2012 NFL Free Agency: 10 Players the New York Jets Should Target in 2012

Aaron Jacobs@@AaronAJacobsContributor IIIFebruary 2, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agency: 10 Players the New York Jets Should Target in 2012

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    The New York Jets had a disappointing season in 2011-2012 to say the least. A team that had previously made the AFC Championship game in back-to-back seasons under head coach Rex Ryan failed to even make a playoff berth this year.

    The 8-8 record does not even begin to describe the struggles the Jets faced all season long. They lost three straight games to end of the season, which inevitably led to questions about the roster and coaches on both sides of the ball.

    This will be a big season for head coach Rex Ryan and the Jets. After all, we all know how quickly the seat heats up in New York.

    The Jets have a bunch of crucial decisions to make this offseason regarding players and team continuity. Here are some key moves the New York Jets should look to make this offseason in order to keep up with an up-and-coming AFC East. 

Jarret Johnson

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    Jarret Johnson is the true definition of a blue-collar NFL linebacker. He is a veteran in this league and while he is not an elite pass-rusher to any extent, he plays the run very well is a solid tackler.

    The acquisition of Jarret Johnson is a move that might not be considered flashy, but he would be a great fit in Rex Ryan's defense. He played well for Baltimore in 2011-12 (56 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery).

    While Johnson is a not a pass-rusher, which is what every Jets fan wants to see next year, he would be a great fit alongside Calvin Pace—if the Jets decide to keep him around. 

    Johnson is more of a complementary outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but a solid move the Jets could look to make if Bryan Thomas leaves. It would also require the Jets to find an elite pass-rushing linebacker opposite of Johnson, the way the Ravens paired Johnson with Terrell Suggs.

D'Qwell Jackson

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    If the New York Jets decide to drop Bart Scott, they should see what the market is for middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. Jackson is such an unknown commodity because of the team he played for in 2011-12, the Cleveland Browns

    D'Qwell Jackson had a great 2011-12 season (158 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one interception) and many teams will be inquiring about his services next season. Picture Jackson and David Harris playing middle linebacker together; there wouldn't be many missed tackles next season. He is an average-sized linebacker with enough speed to keep up with most running backs and most tight ends in this league. 

    A move like this would be huge for the New York Jets, who need to have the right personnel in place to compete with the potent New England Patriots offense. If you incorporate better safety play and quicker linebacker core, it will help slow down Tom Brady and that offense in the middle of the field.

    Jackson would be a more than welcome addition to the New York Jets next season. 

Paul Soliai

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    This is a move the New York Jets should make if they let defensive tackle Sione Pouha become a free agent. Pouha is a stout defensive tackle in the NFL, but Paul Soliai is a better fit in the Jets scheme. Hear me out on this one. 

    Paul Soliai's numbers won't astound anyone (27 tackles, no sacks, no fumbles), but what those numbers don't show is his ability to stop the run and his size. He is a 355-pound defensive tackle, which would be an imposing big body to put in the middle of the New York Jets' 3-4 defensive scheme.

    The last guy who was that big in the middle for the Jets was Kris Jenkins, and we all remember how good the Jets defense was when Jenkins was in at defensive tackle. I am not comparing Soliai to Jenkins in their ability, because Jenkins was a great player, but Soliai has a ton of potential.

    Also, Soliai is 28 years old in contrast to Pouha, who is 33 years old. 

    If the market for the two defensive tackles are similar, I would say the Jets should take a shot at Soliai. He fits the system and has a ton of potential, plus the risk of bringing back Pouha at 33 for a long-term contract would not bode well for the Jets. 

LaRon Landry

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    LaRon Landry would be one of those moves that many people might not think twice about, but it would be great move for the New York Jets. Almost any safety brought in would be an upgrade compared to the safeties on the Jets roster.

    Landry is a veteran who spent time in the 3-4 defense this past season with the Washington Redskins, which was a much-improved defense from the season prior.

    Landry put up decent numbers this season (48 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble), but those numbers do not speak to the type of safety he is on the field. He was not asked to blitz often in the Washington Redskins system, which relied heavily on pressure from their outside linebackers, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.

    In a Rex Ryan system, he would get more attempts to rush the passer, something Landry may excel at if given the opportunity. He is 6'0" and weighs in at around 220 lbs, which makes him big for a safety and he is very physical on the field.

    LaRon Landry does have a history of being injury prone, which might shy the Jets away from signing him long-term given the Jim Leonhard situation.

    Landry might not be the big splash that Jets fans want to see, but he would be a great fit for the team at the right price. 

Tyvon Branch

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    Tyvon Branch is another move that would float under Jets fans' radar, but still a move the Jets desperately need to make due to their current situation at safety. Branch is making a name for himself as a big-time safety in the NFL with big time playmaking ability.

    Branch had some impressive numbers for the Oakland Raiders this past season (109 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery) and if the Raiders don't re-sign him, he will arguably be the best free-agent safety on the market.

    Branch is an aggressive safety, something the Jets lack and a component that would benefit Rex Ryan's defensive scheme. He is a bit smaller than LaRon Landry in weight, but they both play a similar game. 

