Grading the Strength of Each Position on Jets Roster Heading into Free Agency
Before getting ready for the draft and free agency, the first step in any team's offseason is a full assessment of the current roster to identify needs and which players need to be replaced.
With a new general manager in place and coming off a 6-10 season, there is no question that the Jets roster is set to undergo plenty of changes, particularly on the offensive side of the ball which, was largely responsible for the team's lack of success.
The following slides will break down every position on the Jets according to the following grading scale:
A: No FA signing needed.
B: Minor/Bargain FA Signing.
C: Low-end starter FA needed/mid-low draft pick.
D: Starter needed/Mid-high draft pick.
F: Highest priority FA/first- or second-round pick necessary.
You could probably write a dissertation on the issues surrounding the Jets quarterbacks, but one thing is clear: The Jets simply do not have a franchise quarterback on their roster who can help the team win in the long-term.
It appears as if Mark Sanchez will be on the roster for at least one more year, thanks to a $17 million cap penalty against the Jets if he is traded or released. However, for the first time since his rookie year, he will not enter training camp as the unquestioned starter.
Don't sell off your Tebow jerseys just yet; it was reported earlier in the week that the Jets will pursue a trade for Tebow, but they do not have plans to release him just yet (per ESPN's Adam Schefter). This is puzzling on many levels, as having such a big distraction on the team does no one good, but for now, we'll have to assume he is on the 2013 squad.
Greg McElroy lost his chance to be a starter with a dismal performance against the Chargers in Week 16, but he should be on the roster as a third quarterback at worst.
The Jets will likely find a quarterback in free agency or high in the draft to compete with Sanchez for the starting job, as GM John Idzik has strongly hinted (per the Daily News' Kevin Armstrong). At this point, it is just a matter of determining who they will bring in.
This year's draft class is considered to be rather weak, and none of the top prospects warrant the ransom the Redskins paid the Rams to move up to draft RGIII last year. Meanwhile, most of the free-agent quarterback market is comprised of former backups.
Still, there is no way the Jets can go into next season without making any significant changes at the quarterback position without running the risk of losing their locker room before the season even starts.
Despite a strong finish by both Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell, the Jets lacked a dynamic presence from the running back position in 2012, which is a significant problem for a team that had aspirations of being a run-first team.
At this point, it would be an upset if the team brought back impending free agent Shonn Greene. Greene is a physical runner who wears down opponents, but he never makes defenders miss and offers virtually nothing in the passing game.
Bilal Powell was one of the most improved players from a season ago and has the most well-rounded skill set of all the backs on the roster. Boasting terrific lateral agility, he's excellent in pass protection and could be an adequate starter if given the chance.
Even if the Jets plan to make Powell the starter, they need to have adequate depth behind him. This year's draft has a stable of talented runners who should be available in the middle rounds, and the Jets would be wise to pick one of them up.
This is a position that has some young talent, but it lacks depth and a clear-cut starter.
Contrary to popular belief, the Jets offensive line was one of the few bright spots on the team; PFF rated them as the third-best unit in football.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson had a tremendous bounce-back season, having not surrendered a sack until a late-season matchup against Jason Babin. Austin Howard made the Jets coaches look foolish for not giving him the starting job earlier in training camp, grading out in the top half of all tackles in the league (including left and right tackles) in PFF's ratings.
The biggest problem with the Jets offensive line is that Austin Howard, along with both of their guards, have expiring contracts at the end of the year.
The Jets could look to replace one of them in the draft, but with Howard playing the more premium position at right tackle, he should be the priority to re-sign.
The Jets already have their rock at the center position in Nick Mangold, and they have developed quality depth behind him in Caleb Schlauderaff.
The position that is in question is at guard, where both incumbent starters, Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson, are free agents and coming off very good seasons. Moore is the superior pass protector, but Slauson is nearly a decade younger and has much more upside.
It remains to be seen whether the Jets have enough cap room to keep both, but the fact that Rex Ryan rotated in backup Vladimir Ducasse every third series last year over Slauson indicates that the Jets have been preparing for life without Slauson for a while now.
If the Jets are able to retain at least one guard (Moore) and start Ducasse, adding a backup guard in the draft to develop and add depth would be the most sensible course of action.
