Welcome to 2014 FREE AGENCY! As a 29 year old, to see the rise of the NFL has been amazing. There is more talk on Twitter right now about the NFL than MLB and NBA combined where there are actual games being played!
Here is a primer for Jets fans on what I would like to see them do and what I actually expect them to do.
Last season John Idzik was working with house money. Coming into a tough situation which caused many GM candidates to run for the hills, not much was expected of Idzik and co. for 2013. No QB, not being able to choose his own Head Coach, a meddling owner, and one of the worst cap situations in the NFL led many of the top up and coming GM candidates (David Caldwell, for example) to look elsewhere for employment.
So the Jets settled on John Idzik who came from Seattle (a great organization going in the right direction) but was not known as a great talent evaluator which was unsettling considering Mike Tannenbaum was also a GM who did not have a talent evaluation background. While “Mr. T” was the GM of a team that went to two straight AFC championships, his talent evaluation and his willingness to sacrifice draft picks to move up in the draft left the roster depleted. For a guy whose background was in managing the cap, Tannenbaum left the cap situation in a bad place for 2013. Due to this, Idzik went shopping in the clearance isle and came away with a few cheap veteran signings such as Willie Colon, Dawan Landry, David Garrard and Kellen Winslow.
Idzik spent most of his limited resources to add to the backfield. He traded a 4th round pick for Chris Ivory and signed the talented but troubled Mike Goodson. Of course the biggest decision Idzik had to make was trading the best player the Jets have had in the last 20+ years, Darrelle Revis. He was able to obtain the 13 overall pick in 2013 draft along with a conditional pick for 2014 which will either be a 4th round pick or a 3rd round depending on whether or not Revis is on Tampa’s roster on March 11th.
Of course it is impossible to grade Idzik’s first draft after just one season but we can say that it looks like he absolutely nailed the pick he got for Revis by selecting Sheldon Richardson who won the Defensive Rookie Player of the Year. His first selection, Dee Milliner was a mixed bag in his rookie year but finished the season strong and capped off his rookie season with 2 interceptions in his final game in Miami. Idzik than chose to gamble on a QB selecting Geno Smith in the 2nd round (who many thought would be a 1st round pick). As with Milliner, Geno’s rookie season was a up and down but just like Milliner, Geno finished the season strong bouncing back from some terrible performances in November.
Idzik also selected Brian Winters in the 3rd round who replaced Ducasse (thanks Tannebaum) a month into the season. At times, Winters was atrocious but again Winters showed some positive signs at the end of the season (are you noticing a trend?). As I said earlier, only time will tell how well Idzik did in his first draft.
Now the question becomes what will Idzik do with a FULL off-season with a surplus of cap room and plenty of draft picks?
Handling players currently on the roster
As I write this article, the Jets have $39,185,558 million in cap space, this includes the recent release of Cromartie and Holmes as well as the Franchise Tag being applied to Nick Folk (all of my cap data going forward was gathered from overthecap.com). Before the Jets formulate their FA/Draft plans they will first have to deal with the players currently on their roster. Let's first start with Mark Sanchez who will almost certainly be cut which by doing so will save the Jets approximately $8 million in cap space. It would not surprise me if Sanchez gets a chance to start for another team next year that drafts a QB and looks at Sanchez as a bridge to their rookie QB. I don't necessarily think Sanchez is a lost cause, but it is best for both parties to move on from each other. That would give the Jets an enormous amount of cap space to not only spend during free agency, but lock up their younger core players to long-term deals that they could front load if necessary.
Two players that the Jets need to seriously consider restructuring their deals both due to being overpaid and declining play, D’Brickashaw Ferguson (cap # $11,698,666) and David Harris ($7,000,000). If the Jets can convince both to take paycut they will be in great shape to make some significant FA signings while maintaining cap flexibility which has been Idzik’s mantra since he got here.
With the cap space being opened up the Jets should first focus on giving Mo Wilkerson a well-deserved contract extension as well as re-signing Austin Howard who has turned out to be a very adequate RT (I'm a strong believer in continuity along the Offensive Line). While I do not want to see him start, the Jets should look into bringing back Calvin Pace as a solid veteran presence who can still contribute. Nick Folk was given the Franchise Tag which was a little odd but they didn’t have another player to use it on and now they can part ways if he has a sub par 2014 season. The Jets moved quickly to re-sign Jeff Cumberland for a very cheap deal, 3 yrs $3.7 million with only $1 million guaranteed. Cumberland is a number 2 TE with some upside to be nice safety blanket for Geno Smith. Douzable who should come fairly cheap should also be retained. Idzik has already made me happy bringing back both Darin Walls and Ellis Lankster.
