrupting the short passing game.

The Jets defense played their best half of the season against San Diego. They now need to build on it against a better offense.

Preliminary Thoughts: Jets vs. Raiders

The New York Jets have their first road game of the 2011 season this Sunday when they face the 1-1 Oakland Raiders. In their last trip out to Oakland in 2009, the Jets rolled to a 38-0 win, however that had a large part to do with JaMarcus Russell being under center. Oakland has since improved but is coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Buffalo Bills, where they allowed a massive second half comeback led by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson.

On offense, Oakland begins and ends with Darren McFadden. Jason Campbell is a decent quarterback and rookie wide receiver Denarius Moore had an incredible game last week. Yet, a Campbell/Moore combination doesn’t do much in the face of Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Rex Ryan blitzes. The Raiders best chance lies in a huge day from McFadden both running and catching the ball out of the backfield. On defense, the Jets may want to consider having a safety like Brodney Pool shadow McFadden out of the backfield, so he can avoid being matched up on a linebacker.

The Raiders are solid on defense but are clearly missing Nnamdi Asomugha, as they were carved apart by Fitzpatrick last week and couldn’t cover Stevie Johnson or David Nelson. Fred Jackson was also able to pile up well over 100 yards on their rush defense, which looked terrific the week before against Denver. But then again, doesn’t everybody look great stopping the run versus Denver? Mark Sanchez should be able to move the football, even with the absence of All-Pro center Nick Mangold.

In order to protect rookie Colin Baxter, who will be starting in Mangold’s place. The Jets must implement a high amount of quick passes to the outside. Get the ball in the hands of Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress in space, as both should have mismatches this week. Dustin Keller should also be a major factor in the short/intermediate passing game. The Jets can also help Baxter by shifting their rushing attack to the outside, which could lead to an increased use of 2nd year back Joe McKnight and hopeful Brad Smith clone, Jeremy Kerley.

New York Jets Roster Still Needs Work

The Jets are putting the finishing touches on the final 53 man roster today and if everything shakes out as expected, they are still going to have work to do.

You can’t go into the regular season with your backup offensive lineman being Vladimir Ducasse, Matt Kroul, Robby Felix and an injured Robert Turner not coming back until mid-season. It is time to sign a veteran.

You also have to weigh the value of holding 3 roster spots for Turner, Logan Payne and Greg McElroy when all are injured. McElroy is the backup of the future so he isn’t going anywhere and if Turner could really make it back by October then it is worth keeping him off IR. Yet, I can’t see the sense in holding that space for Logan Payne on a 8 week injury, when his roster spot can be given to somebody else.

The Jets may also look to make a move in their secondary, where there is chatter that Brodney Pool is on the trading block. Finally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jets took a long look at the list of punters available and considered moving on one of them to replace TJ Conley.

New York Jets Putting Finishing Touches On Roster?

We know the New York Jets still have plenty of money available to spend, so a pair of recent decisions made by the front office shouldn’t come as a surprise.

First, they smartly decided to re-sign safety Brodney Pool to a one year contract. Pool came on strong at the end of last year as a starting safety and has a greater upside than Eric Smith opposite Jim Leonhard. Rex Ryan has already declared Smith the starter but Pool will be involved in plenty of defensive packages, especially on passing downs and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him taking the bulk of reps by the end of the year. He improves the depth and continuity of the Jets defense.

Second, the Jets are bringing in veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason for a visit today and it is believed there is a good chance he will leave with a contract. Mason would be a very good addition to the Jets offense, as he had 802 yards receiving and 7 touchdowns last year, which compares very well to the 904 yards and 7 touchdowns the Jets lost from Braylon Edwards. Also prior to last year, he had three straight 1,000 yard seasons. Mason could hold down the number two receiver spot as Plaxico Burress gets acclimated and then could move into the number three role later in the season.

Unfortunately, a Mason signing would likely mean the end of Jerricho Cotchery’s career with the Jets. If Mason signs for a veteran minimum’s contract, he would cost half as much as Cotchery, meaning Cotchery will either be traded or cut. This would be a tough move to swallow as I already documented Cotchery’s value to the team yesterday.

Does it make sense from both a football and financial standpoint to switch from Cotchery to Mason? The answer is yes, considering the questions about Cotchery’s health that have currently landed him on the PUP list. It is a sad reality because the guy deserves better. The NFL can be a cold business and I still don’t want to see him leave, but if they lock Mason down it is hard to see him staying on the team and getting after Mike Tannenbaum for making the move.

NFL Free Agency 2011: New York Jets Day Three Primer

And the madness continues…

– The most encouraging thing to start your day: How about this Tweet from Adam Schefter:

Jets are more than $10 million UNDER salary cap, according to two NFL capologists. Might make the Jets the favorite to land Nnamdi Asomugha.”