Outside of quarterback, this was the biggest problem area for the Jets in 2012 thanks to a slew of injuries taking advantage of the lack of depth on the roster.
On paper, the starting group of Jets receivers looks like a rather solid group, at least when everyone is healthy. Santonio Holmes is not everyone's cup of tea, but he separates as well as anyone in the game and is a dynamic No. 1 receiver. Jeremy Kerley has emerged as one of the top slot receivers in the NFL, managing 827 yards with horrendous quarterback play.
Sophomore player Stephen Hill flashed big-play potential, but issues in concentration and his inability to separate on a consistent basis mean the jury is still out on the Georgia Tech product. Coming off an injury, it remains to be seen whether or not he is ready to seize the starting role in his second year.
The biggest issue for this group is depth, which is a bit ironic considering that Chaz Schilens was one of their top priorities in free agency last year. Players like Schilens and Clyde Gates were simply not ready for the expanded roles they were forced into.
Poor quarterback play does not help, but this team simply did not sustain productivity after the loss of Santonio Holmes like the defense did when Darrelle Revis went down.
Still, one has to figure that this unit will have better luck in terms of injuries next year, but adding depth and a more reliable No. 2 target has to be a top priority.
Like the receiver position, this group has some quality top-level talent who caught the injury bug. Dustin Keller missed half the season dealing with various ankle and hamstring injuries.
Keller picked a bad time to earn the "injury-prone" label, as he is set to be a free agent in March. If the Jets can find a way to extend him, this position is much more solidified. Otherwise, tight end becomes a huge question mark for the Jets moving forward.
Jeff Cumberland was adequate in Keller's absence as a receiver, but he does not draw additional coverage or offer much as a blocker. Konrad Reuland is a solid third tight end with some good hands and blocking ability.
How the Jets address this position largely depends on their ability to retain Keller, as losing him will require the team to find another starter elsewhere. In the least, they must add some competition and a pure blocking tight end this offseason.
With all of the questions lurking in the secondary, this is the deepest and most effective unit on the team. Paired with youth and upside, there is no position on the Jets that is more promising than the defensive end position.
Muhammad Wilkerson has developed into a star, as PFF rated him as second-best defensive lineman in the league, second only to J.J. Watt as a dominant run defender and an emerging pass-rusher.
Meanwhile, first-round pick Quinton Coples had an encouraging rookie year, recording six sacks despite paying in just over half of the defensive snaps. Only his technique in run defense is holding him back from being a full-time starter.
However, the Jets need to make a decision on free agent Mike DeVito. DeVito is not the most dynamic rusher, but he is more athletic than given credit for and can be a dominant five-technique run defender at times. The former UDFA has emerged as a leader in the locker room.
The Jets have a lot of youth at this position who would make it easy to let DeVito walk, but this rattled team needs to keep their leaders in the worst way.
This is yet another position that has been plagued by injuries in 2012.
Starter Sione Pouha was never able to be his old dominant self thanks to a back injury that bothered him all season. After securing his position as the top 3-4 nose tackle in 2011, he graded out to be the 51st-best interior defensive tackle in 2012.
One would figure that Pouha will return to normal with an offseason to heal up, but he is no spring chicken at the age of 34.
The Jets have some depth behind Pouha in Kenrick Ellis, but he too struggled to stay healthy. When he was healthy, he played with much better technique in the run game and held his own at the point of attack.
As long as these two players can stay healthy, there is no need to make any major overhauls to this position despite a lack of production in 2012.
Contrary to popular belief, Bart Scott was actually the Jets' best inside linebacker in 2012 despite his reputation as a loudmouth and a liability in coverage. He graded out as the 18th-best inside linebacker in the league (PFF) despite playing on a toe injury for a significant portion of the season.
However, Scott's $8.65 million cap hit makes him a likely candidate to be a cap casualty. Whether or not they bring him back depends on how confident they are in sophomore player DeMario Davis' ability to take over the starting job on a full-time basis.
Davis filled in for Scott when he was dealing with an injury and played fairly well. Another year of experience in Rex Ryan's complex defense will be a huge help to the Arkansas State product.
