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.

Dwight Lowery: The Forgotten Defensive Back

One of the few New York Jets defensive backs who isn’t a free agent, is cornerback/safety Dwight Lowery. There hasn’t been talk about Lowery’s role with the team moving forward this off-season, yet he was a key part of their defense in 2010.

Similar to Drew Coleman, Lowery was a defensive back who rotated into their various nickel, sub, and dime packages and made a surprisingly high amount of impact plays. He finished the season with 3 interceptions, 2 of which were returned for touchdowns, 2 sacks, 7 passes defensed, and a fumble recovery. Most notably, Lowery iced the Jets win over the Vikings with an interception return for a touchdown and then their win over the Denver Broncos the following week with a fumble recovery.

Due to injuries, Lowery began to work more at safety towards the end of last season. Many people have been clamoring for him to move there, considering his ball skills and how he struggles in man to man coverage at cornerback. Lowery’s primary position will likely depend on which free agents are brought back out of Antonio Cromartie, Drew Coleman, Eric Smith, Brodney Pool, and James Ihedigbo. Obviously, it is a benefit to the Jets that Lowery has shown he can play both positions and he should remain a big part of their defense moving forward.

I am not sure if Lowery is physical enough to play safety full time, but he does fit well there in pass heavy situations. The more the Jets can let Lowery roam in zone coverage, the better, because he lacks the ideal speed to match-up with most receivers in single coverage.

TOJ Interview: Emanuel Cook

New York Jets safety Emmanuel Cook took the time to talk with TOJ about his off-season, his hopes for the coming year, and his charity work…

TOJ: How are you working to stay in shape during the lockout? Have you worked with any other current or former teammates?

EC: I work out daily. I’m in the gym a lot. I also have a special trainer I work with. I do field drills, beach workouts, swimming, lots of running and weights. Kenrick Ellis and I went to college together and we’re both from West Palm Beach, so we work out together quite a bit. I’m feeling good about the shape I’m in. Whenever we get back to work I’m ready to go.

TOJ: Can you discuss being moved to the active roster for the stretch run and the playoffs last year? Did you expect it and what was the experience like once were you out on the field?

EC: I’ve been with the Jets on and off for the past two years. That’s my team. That’s where I feel at home. When I got the call I was excited and ready to go. Since getting signed as a UDFA in 09′, I’ve been working really hard for that chance and the only thing on my mind was stepping up to do whatever the team needed me to do. It was a great experience and I’m grateful for it and ready to show the team and the fans more of what I can do this season.

TOJ: Do you think you have ability to become a core special teams player for Mike Westhoff? What type of skills can you bring to those units?

EC: I know I can. I believe some of the plays I had last season gave a glimpse of what I can do.  I play with a lot of heart.  I spent the past two pre-seasons working with Coach Westhoff and he is the best in the game. I’ve learned a lot from him and I respect him a lot. I believe my special teams abilities helped me get the spot on the Roster this year.

TOJ: Are you confident about your ability to work yourself into a bigger role on the defense this year, especially considering Eric Smith, Brodney Pool, and James Ihedigbo are all free agents?

EC: I definitely want to have a bigger role in the defense.  I’ve spent this off-season preparing for it.  Physically I have the abilities and as far as mental preparation, I study my plays and I’ve spent the 09′ and 10′ training camps/pre-seasons with the team, so I’m very comfortable with the defense we run.  Whatever job I’m asked to do, I’m going to do it and give it my all. 

TOJ: What player on the Jets roster did you learn the most from this past season?
 
EC: That’s a tough question because of the talent we have, but I’d have to say Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith.  Both of those guys do a great job.  I’ve learned a lot from them skill wise as well as how to play smarter when I’m out there.

Here is information from Emanuel himself on the charity work he is currently doing…

I lost a best friend and high school football teammate, DeAndre Butler, to Leukemia in December of 2008. I’vemade it my mission to use whatever visibility I have to help in the fight against blood cancers in his memory. July 1-2 in West Palm Beach I am having a Celebrity Charity Weekend. We’ll have a meet and greet at Duffy’s Sports Bar on July 1st from 5-7pm as well as a Bowl-a-thon at Verdes Lanes on July 2nd from 3-6pm. It will be hosted by myself and I’ve got a handful of other NFL players coming to support, including Kenrick Ellis.