Mike Tannenbaum how do you do it? If the Jets don’t land Asomugha, you would think they still have a good shot to bring back Antonio Cromartie or at least another veteran to compete with Kyle Wilson like Chris Carr. It seems to sound like Asomugha will reach a decision in the next day or two between the Jets, 49ers, and Texans and after him the rest of the cornerback dominoes will fall.

– The Denver Broncos are reportedly interested in Eric Smith but the Jets are going to make a strong effort to retain him. Drew Coleman is also continuing to receive interest from a handful of other teams. I am surprised we haven’t heard more about Brodney Pool yet.

– Considering Sidney Rice has signed with Seattle and Steve Breaston signed with Kansas City, you have to think a move for Braylon Edwards is coming soon for some team. I wouldn’t completely write the Jets off because if they can’t secure Asomugha, maybe they will look back towards Edwards but it does seem highly unlikely at this point that he will be back.

A Midsummer Guess At The New York Jets Depth Chart

Over at ESPN, Rich Cimini posted the New York Jets current depth chart, which we will be updating throughout free agency here at TOJ. However, it also inspired me to take a midsummer guess at what the final 53 for the Jets will be, even before free agency opens and training camp begins. Crazy, right? Well, we are in the last days of the lockout so might as well get these predictions out there now. Talk it up on the Twitter, Facebook, and yes even the Google+ page —

OFFENSE

  • QB – Mark Sanchez, Mark Brunell, Greg McElroy
  • RB – Shonn Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson, Joe McKnight, Bilal Powell
  • FB – John Conner
  • WR – Santonio Holmes, Randy Moss, Jerricho Cotchery, Jeremy Kerley, Scotty McKnight
  • TE – Dustin Keller, Matthew Mulligan, Jeff Cumberland
  • LT – D’Brickashaw Ferguson
  • LG – Matt Slauson
  • C – Nick Mangold, Robert Turner
  • RG – Brandon Moore, Marlon Davis
  • RT – Damien Woody, Vladimir Ducasse

DEFENSE

  • DE – Mike DeVito, Trevor Pryce, Muhammad Wilkerson, Ropati Pitoitua, Matt Kroul
  • DT – Sione Pouha, Marcus Dixon, Kenrick Ellis, Martin Tevaseu
  • OLB – Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, Jason Taylor, Jamaal Westerman
  • ILB – David Harris, Bart Scott, Josh Mauga, Brashton Satele
  • CB – Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson, Marquice Cole
  • S – Jim Leonhard, Brodney Pool, Dwight Lowery, James Ihedigbo, Emmanuel Cook

SPECIAL TEAMS

  • K – Nick Folk
  • P – Steve Weatherford
  • LS – Tanner Purdum

Of course there could and likely will be some UDFAs or low budget free agent signings replacing bottom of the roster players, along with a few other spots being taken up by players we don’t even know are on the Jets radar yet. However, I do think the Jets primary focus will be maintaining their own players instead of shopping in free agency or looking for the trades. I am probably being a touch on the optimistic side by thinking Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie, and Brodney Pool will all be back but why not have faith in Mike Tannenabum at this point?

TOJ As Tannenbaum: Free Agent Decisions For New York Jets

I am trying to be an optimist with this whole lockout thing, so if free agency does actually start some time in the next month here is TOJ sitting in the big chair as Mike Tannenbaum and making personnel decisions for the Jets this off-season:

1. Sign Santonio Holmes to a long term deal – Yes, this will likely mean the end of Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith’s stay in New York but in the long run making sure Holmes remains a Jet is the right decision. He is a uniquely gifted and clutch playmaker who can change a game at any second.

2. Sign Antonio Cromartie to a long term deal – You need a consistent, athletic corner opposite Darrelle Revis. Antonio Cromartie handled the job well last season. He is already familiar with the defense and it is too risky to hand the starting job over to Kyle Wilson or a free agent. If the Jets want a bigger role for Wilson in year two, they should let Drew Coleman walk.

3. Bring back Damien Woody – Don’t risk the right tackle spot to Vladimir Ducasse after he didn’t have a proper off-season. Let him spend a full year learning behind Woody at the position and have him take over next year. Wayne Hunter will likely walk in free agency if this happens but the Jets should at least make sure they bring back the versatile Robert Turner for depth.

4. Bring back Shaun Ellis – He is a longest tenured player on the team, a leader on the defense and would be a perfect mentor to Muhammad Wilkerson. The Jets should be able to work a short term deal to allow him to retire in green and white.

5. Bring back Brodney Pool – Pool began to develop into the playmaker most of us thought he would be at the end of last season. With a year of this system under his belt, he should flourish in his second year. Eric Smith likely won’t be back if this happens, but if the Jets can bring back James Ihedigbo and if a young player like Emmanuel Cook steps up, their depth should be fine.

6. Veteran Stopgap Receiver – We all have heard all kinds of name thrown around but if Braylon Edwards leaves, I expect the Jets to sign either Randy Moss or Plaxico Burress. Personally, I would sign Burress to a short, incentive-laden deal. He is a more physical player that should be able to do many of the things Edwards did for the Jets offense last season.

