After an infuriating day of AFC Wild Card football, let’s suck it up and look forward to the New York Jets 2016 off-season with our first of many 12 Packs…
1. The Quarterback – Ryan Fitzpatrick is generally overrated by most Jets fans because of the recent state of the team’s quarterback position. The record breaking performance from 2015 is more of a statement of the Jets history rather than Fitzpatrick’s talent. He was the best version of himself possible last year but still very much Ryan Fitzpatrick. All of that being said, it is logical for both sides that he returns next year and that is exactly what you should expect to happen. You don’t move on from Fitzpatrick, who has won the team over, unless you have a strong contingency plan. There isn’t a good one available this off-season. You bring Fitzpatrick back and hope he replicates last season while continuing to add to the cast around him. The way he ended the season has given the Jets a chance to get him back at a reasonable rate. He is probably looking at 7-9 million per year over two years, with most of the guaranteed money in year one.Beyond Fitzpatrick, the current staff would likely be content running back the same depth chart unless they can get a quarterback they feel strongly about in their crosshairs in round one or two. Is that guy Carson Wentz? It is too early to tell but the Jets finding a way to maneuver pick 20 or their second round pick into a quarterback would not be shocking. They like Bryce Petty as a development option but are not going to put all their eggs in the basket of a 4th rounder becoming a starter anytime soon. The staff also would not have a problem bringing Geno Smith back as the #2, as they like his physical tools and how he handled himself this season after what happened in August. They aren’t in a rush to dump him, although it could happen if the draft leads them to an early round quarterback.
2. Take Care Of Your Own – Outside of Fitzpatrick, the organization wants to build a culture where their own talent is taken care of. It was a huge priority to bring David Harris back last off-season, not just from an on-field perspective but from a putting their foot down and not letting another division rival (Buffalo, in this case) take a long term leader and cornerstone of the team. This year, the focus will be on how to handle Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison and Bilal Powell.
The process of negotiating with Wilkerson has not been easy but the team still is holding out hope. If something can’t be figured out, he will be franchised and they will be open minded to trade offers as they try to replenish their stockpile of picks (they only have six this season after taking six players last season). Harrison is a two down player but Todd Bowles is bullish on his value and nose tackles don’t eat up much salary. At running back, Powell is more than likely to be prioritized than Chris Ivory and Stevan Ridley. He will come at a low cost and if healthy, is an ideal fit for Chan Gailey’s offense. It feels like the team is ready to move on from Ivory, especially with how his price tag will fluctuate after going over 1,000 yards this season.
3. The Inside – Everybody knows the Jets need more speed and athleticism at both linebacker positions. The Jets will likely poke around inside linebackers in free agency but it would not be surprising if they brought Erin Henderson back on a cheap, one year deal and drafted somebody to play behind him and David Harris in the middle rounds, similar to how they brought along Lorenzo Mauldin at outside linebacker this year. Demario Davis is going to be allowed to walk. At edge, the team will be counting on Mauldin becoming a full time player while also prioritizing finding a counterpart for him.4. The Come Up – The Jets will be looking for an improvement on offense to come from the continued growth of Quincy Enunwa and Devin Smith, when he returns from injury. Enunwa, in particular has the potential to be a consistent difference maker with further refinement to his game. He plays a unique position in the offense but should develop into their third option behind Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker when throwing the ball.
5. Tight End – I wouldn’t look for a major investment from the Jets at tight end. When Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Davis go on their merry way, the team will basically be looking to fill 20-30 snaps per game at the Y position, which could be a hybrid of Jace Amaro, Wes Saxton and Zach Sudfeld. Amaro is the most talented but will need to show he can block in-line to find a consistent role. The Jets will also still use him at H but his opportunities will be limited due to the strides Enunwa made this season.
6. The Protection – The Jets and D’Brickashaw Fergsuon will likely figure something out to keep him around for another year or two at a lower cap hit, while also moving on from Breno Giacomini at right tackle. This off-season should see a heavy investment on tackle, both in terms of finding a new starter and building long term depth. Outside of Ferguson, expect the entire depth chart to look different in 2016. Keep an eye on Andre Smith of the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent.
It would not be shocking if the Jets had Brian Winters open camp as a starter at guard, while hoping that second year player Jarvis Harrison can push him for playing time.7. The Secondary – Unless Antonio Cromartie is ready to take a big pay cut and be open to potentially not starting, he will not be back. The staff loves Marcus Williams and is anxious to find ways to get him on the field more consistently. There is no financial benefit to moving on from Dee Milliner but he will be buried on the depth chart to start camp, as Dexter McDougle was able to show more than him to the new regime in 2015.
The Jets are still intrigued by Antonio Allen as a depth player but the top three safeties next year should remain Calvin Pryor, Marcus Gilchrist and Rontez Miles.
8. Clean Slate – Outside of Nick Folk, expect a full house clean for the Jets on specials next year: new punter, new punt returner, new kick returner. He may be too rich for them in free agency but Travis Benjamin of Cleveland could be an intriguing name to watch.
9. Running Back – He is enticing but I’d be surprised if the Jets left the NFL Draft with Ezekiel Elliot. A late round pick and a free agent signing (Lamar Miller in a perfect world) are likely to complement Bilal Powell to round out the depth chart.
10. Restructure – Keep an eye on some potential reshuffling of Brandon Marshall’s deal to free up a little cap space this season. The team won’t be hesitant to move some of his money into next year after he performed and stayed healthy in 2015.
11. Calm Down – About the Jets schedule. It is impossible to project who will be what so far in advance. At this time last year the Colts, Giants, Cowboys and Dolphins looked like difficult 2015 match-ups.
12. Next Step – Beyond outside additions the Jets will be counting on the following players to take the next step to flesh out their supporting cast: Quincy Enunwa, Lorenzo Mauldin, Leonard Williams, Marcus Williams and to a lesser extent Devin Smith (due to injury), Jarvis Harrison, Dexter McDougle and Rontez Miles.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com