2012 NFL Free Agents: Players the New York Jets Must Aggressively Pursue
After their disappointing season, the New York Jets found themselves up against the salary cap limit.
Since then, they have restructured D'Brickashaw Ferguson's contract and extended Mark Sanchez's contract.
In doing so, it freed up $14.4 million to spend on free agents.
The positions that need to be filled include safety, a pass rusher, outside linebacker, wide receiver, backup quarterback and help on the offensive line.
Some of New York's needs can be fulfilled in the upcoming draft, but there are also players that the Jets need to pursue in free agency.
Here are the free agent players the Jets must look at.
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Last season, the New York Jets' offensive line showed that it was the dominant presence it once was.
When Nick Mangold went out with an ankle injury, the line also proved it lacks depth.
After two seasons with the offensive line helping to lead the league's No. 1 rushing offense and the league's No. 4 ranked rushing offense, it slipped, falling to 22nd overall this past season.
The offensive line also gave up 40 sacks and 70 quarterback hits. The weak links on the line are Wayne Hunter and Matt Slauson.
Vernon Carey, the former first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins, could prove to be a perfect fit for the New York Jets as he can be a major upgrade from Wayne Hunter, who was disastrous at times this season.
Last season, Carey was playing out of position, with the Dolphins moving him from his natural position of right tackle to guard.
With Carey’s familiarity with new Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and his offensive schemes, he should be able to come in and start immediately.
Sparano was the Dolphins head coach last season.
The signing would also add more depth, with Hunter coming into games or defensive situations only when he's needed.
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With Jim Leonhard ending his second consecutive season early due to injury in addition to his lack of size and his impending free agency, it is the time to start looking for his replacement.
They should turn their attention to signing free-agent safety Reggie Nelson.
Nelson does not have a big name but he plays as good as almost any other safety in the league. Last season, with the Cincinnati Bengals, Nelson had 85 tackles, two sacks, 12 passes defended, four interceptions, two sacks, and two forced fumbles.
Nelson's numbers are better than Michael Griffin's, the big-name free safety on the open market who has since received the franchise tag from the Tennessee Titans.
While Nelson would provide an upgrade from Smith, the Jets should look at and select Mark Barron, the No. 1 ranked safety in this year's draft.
Pairing Nelson and Barron with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie could pose a problem for opposing quarterbacks.
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With the extra money, the New York Jets now have the luxury of signing a big-name, young, tall receiver they are in need of.
With Plaxico Burress hitting free agency, the receiving depth chart includes locker room cancer Santonio Holmes, second-year wide out Jeremy Kerley and recently re-signed Patrick Turner.
At 28-years-old and standing at 6'4'', New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston can be a very nice, albeit expensive, complement to Holmes.
Colston is coming off a season where he had 80 receptions for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games. In his six-year career, he has at least 70 receptions and over 1,000 receiving yards in five of the six years.
Other cheaper options at receiver that the Jets might also pursue could be Robert Meachem or a return of Braylon Edwards.
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The New York Jets have been lacking a legitimate pass rushing threat since John Abraham's last season with the team in 2006.
While Aaron Maybin may become the pass rushing threat in the future, as he showed potential last year with six sacks in just 11 games, signing Abraham would be a smart move.
Although John Abraham is already 33, he is still producing at a high level. Last season, he had 9.5 sacks in 15 games.
Abraham would not have to start, or be an every down player, rather a specialist who Rex Ryan brings into the game in pass rushing situations.
If the Jets re-sign Maybin while adding Abraham, the teams' pass rushing weakness can become a strength.
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Bart Scott only had 66 tackles last season—the fewest amount since coming to the New York Jets in 2009.
At 31, Scott's game looks to be on the decline.
New York is looking to part ways, evidenced by giving the linebacker and his agent permission to seek a trade. The Jets need to get younger at outside linebacker.
David Hawthorne meets the requirement.
Over each of the last three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, Hawthorne recorded over 100 tackles.
Hawthorne is just 26 years old and can play in either the 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme. While he is not a household name, he is very productive, in the mold of current Jets linebacker David Harris.
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Going into next season, the New York Jets should not be comfortable with Greg McElroy as their backup quarterback. They need a legitimate starter to push Mark Sanchez and to be a safety net if he goes down to injury.
Jason Campbell will make them comfortable.
Campbell never really got a fair shot since entering the league because he could never get familiar with an offense. In each of his first five years in the NFL, he's had different offensive coordinators.
Campbell's best season was in 2009 with the Washington Redskins.
Starting in all 16 games, he threw for 3618 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, nine interceptions while having a quarterback rating of 86.4.
Last season, he played in just six games with the Oakland Raiders. In those six games, he passed for 1170 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions.
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In Shonn Greene's first year as the New York Jets lead running back, he played decent. While he did rush for 1,054 yards and six touchdowns, more was expected.
Backup running back Joe McKnight looks like he has found his niche as a kick return, as he led the league in pink return average.
However, McKnight doesn't look like a future starting running back with the Jets, even after he showed flashes in Week 10 against the Denver Broncos when he rushed for 59 yards while also having 62 receiving yards.
If the Jets do not have all of their faith in Greene, they should look into Peyton Hillis. At 6'2'' and 250 lbs, Hillis has a downhill, pounding running style that can help Greene out.
With both Hillis and Greene sharing the same backfield, the Jets' running game could simply wear out opposing defenses throughout the game.
And if they split carries, it could keep both backs healthy.
Hillis' breakout season came two years ago with the Cleveland Browns when he rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last season, due to injuries and a reported contract dispute, they played in only ten games, rushing for 587 yards and three touchdowns.
Maybe a change of scenery to New York would get Hillis back on track.