7. Linebacker Depth – The Jets need to add another linebacker to their depth chart, whether it requires bringing Jason Taylor back or signing somebody on the cheap like Matt Roth.

TOJ Top Five: New York Jets Free Agency Decisions

Since free agency could be here sooner rather than later, let’s use today’s TOJ Top Five to look at the decisions the Jets will have to make in the coming month or two.

5. Offensive Line

The team released right tackle Damien Woody earlier in the year but may still bring him back since second year lineman Vladimir Ducasse didn’t have a formal off-season to work with the coaches. Wayne Hunter is a free agent and could be signed as a cheaper option to compete with Ducasse if the Jets decide not to bring Woody back. Versatile backup Robert Turner is also a free agent.

4. The Pass Rush

The Jets didn’t add an outside linebacker in the NFL Draft and remain thin overall at the linebacker position. A few people have speculated they could pursue Matt Roth, who spent last season in Cleveland. They could also decide to bring Jason Taylor back, although that seems like a long shot. On the defensive line, a decision has to be made on Shaun Ellis, who is the longest tenured member of the team and could provide an excellent mentor to rookie Muhammad Wilkerson for a year or two. Veteran Trevor Pryce could also be brought back to help take some of the burden off Wilkerson in his rookie year, if the Jets decide to let Ellis walk.

3. Safety Choices…

Brodney Pool and Eric Smith are both free agents, and the Jets will likely have to pick one to bring back as the starter opposite Jim Leonhard. Pool has more potential but could cost more money, Smith struggles in coverage but is a heady player who is good in run support. Backup safety and special teams ace James Ihedigbo is also a free agent.

2. Who to put opposite of The Island?

The Jets need to decide whether or not they are going to bring Antonio Cromartie back to play corner opposite of Darrelle Revis. If Cromartie does walk, the Jets are going to need to find another veteran to compete with Kyle Wilson and provide better depth throughout the cornerback position. Jonathan Joseph, Richard Marshall, Carlos Rogers, Ike Taylor and Chris Carr are all on the market…and no I don’t think the Jets will even pursue Nnamdi Asomugha. Nickelback Drew Coleman is also a free agent and and coming off a career year in 2010.

1. Braylon or Santonio?

Which of the free agent receivers is going to get the long term deal? There is always the possibility that Mike Tannenbaum could put in an early bid for executive of the year by getting them both back but in all likelihood, one will be leaving town…probably Edwards. How it plays out with Edwards and Holmes will determine which (if any) free agent receivers the Jets will pursue in free agency or via trade, whether it is Plaxico Burress, Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco, Steve Smith, or any of the other names they have been associated with.

New York Jets Free Agency Rumor Round-Up

Track all of the latest New York Jets free agency updates on TOJ’s stream at SB Nation NY

A few comments on how the New York Jets will approach free agency…

1. Nnamdi Asomugha isn’t going to happen…so get the dreams of the two best corners in the NFL being on a single team out of your head. The Jets aren’t going to break the bank for him with so many free agents of their own, including a cheaper option than Asomugha at corner in Antonio Cromartie.

2. Regardless of Asomugha not happening, the Jets still need to address their cornerback position either by bringing back Cromartie or by signing somebody else like Ike Taylor or Jonathan Joseph. They didn’t draft a pass rusher and it is doubtful they will find a high impact player in free agency, hence they need as much coverage as they can get. Other corners they could look at include Carlos Rogers, Richard Marshall, Chris Carr, and Fabian Washington.

3. If I had to guess today, I would still say it is more likely that Santonio Holmes comes back before Braylon Edwards. However, I am more confident today than I was when the season ended about both of them coming back. Edwards has already gone on record saying he would offer some type of a hometown discount and if Holmes does the same, you never know what could happen. I don’t see any way Brad Smith ends up coming back. Another team will give him more money than the Jets will be willing to offer along with a bigger role on offense.

4. If the Jets lose Braylon Edwards, I am not against giving Randy Moss or Plaxico Burress a shot (no pun intended). Chad Ochocinco or Steve Smith is going to command too much money, yet the Jets should be able to get Moss or Burress on a cheap, short-term deal. The recent talk makes Moss sound like more of a possibility and I might be crazy but I think he could be productive for the Jets on the outside, especially with the attention Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, and Jerricho Cotchery need to receive in the slot.

5. In the less likely case that Edwards returns and Santonio Holmes leaves. I think the team should focus on signing Green Bay’s James Jones. Edwards is going to cost less money than Holmes so if he leaves, the Jets would have more money to invest in a longer contract to a younger player with more upside, like Jones.

6. Outside of Croamrtie in the secondary, I think the Jets will focus on getting Brodney Pool back to start at safety and then work towards getting either Eric Smith or James Ihedigbo back as a reserve. Drew Coleman is very up in the air. It depends on how they decide to handle Cromartie.