New York Jets Final Free-Agency Outlook and Predictions
With the new league year just days away, the Jets' plans for free agency are all but finalized. Now, all there is left to do is continue to hammer out contract details with pending free agents and brace for the unpredictable storm that is free agency.
Unlike last year's bargain hunt, the Jets are poised to be serious players in free agency this year, particularly at the offensive skill positions. While this year's crop of receivers and tight ends are a bit diluted, there are still tons of players available that would be massive upgrades over anything the Jets have put on the field in recent years.
Here is a final breakdown of the team's cap situation, needs and potential targets ahead of the start of free agency.
The Jets are set to have a lot of cap space headed into next season, but not without making a few key moves. This is their current situation:
Total Salary: $107,326,921
Salary Cap: $133,000,000
Carryover from 2013: $1,473,437 (via public NFLPA report)
Total Cap Space: $24,199,642
Twenty-four million dollars in space is hardly suffocating, but the Jets can get even more comfortable with a few salary dumps. By cutting ties with Mark Sanchez ($8.3 million in savings), Santonio Holmes ($8.25 million) and Antonio Cromartie ($9.5 million), the Jets can save over $25 million, giving them over $51 million in total cap space to work with.
As of this writing, these moves have yet to be made, but the Jets would be foolish to not take advantage of being able to get more than double their current space.
Even when incorporating the price of signing rookies and replacements for these players (or perhaps bringing them back at lower rates), the Jets can feasibly be in play for any player they covet. The challenge for them will be to spend responsibly while giving their roster the upgrades it needs.
Key Free Agents
Austin Howard, Right Tackle: The Jets don't have many free agents to keep from their 8-8 roster, but right tackle Austin Howard remains at the top of their re-signings list. The Jets forced Howard to prove his consistency on a one-year tender in 2013. Now, it's time to pay the piper.
Willie Colon, Right Guard: Austin Howard will get most of the attention because of his age and the position he plays, but Willie Colon was nearly as consistent holding down the fort at right guard last year. Not only was he a great pass protector—rated fourth-best pass-protecting guard, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—he proved that he can stay healthy over the course of a 16-game season.
Leger Douzable, Defensive End: The forgotten member of a defensive line that is littered with stars, Douzable produced better than most NFL starters in his rotational role at defensive end (13 stops in 242 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus). The Jets would love to have him back, but teams with bigger holes on their defensive line may be willing to pay him more like a starter.
Calvin Pace, Outside Linebacker: Pace surprised a lot of doubters when he posted 10 sacks after an abysmal 2012. His stats may be a bit inflated, but he can at least serve the Jets through one more season without them needing to use valuable assets on the position. The only question is whether or not the Jets are willing to pay him like a 10-sack player.
Jeff Cumberland, Tight End: After another 400-yard season, the promising former undrafted free agent is starting to plateau in his development. He may be back simply because the Jets are so thin at the position, but relying on him to develop into a true No. 1 tight end is foolish.
Ed Reed, Safety: Reed managed to finish the season with three interceptions, but he was a huge liability for the Jets in pass coverage. He was responsible for as many big plays as anyone in the secondary when he was with the team. Even worse, his presence may have stunted the development of Antonio Allen, as Allen was benched in favor of Reed.
Reed may be Rex Ryan's friend, but if the Jets want to fix their secondary, they need to stay away from him.
Vladimir Ducasse, Guard: The former second-round pick has officially earned the "bust" label after failing to hold on to the starting job at left guard once again. The Jets will almost certainly move on from their mistake.
Kellen Winslow, Tight End: While he was somewhat productive when he got on the field (388 yards in 12 games) his four-game suspension and his recent drug charge all but cement his fate as an ex-Jet.
Tight End: The Jets' tight ends were already in dire shape last season. With their two starters from 2013 set to hit the open market (Cumberland and Winslow), to call the Jets desperate at this position would be underplaying their need. Multiple draft picks and free-agent acquisitions are needed at this position.
Wide Receiver: Arguably the worst receiving corps in the league, the only reason to get excited about the receiving corps is that it will look completely different in 2014. Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson provide some hope, but the disappointments of Stephen Hill and Holmes have dragged down the offense.
Right Tackle: Until Howard is back under contract, right tackle will be one of the Jets' top priorities this offseason. They did draft Oday Aboushi last year for depth, but the fact that he did not play a single game does not spark much confidence in his ability to get the job done.
Right Guard: With Colon set to hit free agency, the Jets are facing the proposition of either starting an inexperienced player (such as Aboushi or William Campbell) or finding a more expensive veteran replacement. There is a chance that Colon comes back, but the Jets should be more focused on retaining their young right tackle.
Cornerback: Unless Cromartie is willing to come back at a significant discount, the Jets will need to find another starting outside cornerback opposite Dee Milliner. Darrin Walls showed some promise in limited action last year, but relying on such a young player to get them through the season on his own would be quite the risk.
Outside Linebacker: While signs are pointing to Calvin Pace's return, the position remains in flux, with a need for a young, long-term solution. Unless they can find a bargain upgrade over Pace in free agency, it seems more likely that the Jets address this position in the draft with a young prospect.
Quarterback: Geno Smith may have finished on a strong note, but the Jets cannot hand him the keys to the franchise just yet. A viable backup quarterback who can compete with Smith and win games when called upon is necessary, even if this new player eats a bit more cap space than a "normal" backup.
Potential Target: Emmanuel Sanders
Of all of the free agents on the market, Emmanuel Sanders appears to be the most likely to wind up a Jet.