I’ve also created red silicone bracelets imprinted with “Remember DeAndre Butler” that I’m selling for $5 with all proceeds going to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, their New York City Chapter recently asked me to run for their “Man of the Year” in 2012 and I accepted, so I’m looking forward to that campaign as well.

Anybody who is interested in coming to the charity weekend or wants a bracelet can email RememberDeAndreButler@gmail.com or checkout www.facebook.com/rememberdeandrebutler. They can also always email me at emanuelcookfans@gmail.com. I read every message that comes in.

Follow Emanuel on Twitter and Facebook

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.

Starting Safety: Eric Smith or Brodney Pool?

One of the bigger questions on the Jets defense that will be answered in free agency, is who will start at safety opposite Jim Leonhard? It doesn’t seem likely that the team will bring back both free agents Eric Smith and Brodney Pool. Who would you prefer to see opposite Jim Leonhard next year?

Eric Smith

  • 28 years old, 6’1, 207 pounds
  • 2010 stats – 54 tackles, 1 sack, 1 blocked kick, 2 passes defensed, 3 games missed cause of injury

Smith is better in run support and is a more valuable special teams player. He has two years experience in Rex Ryan’s defense and the versatility to move around to different positions in different packages. He struggles in pass coverage and gets called for too many penalties.

Brodney Pool

  • 26 years old, 6’2, 214 pounds
  • 2010 stats – 53 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 11 passes defensed, 1 game missed cause of injury

Pool has more upside and is better in coverage. He came on strong in the second half of last season after a slow start. Even though he only missed one game last year, he has a history of concussion problems.

What’s it going to be? Personally, I’d like to see Pool as the full time starter for another year. I think he can develop in this system into a very good safety, if he can stay healthy.

New York Jets: Enough Free Agent DBs To Make Your Head Hurt

Who should stay and who should go?

When discussing the New York Jets free agents, it is easy to get caught up in the Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and to a lesser extent, Brad Smith debate. They are big name players and everybody wants to make sure Mark Sanchez has the necessary weapons to succeed. However, don’t overlook how many free agents the Jets have in their secondary, which is priority number one on a Rex Ryan football team —

Antonio Cromartie

  • Starting Corner – 42 tackles, 17 passes defensed, 3 INTs
  • Physical freak, good compliment to Darrelle Revis
  • Always provides an intriguing quote
  • Inconsistent at times, can struggle with penalties
  • Still not a very good tackler

I won’t add too much on to the 1,000,000 words I have written this off-season about the importance of Cromartie returning. The bottom line is that Kyle Wilson isn’t ready to take over as a starter yet so the Jets need Cromartie back.

Drew Coleman

  • Nickel Corner – 41 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 5 Forced Fumbles
  • Nose for the football and making big plays
  • Valuable special teams player
  • Struggles in man coverage
  • Lacks ideal size

Say what you want about Coleman, he makes plays and he was the Jets third best corner last season, which is a big role in a Rex Ryan defense. Will the coaching staff let him walk to give Kyle Wilson more reps?

Brodney Pool

  • Starting Safety – 53 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 Forced Fumble
  • Came on strong at end of last year
  • Has tough time staying healthy
  • More reliable in pass coverage than Eric Smith

Pool probably has more upside than Eric Smith as a starting safety opposite Jim Leonhard, but can he stay healthy for 16 games?

Eric Smith

  • Starting Safety – 54 tackles, 1 sack
  • Smart, physical player
  • Excellent on special teams
  • Struggles in pass coverage
  • He has also dealt with injury issues

Smith is a more valuable all around player than Brodney Pool who Rex Ryan has grown to love. He is really better suited to be a #3 safety and a special teamer than a full time starter.

James Ihedigbo

  • Extra Defensive Back, Blitz Specialist – 22 tackles, 3 sacks
  • Very good special teams player
  • Physical and aggressive
  • Limited range in pass coverage

Ihedigbo has turned into a nice role player on the Jets defense, who remains a core special teams player. They should be able to work something out to bring him back. He is capable of being a #3 safety if Smith or Pool leaves.

Plenty Of Work To Be Done On Rex’s Pride And Joy

The number of question marks surrounding the New York Jets defense heading into the Draft is at a somewhat worrisome number. Rex Ryan is a great defensive mind, who has the ability to get more out of less, yet the Jets have holes to fill at all three levels of their defense if they want to remain among the league’s elite units.