    Safeties are a big part of the Rex Ryan 3-4 defensive scheme being successful; we all remember how pivotal Ed Reed was during Ryan's days in Baltimore. Since coming to the Jets, arguably the best safety Rex Ryan's had was Kerry Rhodes.

    One could argue for Jim Leonhard, but let's face facts, for as great a player as Leonhard is, he is undersized and can't cover tight ends in this league. 

    That said, Tyvon Branch would be a welcome addition to the Jets defense and he would be a natural fit because of his style of play. The only issue may be his asking price on the free-agent market. 

Peyton Hillis

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    What an astounding fall from greatness for Peyton Hillis in 2011-2012. In 2010 Hillis was a monster (1,177 yards, 11 touchdowns, 4.4 yards per carry) behind a suspect offensive line. In 2011, the numbers dropped off big time (587 yards, three touchdowns, 3.6 yards per carry).

    Madden curse anybody? 

    Hillis is a bruising running back and that could be concerning for his longevity in the NFL, but if the Browns decide to let him walk, why would the Jets not give Hillis a chance to share the backfield with Shonn Greene?

    Remember when Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene shared a backfield for the Jets? The team led the league in rushing that season. This could be a similar situation.

    This also would require that the Jets upgrade their offensive line to suit the running game better. If they decide to bring in Peyton Hillis, they should make sure it's for the right price and a short contract.

    After all, you don't want to be committed to Hillis if his struggles continue into next season. 

Jason Campbell

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    Jason Campbell is not the major move at quarterback that every single New York Jets fan wants to see, but it's the one that the Jets would likely be able to pull off this offseason.

    Campbell has had a bad reputation his whole career mostly because of his time spent with the Washington Redskins under a bunch of different offensive coordinators. Finally when Campbell got a chance to be the starting quarterback for the Oakland Raiders he began to play pretty well.

    Campbell spent most of the 2011-12 season on the injured reserve with a broken collarbone. His season stats were solid (84.2 quarterback rating, 1,170 yards passing, six passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns) yet unimpressive, but he only played six games in 2011.

    Campbell would be a great insurance policy to have if the New York Jets decide to move forward with Mark Sanchez as their quarterback.

    What Sanchez needs is someone who can actually compete with him to start games (a.k.a. not Mark Brunell). The Jets would benefit big time if they brought in Campbell because if Sanchez starts slow next season, it would give the Rex the opportunity to make Campbell the starter.

    This move is also barring the fact that the Jets stick with Sanchez and decide not to blow up this roster and make the move for either Matt Flynn or Peyton Manning.

Marques Colston

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    Marques Colston is a very undervalued wide receiver in the NFL. The New Orleans Saints have brought out the best in Colston throughout his career and many people say that is the reason that his numbers look so good, but he has developed into a major weapon.

    Colston's numbers during the 2011-12 season were stout (80 receptions, 1,143 receiving yards, eight touchdowns) and the Saints offense would miss his presence next season.

    The Jets seem to have luck with bigger wide receivers, like Braylon Edwards and Plaxico Burress. Marques Colston is a more well-rounded receiver than both of those guys. He is 6'4" and weighs around 225 lbs, similar in size to Burress.

    While he does not possess elite speed, he makes up for it with his hands and great route-running.

    If the New York Jets decide to part ways with Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress, they may want to think about a guy like Marques Colston. He is far from the diva wide receivers that the Jets have had in seasons past.

Vincent Jackson

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    Vincent Jackson is the biggest wide receiver in the NFL next to Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. At 6'5", 230 lbs, Jackson is a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs. He also has breakaway speed, making him one of the elite receivers in the NFL today.

    Vincent Jackson had a stellar season for the San Diego Chargers (60 receptions, 1,106 receiving yards, nine touchdowns). However, the Chargers, much like the New York Jets, suffered a disappointing season in 2011-12.

    Jackson might be looking for a fresh start elsewhere, but also he will be looking for a long-term, big-money type of contract wherever he goes. The Jets might not be that team unless they make a bunch of moves this offseason to clear some cap space.

    Jackson would be a great fit for the Jets as the feature receiver in the offense, but this would require trading or dropping Santonio Holmes and making other moves to clear cap space, therefore making this move for Vincent Jackson nearly impossible for the Jets.

Ray Rice or Matt Forte

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    This would be a move the New York Jets should make if they decide to completely blow up their offense. If you decide to move on from the Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene era, then take a shot at a franchise running back.

    Those guys would be Ray Rice and Matt Forte.

    Ray Rice had an amazing season for the Baltimore Ravens in 2011-12 (1,364 rushing yards, 704 receiving yards, 15 total touchdowns), but the chance that the Ravens actually let him hit the free-agent market seems slim to none.

    However, if he does hit the market, the Jets would be foolish to not try and sign him. He is a franchise running back and he is from New York.

    Matt Forte was having a great season before he went down to injury in 2011-12 (997 rushing yards, 490 receiving yards, four total touchdowns in 12 games). The Chicago Bears will probably try to sign him long-term or put the franchise tag on him.

    However, if the Bears let him walk, again the Jets would have to try and sign him. After all, it's not every year you find a franchise running back in free agency.