With approximately $30-40 million in cap space, the New York Jets are pegged to be players when the new league year begins. Today, we look at free agent safeties. Check out cornerbacks here:
1. Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills2013 Stats: 37 Tackles, 4 INTs, 6 Passes Defended, 1 Forced Fumble
Analysis: Arguably the best defensive player on the market, Byrd battled injuries during last season as he only played in 10 games. This was the second time in his career that his season was cut short due to injuries, but before this past season he played all 16 games in three consecutive seasons. Byrd has tremendous athletic ability, has thrived playing Cover 1, and is a playmaker in the back end of a defense. He, also, has great closing speed which helps him supply more than adequate run support.
Likelihood: The familiarity with new Browns Head Coach Mike Pettine, along with the fact that Byrd is a three time Pro Bowler, gives the Jets A LOT of competition for Byrd, so I will put this as a 5. The Jets haven’t spent on safeties during Rex Ryan’s tenure, but Byrd isn’t just a normal safety; in his five seasons he has more interceptions than all of the Jets safeties under Rex Ryan combined. His price will be steep, but so will his production.
2. TJ Ward, S, Cleveland Browns2013 Stats: 75 tackles, 2 INTs, 1.5 sacks, 7 Passes Defended, 2 Defensive TDs
Analysis: The 27 year old Ward made his first Pro Bowl this past season after posting his finest season as a pro. Ward is much more of a strong safety than Byrd and plays much closer to the line of scrimmage. Ward is excellent against the run and he has improved against the pass from his rookie season when he was allowing one reception per 17 passing snaps.
Likelihood: The Browns decided to not franchise tag Ward and have seemingly made center Alex Mack a priority. The Browns may, also, opt to replace Ward with Byrd since Byrd is the better fit for the man to man schemes Pettine will most likely employ as Head Coach. I’ll put this as a 6, because Rex hasn’t cared much for free safeties during his tenure but he has coveted strong safeties that can play the run and can cover (e.g. Jim Leonhard). Plus, Ward’s price may be substantially less than Byrd.
3. Antoine Bethea, S, Indianapolis Colts2013 Stats: 89 Tackles, 2 INTs, 8 Passes Defended, 1 Fumble Recovery
Analysis: If the Jets choose to eschew the youth movement at safety and would instead prefer a veteran patrolling centerfield, they could do a lot worse than Bethea. Bethea has been one of the more durable players in the league, as he has played in all 16 games for six straight seasons. He is more of a prototypical free safety, but flashes good run support. Bethea, also, has experience playing cornerback and strong safety, which would allow Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman to deploy him all over the defense.
Likelihood: I’ll put this as a 6, as Bethea is one of the players Rex has admired over the last couple of years. In fact, when the Colts were going to play the Jets, Ryan mentioned Bathea along with Peyton Manning and the rest of the Colts stars as guys that he wanted Jim Caldwell to sit. Bethea would come a lot cheaper than Byrd and Ward and would help solidify the safety position for the Jets.
4. Louis Delmas, S, Detroit Lions
2013 Stats: 49 Tackles, 3 INTs, 2 Sacks, 9 Passes Defended
Analysis: Delmas, the former second round pick from the University of Miami, had never played a full NFL season until this past year. He made the most out of it as he put together his best season since his rookie year. Delmas is an excellent free safety, and has shown the ability to cover tight ends in man to man coverage. Delmas is smart and has great instincts, and was used by former coach Jim Schwartz to cover wide receivers last year at times. Delmas is a natural ballhawk, but he isn’t very athletic, and is more quick than fast.
Likelihood: At 26 years old and coming off as good a season as Delmas did, teams should be lining up to sign him. However, the injury concerns are real. Delmas missed 15 games his first 4 seasons, which is a lot for a player that isn’t particularly physical. I’ll put this as a 4; this would be very similar to the Jets signing two injury prone guys in Laron Landry and Willie Colon to one year “show me” deals. Delmas could bring some competition to the Jets safety position without the Jets having to break the bank.
5. Malcolm Jenkins, S, New Orleans Saints
2013 Stats: 48 Tackles, 2 INTs, 2.5 Sacks, 5 Passes Defended, 2 Forced Fumbles
Analysis: A former cornerback turned safety, Malcolm Jenkins put together a solid season for Rob Ryan’s defense down in New Orleans. Jenkins, like Delmas, has battled some injuries although not to the same extent as Delmas; Jenkins has played in at least 13 games in every year he’s been in the league. Jenkins is 6’1” and 201 pounds, which makes him one of the bigger free safeties in the game. Jenkins struggled during his rookie year in man coverage, which prompted the move to safety by the Saints. However, Jenkins did show marked improvement when Ryan moved him up to the line of scrimmage to cover wide receivers. Jenkins has good technique and, while he doesn’t possess rare speed, he utilizes good instincts to patrol deep zones.
Likelihood: I’ll put this as an 8, due to the familiarity with a Ryan-led defense as well as how highly Jenkins spoke of Rex during the week leading up to the Saints versus Jets contest. Jenkins would give Rex the same versatility he gave Rob, but would come at a higher cost than Delmas or Bathea.