5 Free Agents the New York Jets Must Target for 2013
The Jets (6-10) are about to commence a tumultuous offseason destined to alter the direction of an embattled franchise.
The transformation will start with decision-makers: GM Mike Tannenbaum was fired on Monday morning—the first of several expected changes within the Jets' dysfunctional front office.
Don't count on a big free-agent splash to lift the Jets up out of mediocrity, though. Previous irresponsible financial decisions have already hindered them from doing so.
Still, the Jets can create moderate cap space if they cut Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Eric Smith and Jason Smith before the 2013 season.
Those transactions would give the Jets roughly $30.7 million to fill at least 17 roster spots for next season. Clearly there needs to be some creativity with limited funds.
Here are five free agents the Jets must target over what's expected to be a daunting offseason.
5. Josh Cribbs
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Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs possesses a pivotal quality absent from the Jets' offensive personnel: speed.
Cribbs is an explosive playmaker who could ignite the Jets on offense.
New York already possesses a solid slot receiver in Jeremy Kerley, although he lacks game-changing ability.
Even though Cribbs has failed to develop into a consistent downfield threat, he possesses tremendous speed and could be effectively used in creative situations that generate open space and room to run.
Cribbs was targeted a career-high 67 times in 2011 while recording 41 receptions for 518 yards and four touchdowns. He's a proven veteran who has the ability to break open downfield and make big plays.
He has tallied eight career touchdowns on kickoffs plus three punt returns for scores and is ranked fifth in the NFL in kick return average at 27.7 yards per attempt in 2012.
A kick return tandem of Josh Cribbs and Joe McKnight would undoubtedly be the most potent in the NFL.
The Jets need to obtain a speed-oriented player who can stretch the field.
They should seriously consider Cribbs.
The Jets don't have speed on offense, so they'll be forced to pay for it.
4. Andy Levitre
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Bills offensive guard Andy Levitre is a premier run-blocker, capable of creating room to run between the tackles.
Levitre is the brand of player the Jets need up front to provide support for head coach Rex Ryan's ground-and-pound offensive game scheme.
Levitre could potentially replace veteran Brandon Moore or sixth-round pick Matt Slauson on the Jets offensive line.
Moore has been a critical component on the offensive front for the Jets, but the Jets need an upgrade. Slauson has been summoned to a platoon situation. Both are eligible for free agency.
Levitre has started every game of his career and has demonstrated supreme versatility while also remaining consistent. He's been a tremendous contributing factor to the Bills' successful ground attack.
The Jets averaged just 3.8 yards per rush attempt in 2012 whereas the Bills surpassed 5.1 yards per carry.
Levitre could solidify an embattled offensive line that has struggled to be consistent in both protecting the quarterback and enabling the run.
3. Jared Cook
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Titans tight end Jared Cook would be an ideal replacement for Dustin Keller, who seems to be distancing himself from the idea of re-signing with the Jets after being virtually ignored from extension talks last offseason.
Cook is a receiving threat with run-blocking ability. His 6'5'', 248-pound frame enables him to be quick enough off the line of scrimmage to get open downfield before the pocket collapses.
The 25-year-old averaged over 13 yards per catch in four full seasons with Tennessee. His touchdown tally has increased each season.
He was limited to just 13 games in 2012, but still compiled 523 yards and 4 TDs on 72 targets.
Cook's top-notch athletic ability is a commodity absent from the Jets' weak band of offensive playmakers. He's a versatile player that serves dual purposes and should be highly sought after this offseason, given his age and past production.
The Jets can improve at two critical areas on offense in acquiring Cook: receiver and run protection.
Cook is ultimately an affordable solution for the Jets, who are staring at a gaping void when Keller walks.
2. Terrance Knighton
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Jaguars' nose tackle Terrance Knighton is arguably among the best run-stuffing defensive lineman in the NFL. He is also a realistic fit for the Jets, especially if they opt to cut veteran Sione Pouha.
Knighton is a 330-pound beast that can fill the middle of the field and keep multiple offensive linemen occupied.
His strength outweighs the scale. Knighton's base salary was $1.26 million in 2012, but past issues in sustaining an optimal weight could deter potential suitors from signing the 26-year-old out of Temple.
Knighton recorded two forced fumbles, two sacks and four stuffs this season. He's missed just four games in four seasons en route to proving himself as a valuable component on the defensive front.
The Jaguars ranked 31st in rush defense this season, conceivably because Knighton started just five games.
The Jets have an opportunity to add some serious beef to a defensive line that tallied just 11.5 sacks in 2012.
Knighton will be affordable and should be easily sold on the concept of being the premier defensive lineman in the Jets' current 3-4 base. He would be a solid addition to a team that needs to solidify a rush defense that surrendered over 135 yards per game this season, and he can also supply some pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
1. Rey Maualuga
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Bengals inside linebacker Rey Maualuga has exploded out of USC to shatter expectations en route to becoming a beastly force in the middle of the defense. He's a smashmouth player that can cover the entire field.
Maualuga served as the catalyst on a Bengals defense that ranked 6th overall. He recorded 58 solo tackles in 2012 and will command significant interest in the free-agent market when the season ends.
The Jets need an upgrade over veteran Bart Scott in the middle of the field and would be wise to target Maualuga.
Scott's future with the Jets became tenuous at best after last season when he combined for just 66 tackles, his fewest since 2004. His steady decline guarantees that Gang Green will move on from "Can't Wait" this offseason.
Enter the alternative.
Maualuga is a run-stuffing machine that seizes every opportunity to hit someone. He combined for 112 tackles this season while developing a reputation for being among the most devastating hard-hitters in the NFL.
His quickness up front and ability to drop into coverage makes him an ideal fit for the Jets.
Maualuga is going to land far outside what the Jets can afford, but that hasn't stopped them in the past.