Calm Before The Storm: Final Thoughts On Jets Free Agency

I won’t publish a “NFL is Back” post until it becomes official (probably around noon today) with a finalized timeline for the rest of the week. Yet, from everything we are hearing, things are about to start getting nuts…maybe even today. 

A few final thoughts –

1. Wide Receiver – Santonio Holmes remains the Jets top priority but if the Washington Redskins drive the price up to a ridiculous number, Mike Tannenbaum shouldn’t hesitate to move his focus to bringing back Braylon Edwards. The Jets have too many other areas to address to waste resources and time in a bidding war with Daniel Snyder’s endless pockets. If the Jets are going to sign a free agent, I think it ends up being Randy Moss.

2. Secondary – It is worth taking a run at Nnamdi Asomugha, even if it remains a long shot. Antonio Cromartie returning is also starting to seem like a long shot, which means the Jets could have to focus on getting Brodney Pool and Drew Coleman back, along with finding a veteran free agent corner.

3. Offensive Tackle – It sounds like they plan to work something out with Damien Woody but if not Wayne Hunter remains a viable fallback option. The key is making sure at least one of the two is brought back. It would be insane to just hand the job to Vladimir Ducasse without having a veteran to compete with him.

4. Defensive End – Unfortunately, I could see Shaun Ellis being too pricey considering the Jets other concerns. However, Trevor Pryce is a good fallback plan.

5. Other Considerations – Even though I would like to see them add another linebacker, we haven’t heard anything tangible about the Jets having interest in picking up a Matt Roth, Manny Lawson, or Antwan Barnes. Hopefully, they can find some support for the position, especially if Bryan Thomas is forced to be a cap casualty.

Jets Should Pay Up For Veterans Ellis and Woody

Two of the financial decisions the Jets will have to make this off-season will be how much they are willing to invest in bringing veterans Shaun Ellis and Damien Woody back. In both cases, the team shouldn’t hesitate to spend a little extra money to get another year or potentially two out of both players.

The 34 year old Ellis has spent his entire 11 year career with the Jets and you have to think he would like to finish his career where he started it. He approached the team to rework his deal last year and was denied but hopefully this off-season they could find a reasonable middle ground to get him back for a year or two as a mentor for rookie Muhammad Wilkerson. He put together another productive season last year with 36 tackles and 4.5 sacks and also had arguably the best performance of his career in the Jets divisional round upset of the Patriots. Trevor Pryce would be a cheaper option but isn’t as effective and had injury issues last season.

It would help Wilkerson reach his true potential if he had a season to learn behind Ellis, who is a very good 3-4 end against both the run and pass, and also remains one of the leaders in the locker room. Wilkerson wouldn’t immediately be forced into a starting role and could work up as a rotational player until eventually taking over.

As for Woody, it is too risky to now ask second year player Vladimir Ducasse to take over at right tackle considering he hasn’t the chance to work with any of the coaches in the off-season. They could bring Wayne Hunter back as veteran insurance but Woody is a better overall player and has good chemistry with the rest of the line. He likely won’t have high contract demands and bringing him back for at least one more season, gives Ducasse time to learn a new position behind a quality, proven veteran.

The money spent on getting Ellis and Woody back for 2011 doesn’t just improve the Jets depth and talent at defensive end and right tackle respectively, it will also help young players like Wilkerson and Ducasse by giving them more time to get acclimated behind veterans.

New York Jets Free Agency: The Other Guys

There has been no shortage of talk about the appropriate fates in free agency for Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Antonio Cromartie, and Brad Smith…but what about the other unrestricted free agents the New York Jets have to make decisions on?

Shaun Ellis – Personally, I think it is a smart investment to bring Ellis back on a one or two year deal to help him mentor rookie Muhammad Wilkerson. He is also a leader in the locker room who clearly has plenty left in tank, as evidenced by his performance against New England in the playoffs last year. Unfortunately, I could see the Jets not matching his contract demands, especially after his request for a restructured deal last season didn’t happen.

  • TOJ Votes – Bring him back.
  • TOJ Predicts – Jets let him walk.

Brodney Pool – He came on strong at the end of last year and finally began to look like the playmaker the Jets signed him to be. Pool should command a good amount of interest in the open market, so it will be up to the Jets to determine how much of an upgrade he is over Eric Smith.

  • TOJ Votes – Bring him back.
  • TOJ Predicts – Jets bring him back.

Trevor Pryce – Rex Ryan compared Muhammad Wilkerson to a young Trevor Pryce and he would be a cheaper, although less productive, mentor to the rookie than Shaun Ellis. I could very easily see the Jets choosing to bring him back over Ellis in order to save money.

  • TOJ Votes – Let him walk.
  • TOJ Predicts – Jets bring him back.

Tony Richardson – Likely to retire and if he decides not to, the Jets aren’t going to bring him back considering they have John Conner ready to step into the starting role.