Darin Walls who was first brought to my attention by TOJ writer, Mike O’Connor (@Jets_Depressed) showed to be capable on the outside when given the chance last year and if it wasn’t for Rex’s stubbornness with sticking with his starters Walls probably should’ve seen more PT but the 2-year deal indicates that the Jets do see some promise with the youngster. Lankster provides some depth and is an excellent special teams player.
Another ST contributor, Nick Bellore, was given the low RFA tender of $1.4 million. I like the fact that Idzik values special teams, with Lankster and Bellore coming back their coverage unit should be top-notch. They will need to find away to replace Joe McKight’s KR ability. That can be addressed in the draft. No matter who they sign/draft the offense won’t be the 2011 Patriots so if they can have an upper-tier ST unit to go along with a Top 5 defense that will help mask the offense and keep the Jets in games.
Free Agency and the Draft - Defense
The reason I am grouping both of these together should be obvious. The Jets have holes to fill. If they address some in FA they can look elsewhere in the draft. If you follow me on Twitter (@UnfetteredJon) you know I think their biggest need on D is at Free Safety. Jairus Byrd would seem to be a perfect fit, he is not only an All-Pro Player but he played last year under Mike Pettine, a disciple for Rex Ryan. The Jets biggest issue on defense is their inability to create turnovers which only makes the fact that they’ve had/have QBs who turn the ball over even more glaring. By signing Byrd the Jets would get the ballhawk they desperately need. Rex saw first hand how important that is when he spent years in Baltimore coaching the best FS in the history of the NFL. Recently NFL.com writers Gregg Rosenthal (who is one the best NFL writers) and Chris Wesseling released their top 101 UFA and they used tiers to do so. The first tier was “Difference Makers” and there was only 1 player in that tier and that player was Jairus Byrd who they described as “A natural playmaker with plus ball skills, Byrd is Earl Thomas' chief rival as the game's top cover safety."
With the release of Cromartie the Jets could decide that they would rather pay top dollar for a #1 CB to take some of the pressure off of Milliner. The Packers may have set the market for CBs by re-signing Sam Shields (who I would certainly have been interested in) for 4 years $39 million. That leaves 2 other top tier CBs, Vontae Davis and Alterraun Verner who seems to be a great fit for the Jets. Verner could command a deal similar to if not more than Shields. The thing I like about Verner the most is his durability and versatility. Verner has not missed a game since entering the league and also has the ability to slide into the slot (TWSS). This would allow the Jets to put Verner in the slot and Walls on the outside in nickel situations. They would also still have Kyle Wilson which would give the Jets great depth at a premium position. If Idzik does not feel like Verner or Davis is worth what they are being offered than a CB I would be content with is Captain Munnerlyn who also has experience playing in the slot (Giggity). If the Jets decide that Byrd is not worth what he is asking for and they do sign Verner/David/Munnerlyn than I would look at another S who is flying under the radar, Chris Clemons the 28 year old S who the Dolphins drafted in 5th round in 2008.
According to ProFootballFocus, Clemons ranked 9th in pass coverage for all safeties with a grade of +7.2 and ranked 1st in yards per cover snap at .20. Clemons should be very affordable but certainly not the playmaker that Byrd is. This would allow Antonio Allen to move to his more natural position of SS. A nickel secondary of Verner, Milliner, Walls, Clemons, and Allen would turn a weakness into a potential strength if the Jets can create pressure up front they would have the makings of a helluva defense. While I would not mind bringing back Calvin Pace as a cheap addition, the Steelers just released Lamar Woodley who would slip in nicely opposite Coples. If Pace can fall his way into 10 sacks I would be ecstatic to see what Woodley would do in that role with the opponent’s offense line having to deal with Mo, Sheldon and BIG SNACKS up front.
Free Agency and the Draft - Offense
The Jets certainly need more help on offense and while I think they will use the draft to address most of their needs , there are too many holes to fill to just rely on the draft. The WR I would target is Golden Tate. I HATE Notre Dame but spent a lot of time watching their games especially while Tate was there and was very disappointed when the Jets did not draft him. Tate had a very slow start to his career but over the last 2 years (especially this past year) Tate has shown significant strides towards becoming a pretty good NFL WR. Is he a true number 1? Absolutely not. So if the market for him is paying him like a number 1 than I will happily pass but if the market is realistic then I think Idzik, who knows Tate from his Seattle days, should certainly pursue. Tate has drawn Hines Ward comparisons which I can totally see. He is a devastating blocker and runs great after the catch. Tate would add much needed toughness to the offense. Rex loves to use the term “Play Like a Jet” and IMO that means to give it your all and play with a toughness that intimidates other teams. I think Tate embodies that mantra. In an ideal world Tate is your number 2 WR who provides toughness and does the little things on the field that don’t show up on the stat sheet. If the Jets miss out on Tate there are some other OK options (Andre Roberts, James Jones,and Emmanuel Sanders) but the good news is that this years’ draft is LOADED at WR.
