The New York Jets have more than just a few problems that need to be addressed this offseason. After concluding a season that was tainted by character issues and lack of leadership , the Jets face the challenge of re-tooling this roster with very little cap space. After years of heavy spending in order to secure their "Core Four," it appears the Jets are pretty much handcuffed in terms of signing any prominent free agents. However, there are plenty of low-risk, high-reward players the Jets can target.
After restructuring the deal of left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the Jets now have about $7.5 million to work with to sign free agents. With glaring issues on both sides of the ball, here are seven financially attainable players that could make a difference for the Jets.
For years, Jarret Johnson has played second fiddle behind star linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and even former Raven Bart Scott, whose tenure with the Jets appears to be over. Nevertheless, the Ravens recognized potential in Johnson because of his versatility and ability to stop the run, and thus, saw plenty of action.
Ever since his arrival in New York, head coach Rex Ryan has always fancied his former Raven players and has been successful in luring them over to Gang Green. Johnson, who played six years for Ryan in Baltimore, could be a perfect fit for the Jets defensive schemes.
While Johnson will be turning 31 in August, he would provide an excellent short-term answer for the Jets at a reasonable price. Jet fans remember Johnson for his standout game against the Jets this past season, where he earned Defensive Player of the Week honors for roughing up Sanchez and returning a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Johnson saw his production slip a bit from 2010 to 2011, but still recorded 56 tackles and 2.5 sacks. While Johnson is still widely considered as one of the better linebackers at stopping the run, his age and decline in production will likely keep his next contract within the Jets' price range.
McKenzie has been a staple of the Giants offensive line and has done an excellent job of protecting quarterback Eli Manning, especially during the two Super Bowl-winning years. However, many believe the Giants won't retain the aging McKenzie and will let him walk in free agency.
McKenzie would be another great short-term solution for the Jets. Although he isn't quite the same player he once was, he's certainly a better option than right tackle Wayne Hunter, who was constantly run over by opposing defensive players last season.
McKenzie would also provide significant leadership to a team that is desperate for some. A former Jet and a longtime veteran in this league, McKenzie would solidify the Jets offensive line and keep the loudmouths in check.
Last offseason, the Jets went in favor of signing the fresh out of prison Plaxico Burress, who apparently will not be re-signed over the embattled Edwards. While Edwards had one of the best statistical seasons of his career, he made headlines when he was arrested for DWI, which surely hurt his free-agent value. He would sign a one-year deal with the 49ers, but would be released before the playoffs after struggling to recover from midseason knee surgery.
If Edwards can return to form, he could be a great steal for the Jets. It is unlikely that Edwards will attract many suitors, considering he had trouble doing so after coming off a good year, and this year, he is coming off one where he hardly played. While the interest is supposedly there, it is unclear if Edwards would be willing to return to the Jets after last offseason's bitter divorce.
What the Jets do know, however, is that Edwards is a much better deep threat than Burress. Edwards' speed, size and ability to stretch the field created matchup problems for opposing defenses, which would routinely spring Santonio Holmes. If Braylon is healthy and is willing to return, he could be the ultimate low-risk, high-reward player for the Jets.
He may not be Peyton Manning, but Chad Henne is at least a serviceable quarterback who is familiar with new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano's system. Not only that, but unlike a certain 40-year-old back-up quarterback (cough, cough, Mark Brunell), he can actually come into the game if need be.
Mark Sanchez is this team's quarterback. There is no sense or even remote chance financially that they could bring in Manning. Surround Sanchez with the pieces he needs to win, and the Jets will be fine. Henne will provide a capable backup to Sanchez, and coming off a season-ending shoulder surgery, he should be available on the cheap.
Yet another player Rex Ryan can pluck from the Baltimore Ravens, safety Tom Zbikowski. Zbikowski has played behind all world safety Ed Reed for most of his career, but has taken advantage of playing opportunities when Reed has been injured in years past. With salary cap issues of their own, the Ravens are expected to let Zbikowski walk in free agency.
With Eric Smith and Jim Leonard set to become free agents, the Jets may let both players walk. Smith was an unmitigated disaster last season, who routinely got burned in coverage and missed crucial tackles. Leonard was having another stellar season until his season once again was cut short but a severe knee injury. While there's a chance he could re-sign with the Jets, they may look to move on without him.
Zbikowski is a hard-hitting safety whose game reminds me of Leonard's. Although Zbikowski is much more unproven then Leonard, I believe if he's given the chance at a starting role, he could thrive. He has been clutch on special teams for the Ravens in years past, which could also benefit the Jets. Another player who wouldn't cost the Jets much, Zbitkowski could be an excellent fit for the Jets.
Former first-round pick Manny Lawson hasn't exactly turned out the way San Francisco envisioned when they drafted him, but the sixth-year pro played a nice role with the upstart Bengals last season. He recorded 52 tackles and 1.5 sacks, and although he isn't the pass-rushing demon that Jet fans would like, he is a solid outside linebacker who can put some pressure on the quarterback.
Signing Lawson would be a relatively inexpensive addition to the linebacking corps and could help improve their depth at the position. At just 27 years of age, Lawson still has a lot to learn, but Rex Ryan might be able to improve the young linebacker's technique, similar to what he did with one-time bust Aaron Maybin.
It seemed like just yesterday when Steve Smith was the go-to target for Eli Manning and the Giants until a devastating knee injury ended his 2010 season, and then his Giants career.
In 2009, Smith recorded 107 catches for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns, all career highs. Smith would sign a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, but only appeared in nine games, recording just 11 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. Smith struggled to return from his knee injury and was forced to play behind Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant.
Given an entire offseason to recover, Smith has the potential to break out. He's been an excellent possession receiver in the past and could be an great short yardage target for Mark Sanchez.
When it comes to spending, the Jets will have to be wise with their signings this offseason. With a small amount of cap space, the Jets will be searching for the diamond in the rough. If the Jets can haul in some of these gems at a low cost, they can address their other needs through this year's NFL draft.