New York Jets: Keep, Walk or Tag Options for Every Free Agent
The formerly salary-cap challenged New York Jets head into the 2014 offseason with an abundance of cap space, granting general manager John Idzik supreme flexibility in who to target during free agency.
The Jets have several key roster decisions to make, specifically regarding players already under contract, like Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes. But New York also needs to address its current crop of in-house free agents, which includes few building blocks for the future.
The viability of the Jets roster is based on youth. New York enjoyed a resurgence on defense in 2013, mainly because of high-octane performances from rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and third-year defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson.
Idzik figures to remain proactive in deepening the Jets' talent pool with young players, adding emphasis on the upcoming draft. New York's most pressing draft needs will influence which in-house free agents it opts to bring back next season and whom it choose to cut ties with.
A majority of the restricted and unrestricted free agents slotted on the Jets' 2013 depth chart would be relatively inexpensive to re-sign, further enabling Idzik's flexibility this offseason.
The following slideshow examines which restricted and unrestricted free agents the Jets should keep for the 2014 season:
*All salary cap numbers courtesy of OvertheCap.com
Austin Howard (RT)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $2,023,000
Austin Howard has been a rock on the Jets offensive line for the past two seasons, starting all 32 games.
The 26-year-old right tackle grades as an above-average run blocker, strengthening the Jets rush attack.
But Howard often struggles in pass protection, enabling exterior pass-rushers to penetrate the backfield and sack the quarterback.
Howard received a second-level tender last offseason. He's due for a raise this go-around and could potentially earn a multiyear deal. He boasts sizable upside and offers solid value given his price tag.
Jeff Cumberland (TE)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $1,323,000
Jeff Cumberland appeared to be a player on the rise after posting respectable numbers while filling in for former Jets tight end Dustin Keller in 2012.
But Cumberland's production remained static in 2013.
The 26-year-old recorded 26 receptions, including 15 first downs, for 398 yards and four touchdowns this season.
He averaged 15.3 yards per reception but doesn't possess the dynamic game-changing ability the Jets would like.
Cumberland is a solid No. 2 tight end, though. Dropping the fourth-year player down a slot on the depth chart would deepen the roster if the Jets are able to either draft or acquire a legitimate starting tight end this offseason.
Willie Colon (RG)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $1,162,500
Willie Colon was arguably the Jets' best pass protector in 2013.
The 30-year-old veteran started all 16 games for the first time since 2009 but tore his biceps in the season finale against the Miami Dolphins.
It's likely for Idzik to greatly consider bringing back Colon in spite of his injury, especially considering the struggles that rookie Brian Winters endured at left guard.
Colon would be relatively inexpensive on the open market, given his longstanding track record of being injury prone. He was a bargain for the Jets last offseason and could return for a sequel effort in 2014.
Nick Folk (K)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $620,000
Nick Folk has become one of the best field-goal kickers in the NFL.
The seven-year veteran just completed the best season of his pro career, pinning down 91.7 percent of his field-goal attempts.
He converted a career-high 33 kicks in 36 tries. It was his best season since 2008, when he nailed 90.9 percent of his attempts for the Dallas Cowboys.
The Jets have frequently brought in low-grade kickers to push Folk in training camp. That tactic has officially become obsolete given the type of success Folk sustained all season in 2013. It's a no-brainer for Idzik to ink Folk to a new deal this offseason.
The market for premier kickers was set near the end of last month, when Chicago Bears PK Robbie Gould received a four-year, $17.9 million deal.
Calvin Pace (OLB)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $620,000
Calvin Pace earned a reprieve after being released due to salary-cap restraint last offseason.
The Jets signed Pace to a low base salary before training camp, a deal that paid enormous dividends. Pace enjoyed one of his best seasons as a pro.
The 11-year veteran racked up 37 tackles and 10 sacks while starting all 16 games.
It was a swan song for Pace, though. At 32-years-old, Pace is unlikely to earn a new contract from Idzik and Co. The Jets will assuredly look to add more youth in an effort to replenish the second level of their revamped defense.
Pace could potentially earn a deal late in the offseason if the Jets are unable to acquire a more versatile exterior pass-rusher.
Ed Reed (FS)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $387,059 (claimed off waivers)
Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed supplied the Jets with a veteran presence in the locker room in 2013. The midseason addition of Reed took some pressure off first-year starter Antonio Allen, who surpassed expectations after winning the job in training camp over Josh Bush.