With Jeremy Maclin off the market, Sanders provides more value than any other receiver without carrying much risk. While his name is a bit overshadowed by Antonio Brown, he enjoyed the best season of his career in 2013, catching 67 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns—one of which the Jets saw firsthand when Sanders ran right past Cromartie.
The Jets would be mistaken, however, if they believe that Sanders is the cure-all to their receiver issues. His size and skills make him an idea No. 2, but his size limits him from being anything more.
Still, Sanders would be an enormous upgrade over anything the Jets currently have at the position and would give the Jets at least one legitimate passing threat.
Potential Target: Eric Decker
Eric Decker has been labeled as this year's most overrated free-agent receiver so many times that he is starting to become underrated.
While a good chunk of his numbers over the past two years (1,288 yards in 2013) can be attributed to Peyton Manning's presence, Decker is still a quality receiver with good hands and body control. After all, the man did produce respectable numbers with Tim Tebow as his quarterback (612 yards in 2011).
Decker is, statistically speaking, the top receiver on the market and will be paid handsomely for his services. While the Jets should avoid overpaying anyone if possible, they should at least test the waters of Decker's market to see if the rest of the league also feels that Decker's stats are inflated.
If no one is willing to give Decker the money his numbers suggest he is worth, his value will go down and make him a responsible acquisition for the Jets.
Potential Target: Jairus Byrd
There is no questioning the fact that the NFL's best ball-hawking safety would be a huge upgrade over what the Jets currently have at the position. Instead, the question is whether or not the Jets need a safety bad enough to splurge on this year's top free agent in Jairus Byrd.
The Jets have not had like Byrd a presence at the safety position since they traded Kerry Rhodes in 2010, but they do have some young, promising talent in Allen. And though he did not jump off the screen with spectacular plays, Dawan Landry was a solid veteran presence next to Allen.
The Jets struggled in the secondary in 2013, but their problems can be traced to the cornerback position, not the safety position.
Targeting Byrd really only makes sense if the team loses out on the other free agents they planned to sign, but odds are that the Jets will look to upgrade their offense before adding an expensive defensive toy to play with.
Potential Target: Brandon Pettigrew
While the top tight ends (Jimmy Graham and Dennis Pitta) may be off the market, there are still plenty of players that can help the Jets at their most desperate position.
Brandon Pettigrew had an unspectacular 416-yard season in 2013, but the former first-round pick is a talented two-way tight end and is arguably the best player available at the position.
Pettigrew never quite developed into the dominant player the Lions hoped he would become, but he would be a clear upgrade over the current choices. Getting a viable starter at the position early in free agency will give them a lot more flexibility in the draft and the rest of free agency by removing part of their desperation for help at the position.
Potential Target: Golden Tate
Grouped in with players like Emmanuel Sanders as a high-end No. 2 receiver, what separates Golden Tate from other receivers of a similar mold are his outstanding hands.
Armed with arguably the best hands in football (he did not drop a pass in 2011) and a willingness to fight for every ball, Tate would fill Holmes' role as an underneath receiver well—except more reliably. The fact that John Idzik worked in Seattle's front office when they drafted Tate only makes the connection between Tate and the Jets stronger.
There are two primary issues with Tate. One, he does not separate particularly well—he makes most of his plays with his hands and competing for contested catches. He is also known as a bit of a character on the field, prone to unnecessary taunting.
If the Jets are willing to take Tate for what he is as a player and a person (two things that Idzik should know as well as anyone), there is no reason why the Jets shouldn't put in a serious offer for his services.
Potential Target: Michael Vick
Bringing in the polarizing quarterback certainly won't steer the Jets clear of controversy, but from an on-field perspective, Vick would solve all of the organization's needs at backup quarterback.
Vick may be aging (33 years old), but he still has a rifle for an arm and as much mobility as 90 percent of quarterbacks in the league. Vick did eventually lose his starting job due to injury, but he was good enough to beat out Nick Foles in training camp in 2013.
There are certainly durability concerns with Vick, who has yet to complete a full 16-game season since 2006. After all, if Vick was a player without any flaws, he wouldn't be set to hit free agency in the first place.
Not only would Vick be able to compete with and push Smith to his limits, but he would be more than competent to get the Jets through a stretch of games (or perhaps the entire season) without removing them from playoff contention.
1. Quantity over quality
The Jets have a ton of cap space to work with, but looking at the landscape of elite free agents, it seems unlikely that the Jets will splurge on just a couple of players as opposed to building their roster with solid but unspectacular players. Look for the Jets to load up on more players like Emmanuel Sanders than Jairus Byrd.
2. Austin Howard is retained
As of this writing, talks with Howard are still ongoing according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News (h/t Dan Hanzus of NFL.com), but the Jets certainly hope to lock up their right tackle before they have to compete with the open market. Howard will want to be paid like a big-time right tackle (somewhere around $7 million), and the Jets have the resources to accommodate his demands.
3. Antonio Cromartie is brought back
Cromartie figures to be one of the cap casualties before the market even opens, but there is a solid chance that he is brought back on a more digestible contract. The fact that he won't need hip surgery gives the Jets good reason to believe that his abysmal 2013 season was more of an anomaly than a trend.
4. Spending will be less than expected
The Jets could have over $50 million at their disposal, but don't expect them to throw their money around like they just won the lottery. They will have room to bring in quality free agents, but they still have plenty of in-house needs to address.
This is only the second year of Idzik's rebuilding program. Without a proven quarterback, it would be foolish to expend all of the team's roster-building resources without having full confidence in Geno Smith. If Idzik is smart, he will save a sizable amount of cash for next season when his quarterback situation becomes clearer.