What has gone rather unnoticed by casual fans is the inability of David Harris to live up to his huge contract. Despite making in the upwards of $13 million this year, Harris is coming off a season in which he struggled in just about every aspect of the game.
Only eight inside linebackers had more missed tackles than Harris, and he graded out by PFF to be the second-worst defender on the Jets roster. Cutting or replacing Harris is nearly impossible, as he will cost $13.5 million against the cap if cut.
The Jets must hope that Harris' 2012 season was an anomaly, or they will be stuck with yet another bad contract on their hands.
In terms of depth, the Jets have some solid options in Josh Mauga and Nick Bellore, who both have some limited game experience.
When considering age, cost and production, the outside linebacker position is the biggest area of need for the Jets (outside of quarterback).
Bryan Thomas, previously on a one-year contract, is very unlikely to return at his age.
Calvin Pace is an easy cap casualty, as cutting him would save $11.57 million against the cap. Not only has he been a disappointment as a pass-rusher, but he has not been nearly the same edge-setter as he is perceived to be. PFF graded him as the worst defender on the team, both in terms of pass rush and run defense.
Garrett McIntyre is a serviceable player in a part-time role, but he is anything but a dynamic pass-rusher and can be pushed around at the point of attack.
The Jets need a new pair of starters at this position in the worst way and should consider using their ninth overall pick on the position. Between prospects Barkevious Mingo, Damontre Moore and Dion Jordan, the Jets will likely have their choice of a pass-rusher unless they like a quarterback enough to take him in the first round.
Even if the Jets use a top pick on a linebacker, they will need to add at least one body in free agency to at least play in a committee role with McIntyre.
The story of this Jets offseason will be centered around the future of Darrelle Revis, who has been thrown around as possible trade bait.
The debate as to whether or not Revis should or will be traded has been and will be debated for the next several months. To me, trading a homegrown Hall of Famer is out of the question. When you consider how difficult it would be to get maximum value for a cornerback coming off an ACL injury in the final year of his contract, there are enough complications in this situation to prevent any kind of deal from happening.
Assuming that Revis returns to the Jets in 2013 as his former self, the Jets would easily have the best cornerback tandem in the NFL with team MVP Antonio Cromartie returning on the opposite side.
The immediate area of concern lies at the slot cornerback position. 2010 first-round pick Kyle "finger wag" Wilson has been a disappointment and is likely to leave in free agency. Ellis Lankster was also a disappointment playing in the slot (as Wilson moved to the outside after Revis' injury) to the point where he was benched in favor of free agent Darrin Walls.
Assuming Revis is on the Jets roster in 2013, using a mid-round pick on a slot cornerback is all this position needs.
One of the biggest reasons why the Jets were able to sustain a good pass defense in the absence of Darrelle Revis is the play of their veteran safeties.
LaRon Landry's physical presence was most-welcomed in the back end, and he played the role of a Cover-1 free safety well, despite the fact that he is most comfortable at strong safety, earning a spot in the Pro Bowl. Most importantly, he managed to stay healthy for all 16 games.
Landry will be difficult to re-sign in part because he made the Pro Bowl, as such accolades are used as leverage in contract in negotiations.
Yeremiah Bell had a good season in his own right, allowing the Jets to fare much better against opposing tight ends. The biggest issue with Yeremiah Bell is his age, as he will turn 35 in March.
Eric Smith had a much better season in a smaller role in nickel packages, but he could be a cap casualty earning $3 million.
If all three safeties are gone, the Jets will be forced to start sophomore players Josh Bush and Antonio Allen. Bush and Allen flashed potential, but they still need to add depth to this position before they allow two first-time starters to hold up as the last line of defense.
Kicker Nick Folk is coming off his best season as a Jet, missing just six field goals all season (several of them were blocked). For now, the Jets appear to have found their kicker, although bringing in come camp competition never hurts.
After a great start, Robert Malone started to show some inconsistency as the Jets punter, but he was a massive upgrade over T.J. Conley. He deserves another chance to enter camp as the assumed starter, but there is no doubt that he will have some competition in August.
Long Snapper Tanner Purdum was hardly noticed all season, which is a good thing for a long snapper. Not one kick was missed because of a bad snap. He is a restricted free agent who the Jets need to re-sign, but I would not hold your breath for a holdout.
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