The Jets have a lot of picks in this years’ draft including what should be an extra 3rd from TB from the Revis trade. If Mike Evans is there at 18 than I think the Jets found their #1 WR. A WR corps with Evans and Tate on the outside with Kerley in the slot should certainly excite Jets fans (and maybe add a cheap vet like the recently released Jason Avant to pair with David Nelson). The question is; will Evans be there?
The Jets need to do everything in their power (including trading up) to come out of the 1st round with either Mike Evans or Eric Ebron. Whichever way they go there will be a nice choice of TEs or WRs with their 2nd round pick. If they go Evans in 1st than they can go with Austin Seferian-Jenkins (highlight video) or Troy Niklas (highlights) in the 2nd or if they go Ebron in 1st they will have more choices than I can list here at WR but someone like Davonte Adams would be one of many quality options.
Another option if Evans and Ebron are gone is trading back 3-5 picks and take one of my favorite players in the draft, Jace Amaro (highlights) who reminds some of Aaron Hernandez , ya know without the whole mass murderer aspect. No matter how this plays out I would double up on WRs in this draft even with signing Tate. I would take another WR with one of their 3rd round picks and I would use the other one on the BPA whether that is an OLB, QB, CB, S, RB. I would like to see the Jets come out of this off-season with 2 new QBs on the roster. Ideally I would sign Matt Shaub and draft Jeff Matthews from Cornell or Logan Thomas (see you later Simms). I would welcome a competition in training camp but I would certainly skew the competition towards Geno. But if he starts the season playing like shit than you have a very capable backup in Schaub all the while developing another QB in Matthews or Thomas.
As far as other FA targets, the Jets need to address the Offensive Line. There were plenty of games that Geno had no chance to succeed because the O-Line played horribly and had no one of any skill to throw to especially the games when Kerley was out. Teams have not paid OG's very well over the last few years so the Jets should be able to sign at least 1, if not 2, OGs to fill the spot held by Colon and another to compete with Brian Winters. My top 2 targets are both KC Chiefs, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah (update- Falcons signed him). According to ProFootballFocus, Schwartz graded out at 18.6 and Asamoah as +7.9. If they sign one maybe you bring back Colon who can compete with Winters but Schwartz (28 yrs old) and Asamoah (26 yrs old) would provide a significant upgrade who can probably be had with a 3 year deal which would not worry me considering their age.
While I expect the Jets to address TE through the draft it would not make me upset to take a chance on Jermichael Finley who had his season end on a terrifying neck injury but seems to be on track to return fully healthy next year. There should not be 1 dollar spent on RBs in FA. If you can improve the O-Line and bring in TEs that are dual threats while increasing the explosiveness of the passing game the running game will improve. Ivory is a borderline #1 RB, but one of my favorite players to watch because he simply punishes the defense. The Jets want to be a physical team and no RB fits that attitude more than Ivory. In between suspension and injury Goodson briefly showed why Idzik signed him. He is the PERFECT complement to Ivory with his explosive speed and his ability to catch the ball. And then you add the do-it-all back in Bilal Powell. Powell will never wow you with his play but he can do everything you ask him to do. He can run inside and out, pass protect, and catch the ball out of the backfield. With Ivory’s injury problems and Goodson’s injury/legal issues Powell can certainly be your starting RB for a few games throughout the year but not someone who you want to be the starter all year long. I would look to draft a speed back in the 4th round that has pass receiving ability and ideally can also return Kick offs.
In summation, I am very excited to see what the Jets do this off-season. They have a lot of picks (both due to the Revis trade and compensation picks for the players that left last off-season) and a lot of cap space. Idzik is most likely of the mind-set to build through the draft but if you can sign impact players that are all 27 or younger AND add through the draft the Jets can certainly find themselves in the playoff hunt in a weak conference. Some of that cap space will disappear as they look to re-sign Austin Howard and Calvin Pace as well as give Wilkerson a long-term extension but it will still leave the Jets with plenty of cap space to make at least 2 impact signings and maybe even 3 along with 2-3 other lower cost depth signings. Idzik can really make some headway towards building a strong core of players mostly 27 or younger. I have confidence that Idzik knows what he is doing and he's not afraid to make bold decisions, i.e. trading the best player on the team within the first few months of his tenure.
Whatever happens, this off-season will go a long way towards putting the Jets on the right track. If Idzik fails, then 2 years from now we will be reminiscing on the 2014 off-season as the primary reason we are looking for a new Head Coach and GM...again.