  • TOJ Votes – Retire T-Rich, you had a great career.
  • TOJ Predicts – T-Rich retires.

Steve Weatherford – Despite an inconsistent performance in the playoffs, Weatherford was still pretty good overall last year, especially at pinning teams deep. Considering the musical chairs they played at punter before Weatherford, I think the Jets will bring him back…besides, who else is bringing the shake weights to camp?

  • TOJ Votes – Bring him back.
  • TOJ Predicts – Jets bring him back.

Wayne Hunter – Originally it looked like he could compete with Vladimir Ducasse for the starting right tackle spot. I now think because of the lockout, the Jets will opt to bring Damien Woody back and have Ducasse spend a year learning behind him at the position, which likely means good-bye to Hunter.

  • TOJ Votes – Let him walk, spend the money on Woody instead.
  • TOJ Predicts – Jets let him walk.

Lance Laury – A special teamer, who was fairly quiet on special teams for the Jets last season. However, they are very thin at linebacker.

  • TOJ Votes – Bring him back.
  • TOJ Predicts – Jets let him walk to give more of a chance to players like Josh Mauga.

Eric Smith – A versatile safety, who is also very good at special teams. The Jets will ultimately have to choose between him and Brodney Pool and I think Pool projects better as a starter opposite Jim Leonhard.

  • TOJ Votes – Let him walk.
  • TOJ Predicts – Jets let him walk.

Drew Coleman – Struggles in coverage, but he is a playmaker at the nickel back position. The decision on Antonio Cromartie could go a long way to determining his fate. He isn’t helped by the fact that the coaching staff likely wants to give more reps to Kyle Wilson, who was a first round pick last year.

  • TOJ Votes – Bring him back.
  • TOJ Predicts – Jets let him walk to give Kyle Wilson and Marquice Cole more playing time.

James Ihedigbo – An effective blitzer in many of the Jets packages and a good special teams player, who seems to be a Rex Ryan guy.

  • TOJ Votes – Bring him back.
  • TOJ Predicts – Jets bring him back.

Nick Folk – Inconsistent at times last year but I don’t see the Jets just handing the job off to Nick Novak.

  • TOJ Votes – Bring him back.
  • TOJ Predicts – Jets bring him back.

As for Kellen Clemens, I think we all know he is gone. Perhaps if Justin McCariens didn’t have a bad day back in 2007, things would have went differently…

Where Will The Jets Go Cheap?

There will inevitably be some tough decisions the New York Jets front office will have to make when free agency starts. Certain positions are going to see a higher concentration of money spent, while others will be forced to be handled more cheaply with hopes of younger players stepping up. Where will Mike Tannebaum decide to invest the most?

Wide Receiver – We know money is going to be spent to keep either Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards, but would the Jets invest enough in the receiver position to keep both, or perhaps one along with Brad Smith? It doesn’t seem likely considering this is a run first offense, but they may want to insure Mark Sanchez has the best weapons possible at his disposal to help him flourish into a top-tier quarterback in the NFL.

Defensive Line – The Jets could go young and not pay up to bring Shaun Ellis back and also not work to coax Trevor Pryce out of retirement. However, they will be putting a high amount of pressure on first-round pick Muhammad Wilkerson to produce immediately and relying on unproven players like Ropati Pitoitua and Marcus Dixon to play large roles on the defensive line rotation. If they can’t work something out with Ellis, it would be smart to at least bring Pryce back on a cheap, one-year deal as insurance.

Offensive Line – When the Jets released Damien Woody this off-season, the original plan seemed to be allowing second year player Vladimir Ducasse battle with veteran Wayne Hunter to take over at right tackle. Hunter filled in for Woody a few games at the end of last season and is also a free agent, but would cost less to bring back. Now with the way this off-season has been affected by the lockout, can the Jets risk thinking Ducasse is ready to compete for a starting job and have somebody like Hunter as the only alternative or will they pay up to bring Woody back for another year? They also need to decide if they are going to bring back versatile back-up Robert Turner.

Secondary – Antonio Cromartie is going to be a highly sought after free agent and if the Jets decide to let him walk, they will be taking a risk at corner opposite Darrelle Revis by hoping Kyle Wilson is ready to step in as a starter. The Jets could always look to sign a free agent to compete with him but if they are going to spend money on a veteran, why not just stick with Cromartie who is comfortable in the system and handled the job well last year? They also need to make a decision at safety, where Brodney Pool will probably cost more than Eric Smith but provides better range and long-term potential next to Jim Leonhard.

Linebacker – The Jets could go into the year with their current depth chart and hope a player like Jamaal Westerman or Josh Mauga steps up as an option in certain packages and as reliable backups or look to bring back Jason Taylor or sign a free agent to support a position that is relatively thin.

All About Muhammad Wilkerson

Let’s get to know everybody’s new favorite player —

Background – For the second year in a row the Jets went with a Jersey boy, as Wilkerson grew up in Linden where he was one of the top players in the state. Wilkerson went on to spend one year at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, before moving on to three years at Temple.