But Reed was a mere stopgap for the Jets' glaring depth concerns at safety, which will likely be addressed via the draft in May.
Reed presumably isn't ready to retire but is shades of what he used to be. He could perhaps become a valuable role player on a Super Bowl-ready team, although that team isn't the Jets.
Vladimir Ducasse (LG)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $886,250
Vladimir Ducasse is a sad remnant of the former general manager Mike Tannenbaum's defunct reign as a "player evaluator" in New York.
Ducasse is a high-class draft bust, failing to live up to lofty expectations after being selected in the second round of the 2010 draft.
Ducasse was granted an opportunity to assert himself as a starting-caliber offensive lineman in training camp this season, outlasting rookie Brian Winters in competition. But the fourth-year left guard never developed into a formidable pass protector.
ProFootballFocus (via Rotoworld) ranked Ducasse as the 66th-best player at his position of 70 qualifiers in October, when he was benched in favor of Winters.
Ducasse has simply been a space eater on the Jets' 53-man and is practically guaranteed not to return in 2014.
Aaron Berry (CB)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $368,000
Aaron Berry was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL near the end of July, derailing a second effort to reignite his career.
Berry was stellar in his second season as a pro with the Detroit Lions, racking up 30 tackles and 12 passes defended in 11 games, But off-the-field issues have often plagued Berry, causing teams to stray away from giving the 25-year-old a chance at redemption.
Berry was a low-risk brand of player from a football perspective for the Jets. His injury issues combined with inexcusable extra-curricular nonsense will likely lead Idzik to ignore the idea of sending him a training camp invite next spring.
Ellis Lankster (CB)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $655,000
Ellis Lankster has appeared in 37 games over the course of three seasons for the Jets, recording 28 tackles, six passes defended, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack.
He's a decent situational player in certain formations, like the dime package. Lankster experienced a decrease in playing time this season, specifically because the Jets used fewer formations with five-plus defensive backs, but also presents value on special teams.
Lankster is a solid open-field tackler. He's able to be coached and understands his role on the team. Lankster doesn't feature the type of talent necessary to develop into a starting-caliber safety, but he supplies the Jets with depth on the roster.
Josh Mauga (ILB)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $730,000
Josh Mauga spent the duration of the season on injured reserve due to a back injury suffered during the preseason.
Mauga is a replaceable body at the bottom of the Jets depth chart.
The 26-year-old inside linebacker never fully matured in three seasons with the Jets.
Mauga has recorded 54 tackles and one interception in 29 games. He provides depth on the 53-man roster but isn't likely to drastically improve after suffering a serious back injury. Idzik and Co. will likely fill his spot on the roster with a mid-grade offseason acquisition.
Lex Hilliard (FB)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $322,900
Lex Hilliard was a solid stopgap for the Jets at fullback in 2012 but suffered a broken scapula during the preseason, derailing his season.
Rookie Tommy Bohanon proved himself as a reliable blocker at that position in 2013, making Hilliard expendable.
Hilliard is set to hit the open market in March, when he'll be able to freely sign with any team. The Jets could potentially re-sign Hilliard to backup role, although that appears unlikely.
David Garrard (QB)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $588,325
David Garrard officially earned a de facto role as the Jets' "third-string" quarterback this season, primarily serving as a supposed-to-be mentor for rookie signal-caller Geno Smith.
Garrard is expected to retire at some point in the near future.
The 35-year-old veteran posted a 39-37 career record as a starting QB in nine seasons. He completed over 61 percent of his pass attempts and threw for over 16,000 yards and 89 touchdowns. Garrard had a solid pro career and can now walk away knowing he fulfilled his one-year contract with the Jets.
Garrett McIntyre (OLB)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $560,000
Garrett McIntyre played sparingly in 13 games this season, recording 11 tackles and two sacks.
He backed up starting OLB Quinton Coples and filled in when needed. McIntyre started in the base package after Coples suffered an ankle injury in the preseason.
The 27-year-old linebacker is mostly used as a run defender on the edge. He presents value as a player that can help cover the flats and prevent ball-carriers from gaining the corner. New York will likely hold onto McIntyre for that reason.
Nick Bellore (ILB)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $557,334
Nick Bellore has played in all 48 games in three seasons with the Jets.
The 24-year-old linebacker has combined for 48 tackles and nine assists. Bellore also contributed on special teams, where he earned a majority of his playing time.
Bellore is a reliable role player who could earn a one-year deal for the 2014 season.