Defensive Line – Even if the Jets decide to re-sign Shaun Ellis (which they should) and Trevor Pryce doesn’t retire. They still need both a defensive end and a defensive tackle to improve their depth and youth at the position. Phil Taylor out of Baylor has been a very popular pick for the Jets in mock drafts and his selection would likely allow Sione Pouha to get some work at end. However, spending a first round pick on Taylor or somebody like him shouldn’t stop the Jets from potentially adding another lineman later in the Draft or via free agency (if it ever starts).

Linebacker – The long term replacement for Bryan Thomas needs to be found as the Jets look to improve their pass rush. If the right defensive lineman isn’t available at number 30, Akeem Ayers and Justin Houston have been linked to the Jets. Both players have question marks surrounding them, yet they would have a year or two to function as only pass rush specialists behind Thomas as they learn to become full-time players. The Jets could also use depth at inside linebacker behind David Harris and Bart Scott. Josh Mauga and Jamaal Westerman don’t seem to be any more than special teams players at this point.

Secondary – It is time to accept the fact that the Jets will always need corners and safeties as long as Rex Ryan is their head coach. Everybody is worried about the Jets front seven, while forgetting three of their top four safeties are free agents, along with two of their top three corners. They need to decide what they are doing about bringing Antonio Cromartie, Eric Smith, Brodney Pool, James Ihedigbo, and Drew Coleman back, along with supplementing the position through the Draft and likely a free agency move or two. Personally, I think Pool will be brought back to start opposite Jim Leonhard and they will add a safety later in the draft to groom behind him. At corner, the Jets better pray Kyle Wilson is ready to take his game up about five notches if they let Antonio Cromartie leave.

Reviewing Mike Tannenbaum’s Draft Picks

Most New York Jets fans are appropriately big supporters of General Manager Mike Tannenbaum, his aggressive nature has kept off-seasons entertaining and helped shape the Jets into one of the league’s best teams. With the NFL Draft rapidly approaching, let’s take a look at every selection Tannenbaum has made since taking over as GM in 2006 —

2006

  • Round 1, Pick 4 – D’Brickashaw Ferguson
  • Round 1, Pick 29 – Nick Mangold
  • Round 2, Pick 49 – Kellen Clemens
  • Round 3, Pick 76 – Anthony Schlegel
  • Round 3, Pick 97 – Eric Smith
  • Round 4, Pick 103 – Brad Smith
  • Round 4, Pick 117 – Leon Washington
  • Round 5, Pick 150 – Jason Pociask
  • Round 6, Pick 189 – Drew Coleman
  • Round 7, Pick 220 – Titus Adams

This was one hell of a draft for Tannenbaum to start his career with. It was a bold move to take two offensive lineman in the first round for a first-time GM, especially deciding to pass on quarterback Matt Leinart, who would have been an extremely popular (but in hindsight an extremely stupid) selection. Ferguson and Mangold have developed into the foundation of the Jets offensive line and are both Pro-Bowl caliber players.

Yes, Kellen Clemens never panned out and the highlight of Anthony Schlegel’s career was muffing an onside kick, but he compensated for it by getting Eric Smith, Brad Smith, Leon Washington, and Drew Coleman in later rounds, who all turned into major contributors on playoff teams.

2007

  • Round 1, Pick 14 – Darrelle Revis
  • Round 2, Pick 47 – David Harris
  • Round 6, Pick 177 – Jacob Bender
  • Round 7, Pick 235 – Chansi Stuckey

Another terrific draft for Tannenbaum who traded up to get Darrelle Revis, who is now the consensus best corner in football and David Harris who is a Pro-Bowl caliber inside linebacker. Bender never amounted to anything but Stuckey turned into a quality player who was an important part of the Braylon Edwards trade.

2008

  • Round 1, Pick 6 – Vernon Gholston
  • Round 1, Pick 30 – Dustin Keller
  • Round 4, Pick 113 – Dwight Lowery
  • Round 5, Pick 162 – Erik Ainge
  • Round 6, Pick 171 – Marcus Henry
  • Round 7, Pick 211 – Nate Garner

Without question Tannenbaum’s worst draft and probably worst overall few days as the Jets GM. Gholston was a complete bust, Ainge had serious drug problems and was suspended multiple times, Henry and Garner never played a regular season snap for the team. Dustin Keller has obviously been an important part of the offense and Lowery has been a serviceable role player but the Gholston pick hurts.