College – In 2008 as a freshman, he had 13 tackles with one sack. He followed up with 58 tackles, six sacks, and one forced fumble in his sophomore campaign. In his final year with Temple he finished with 68 tackles, 10 sacks, and a forced fumble earning 1st team All-Mac honors and the team defensive MVP Award before leaving school a year early to declare for the draft.

Vitals – 6 foot 4, 315 pounds, and a 85 1/4 inch wingspan (widest of any defensive tackle in the draft).

Position – For the Jets, he will be a defensive end in their three man fronts but has the ability to slide inside when they move to a four man line, which they frequently do.

NFL Comparison – Both Mike Mayock and Rex Ryan have compared him to Trevor Pryce, who still could return to the Jets next year in a reserve role.

Quotable –

“I want to show teams the type of person I am, my character, being humble,” Wilkerson said, “but that at the end of the day, I can help the team in any way possible. Whatever is asked of me will be done.”

“That’s a tremendous defense they’ve [Jets] got,” Wilkerson said. “I’m glad to be a part of it, and I think I can come in and help the defense be more destructive than it is.”

Quotes courtesy of Jenny Vrentas of New Jersey Star-Ledger.

Where He Fits – In the likely scenario that Shaun Ellis doesn’t return, Wilkerson will become the starting defensive end alongside Sione Pouha and Mike DeVito in the Jets 3-4. It wouldn’t hurt for the Jets to bring back Ellis or maybe Trevor Pryce on a cheap deal to help mentor Wilkerson and allow him to start off more as a rotational player. Regardless, Wilkerson will see plenty of reps in both the Jets 3-4 and 4-3 looks, where he can slide inside to defensive tackle.

Best Case Scenario – Wilkerson becomes a capable starter in his rookie year, providing 5-6 sacks while being stout against the run, and thus showing immense promise for the future.

Worst Case Scenario – He can’t handle a starting role and struggles to stay in the defensive line rotation behind the likes of Marcus Dixon and Ropati Pitoitua.

Jets vs. Bills Round 1: Game Breakdown

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First a few updates:

1. The Jets have signed former Ravens defensive end, Trevor Pryce to boost their interior pass rush and overall defensive line depth. Pryce is obviously familiar with Rex Ryan’s defense and does have an ability to get after the quarterback, as evidenced by his 6.5 sacks last year and 90 sacks throughout his career. Howard Green was released as a corresponding roster move but is expected to re-sign Monday.

2. Darrelle Revis will be out Sunday, as expected. Wayne Hunter and Jamaal Westerman are both also likely to miss the Buffalo game. Calvin Pace was limited in practice but it doesn’t sound like he is going to play either. Rex Ryan hinted that Joe McKnight could be active this week…he probably got sick of hearing about Leon Washington, Chauncey Washington, and Danny Woodhead.

Jets vs. Bills Round 1: Game Breakdown

Offense: Considering Mark Sanchez has turned into Peyton Manning, I think the Jets should come out in the 4 wide hurry up and have the kid let it fly 40-50 times….More seriously, the Jets must avoid the temptation to move too far away from their running game. They have looked great throwing the ball but let’s make sure LaDainian Tomlinson is electric gliding for at least 15 carries and Shonn Greene starts building some confidence back with 12-15 carries of his own. The Jets must maintain balance on offense, even against an average defensive unit like the Bills.

When the Jets are throwing the ball, you have to think Buffalo will be concentrating their coverage on Dustin Keller which should keep things open for Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery, who has been very quiet so far this year. I am waiting for a break out game from both Cotchery and Greene. The Jets better keep Brad Smith involved in the game plan, because it seems like every time he touches the ball the Jets get at least 10 yards.

The best news? This is the last game without Santonio Holmes.

Defense: How about we get that pass rush going a little bit? I saw what Miami did to the Jets secondary, but Buffalo doesn’t a receiver in the same stratosphere as Brandon Marshall. Antonio Cromartie should take Lee Evans out of this game, while Kyle Wilson and Drew Coleman (who will be taking most of the first team reps, who would have thought?) should be able to handle Steve Johnson and Roscoe Parrish. The Jets need to come after Ryan Fitzpatrick early and often.

Buffalo does have talent at running back, but it doesn’t really seem like you can run the ball on the 2010 Jets. I am sure the Bills will play above their heads, as they usually do when they face the Jets but overall…c’mon. This Bills offense shouldn’t be able to put up more than 13 points  on this defense. They dropped 30 on a pitiful New England defense and that won’t happen this week.

Special Teams: If Joe McKnight is active, I would expect to see him get a shot on a punt return or two. Brad Smith looked great on kick returns last week, so no need to mess with that. Nick Folk? Steve Weatherford? Pro-Bowl? The Jets do have to be careful of Roscoe Parrish on returns, however.