Leger Douzable (DE)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $555,000
Leger Douzable earned a roster spot with the Jets after performing above expectations throughout training camp and the preseason.
Douzable offers the Jets versatility on the defensive line because of his size. At 6'4'' and 300 pounds, Douzable can play defensive end and tackle.
Douzable was cut by the Tennessee Titans in training camp but found a niche in New York. He played sparingly throughout the season, recording 14 assists on tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
Douzable in an inexpensive defensive player capable of being productive in a limited role.
Isaiah Trufant (CB)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $555,000
Isaiah Trufant suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2012 that landed him on the injured reserve list but rebounded nicely this season, playing in all 16 games.
At 31-years old, Trufant boasts limited value as a role player in certain sub-packages on defense and on special teams.
The Jets will assuredly address their bleak defensive back situation this offseason, likely diminishing the need to hold onto players of Trufant's caliber.
The four-year veteran recorded 17 tackles and two passes defended in 39 games for the Jets.
Darrin Walls (CB)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $555,000
Darrin Walls made strides this season, earning significant playing time at cornerback in the wake of rookie defensive back Dee Milliner's struggles early in the season.
Walls played in all 16 games for the Jets this season, including three starts. He wasn't spectacular but effectively held his ground.
Walls recorded 15 tackles and four passes defended in 2013. He's efficiently developed under head coach Rex Ryan and figures to remain on the roster in a similar role next season.
Josh Cribbs (WR/KR)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $441,882 (claimed off waivers)
Kick return specialist Josh Cribbs arguably became the Jets' best playmaker after being claimed off waivers a few weeks into the 2013 season.
Cribbs played in six games for New York, averaging 24.5 yards per kickoff return and 12 yards per punt return. He was also used in the Wildcat on offense, rushing for 55 yards on 13 attempts.
Cribbs was eventually placed on injured reserve after suffering a torn pectorals muscle. He's expected to participate in football activity this summer, though, and will likely return for a second season with the Jets.
Kellen Winslow (TE)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $424,412
Kellen Winslow endured an up-and-down season with the Jets.
The 30-year-old veteran was a nice success story out of training camp, where he seemingly earned a significant role on offense after battling chronic knee pain for a majority of the past few seasons.
Winslow played in 12 games for the Jets in 2013, registering 31 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns. It was his most productive season since 2011, when he averaged 10.2 yards per catch in 16 games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tight end is a crucial area of need for the Jets this offseason, though. New York could potentially address that issue early in the draft, where players like Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro and Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be available.
Konrad Reuland (TE)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $417,529
Konrad Reuland was marginally productive in two seasons with the Jets but was placed on injured reserve with a serious knee injury late this season.
Reuland played in 25 games with the Jets, reeling in 12 catches for 90 yards. He was sporadically used on special teams and sometimes served as an extra blocker on offense in obvious run situations.
The Jets have exclusive rights to hold onto Reuland but can likely find a suitable replacement elsewhere.
Matt Simms (QB)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $405,000
Matt Simms became a fan favorite after posting stellar numbers in extended playing time during the preseason. Simms constantly showcased his arm strength when granted the opportunity, chucking pass attempts down field at will.
Simms impressed the Jets coaching staff and earned a roster spot to back up rookie QB Geno Smith. He was given the chance to play in a few desperate situations when Smith struggled.
Simms completed 51.6 percent of his pass attempts on the season, racking up 156 passing yards and one touchdown. He's not expected to develop into a starting-caliber quarterback but will likely earn a roster spot in a backup role next season.
Jermaine Cunningham (DE)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $222,353
Jermaine Cunningham has bounced around between three teams in four seasons.
He showed some promise during his rookie season as a member of the New England Patriots, recording 27 tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack in 11 starts.
But Cunningham hasn't developed into the type of pass-rusher the Patriots expected him to become after being selected in the second round of the 2010 draft.
The Jets signed Cunningham midseason to fill a roster void and likely won't bring him back in 2014.
Darius Reynaud (RB/KR)
2013 Salary-Cap Number: $168,235 (claimed off waivers)
Darius Reynaud was picked up off waivers by the Jets after the Titans granted him an outright release earlier in the season. Reynaud was a stopgap fix to the void left open when Cribbs suffered a season-ending injury.
Reynaud was sporadically used as a kick returner, averaging 25 yards per return on three tries with the Jets. He's expendable and likely won't earn a second go-around in New York, especially if the Jets opt to bring back Cribbs.