2009

  • Round 1, Pick 5 – Mark Sanchez
  • Round 3, Pick 65 – Shonn Greene
  • Round 6, Pick 193 – Matt Slauson

Two more trade ups that have paid early dividends for the Jets. Say what you want about Mark Sanchez, he certainly has looked the part of the franchise quarterback the Jets drafted him to be by winning four road playoff games in his first two years. Greene was a disappointment in year two but his terrific playoff stretch in his rookie year helped carry the Jets to the AFC Championship Game. Matt Slauson is now the starting left guard and was steady in that role last year.

2010

  • Round 1, Pick 29 – Kyle Wilson
  • Round 2, Pick 61 – Vladimir Ducasse
  • Round 4, Pick 112 – Joe McKnight
  • Round 5, Pick 139 – John Conner

The jury is still very much out on this draft class but the early returns weren’t very good. Wilson struggled heavily his rookie year and barely contributed. Ducasse was beat out by Matt Slauson for the left guard spot and will now compete to be the starting right tackle. McKnight showed up to camp out of shape and didn’t give any meaningful reps all season. Conner showed potential and will be the starting fullback this season.

Assessing Jets Needs Heading Into Draft

A quick run down as we are now less than a month away —

1. Defensive Line – If the season started today, the Jets would be starting Mike DeVito, Sione Pouha, and Marcus Dixon up front with Ropati Pitoitua and Matt Kroul as the top backups…enough said. They need another player or two here and will likely spend their first round pick on the defensive line unless an outside linebacker jumps off the board. The Jets should also work to bring back Shaun Ellis and Trevor Pryce to improve their depth and to mentor the rookies brought in.

2. Outside Linebacker – The Jets need to improve their pass rush and in the 3-4 that means having outside linebackers who can get after the quarterback. Bryan Thomas is a solid, consistent all-around player but the Jets need more speed and athleticism off the edge to compliment Calvin Pace.

3. Secondary – The Jets could still use a play-making safety to pair with Jim Leonhard. Kerry Rhodes was a bust in Rex Ryan’s first year and the Eric Smith/Brodney Pool platoon from last year could stand to be improved. If Antonio Cromartie leaves via free agency, the Jets may also need to look at the corner position due to Kyle Wilson’s struggles last year.

4. Wide Receiver – This is under the assumption that either Braylon Edwards or Santonio Holmes isn’t on the team next year. The offense could use a player with some upside to develop behind Jerricho Cotchery.

5. Backup quarterback – They need a long term answer to the question of who will be Mark Sanchez’s backup, especially since he has had more than one injury issue in his brief NFL career.

6. Offensive Line Depth – With either Wayne Hunter or Vladimir Ducasse moving into the starting line-up to replace Damien Woody and Robert Turner’s status uncertain for next year, the Jets could use another lineman who is versatile between the tackle and guard spots to provide depth.

Quick Thoughts On Bob Sanders and Jets Safety Position

It is being reported today that the New York Jets had former Colts safety Bob Sanders in for a visit. Any time you have a former Defensive Player of the Year in the building at a position that needs improvement, it is going to generate some excitement.

However, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Sanders has played nine regular season games in the past three years…yes, nine. The thought of signing Sanders to anything more than a heavily incentive based contract that has a base salary near the veterans minimum is insane. If Sanders was willing to play under those terms, it is worth a shot because the Jets currently only have one true safety  under contract, Jim Leonhard, who is coming off season ending surgery.

Ever since Rex Ryan has taken over, the Jets haven’t had much production out of the safety position. Leonhard is a steady but unspectacular quarterback of the secondary who needs to be complimented by a playmaker.

The Jets will have decisions to make on Brodney Pool, Eric Smith, and James Ihedigbo this off-season. Smith and Ihedigbo are better suited as role players and special teams contributors. Pool came on strong at the end of last year but I am not sure you can rely on him to be the long term answer at the position.

Unfortunately, playmaking safeties aren’t easy to come by. The Jets could look at one with their first or third round pick in the upcoming draft but that would mean they are neglecting their defensive front seven.

It could very well be Pool or Smith alongside Leonhard again in 2011 and while I think Pool has more upside, Smith provides more all around value. It will be interesting to see who Mike Tannenbaum settles on bringing back, along with if they make room for Ihedigbo who is valuable in blitz packages.

Leonhard with his lone interception last year