Free agency won't dictate the direction of the New York Jets on its own, but it will determine the decision-making abilities of new general manager John Idzik.
The Jets are scarcely under the salary cap and have countless roster spots to fill. The franchise is at a crossroad in terms of its chances of remaining relatively competitive in the contemporary landscape of the NFL, and faces an enormous uphill battle this offseason to stave off another ugly season.
There's no doubt that Idzik needs to be wildly creative to help uplift the Jets from the depths of mediocrity. He needs to utilize his supposed contract-negotiating skills and generate as much cap space as possible so that the team can at least sign a few key free agents capable of having a positive impact on a roster ridiculously deprived of talent.
The Jets should be stingy in free agency, but that doesn't mean that they'll be inactive. They can't afford to sit on the sidelines and wait for training camp.
The following is an in-depth analysis of how the Jets can be effective in free agency and improve upon a top-heavy, talent-deprived roster.
The Jets will benefit from having Santonio Holmes back at wideout next season, but the ailing receiver is due to make $11 million in 2013 and simply isn't worthy of that kind of value at this juncture of his career.
Restructuring Holmes' insidious contract will be a top priority for Idzik as the team looks toward free agency. Holmes has a reputation for commanding the room in these types of situations, but his talent level doesn't speak volumes anymore.
He's no longer a top receiver in the NFL and it's doubtful that he'll ever rekindle the kind of success that formerly made him elite at his position.
Holmes doesn't sustain leverage against Idzik in the contract-negotiating process because he can't "double-dip." The Jets owe Holmes $7.5 million in guaranteed money next season, but if the team were to cut their No. 1 wideout, he wouldn't be able to tap into new money elsewhere.
For example, if Holmes were released and signed with another team at a base salary of $4 million, the Jets would only be on the hook for $3.5 million.
It's a slippery slope for Holmes, although it's about time for him to recognize the importance of demonstrating the ethics of teamwork. The Jets need to pull as much money as they can from existing contracts to at least mildly contend in free agency, and the process starts with Holmes.
Inside linebacker David Harris is another prime candidate for contract restructuring. The 29-year-old veteran is due $10.9 million next season, but could soon be trumped by sophomore linebacker DeMario Davis.
Harris has been a rock for the Jets since being selected in the second round of the 2007 draft. He's started all 16 games in each of the past four seasons and recorded decent numbers across the board in 2012.
Harris totaled 80 tackles, three sacks, three deflected passes and a forced fumble in Ryan's defensive scheme last season. It was his most impressive season since 2009 from a numbers standpoint, although he's destined to be asked to take a pay cut, regardless.
His total cap hit is $13 million. The Jets simply can't afford to have that kind of money allocated to one player, especially a player that is likely going to see decreased playing time next season.
It would make sense for the Jets to backload Harris' contract. He's due $7 million in the final season of his four-year deal in 2014, which means the team has the option of using the quick-fix strategy of slashing a few million dollars off his total base salary for next season, while giving him the incentive of bigger base pay for 2014.
That would at least give the Jets more room to maneuver in free agency this offseason before revisiting Harris' problem-laden contract next year.
Texans' free-agent safety Glover Quin is smash-mouth defender that mirrors the game play of soon to be ex-Jet LaRon Landry.
The 27-year-old out of New Mexico is arguably undersized in stature for his position at 6'0'', although he's a physical defensive back that uses his 207-pound body frame as leverage against ball carriers.
He moves swiftly in coverage and isn't deterred from body slamming big receivers. He's missed just one game in four full seasons, despite his physical style, and consistently puts up solid numbers.
Quin totaled 64 tackles, 14 passes defended, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and a sack in a stellar defensive effort last season.
He's mostly flown under the radar in terms of notoriety, but don't think that Ryan wouldn't want this guy anchoring his defensive backfield, given the opportunity.
CSN Houston (via Rotoworld) reports that Quin could land a deal worth roughly $4.5 million annually, which could be too pricey for the Jets' taste this offseason. Still, it'd be wise for Idzik to pick up the phone and gauge Quin's interest in potentially accepting an ascending contract with a lofty signing bonus.
He's the brand of player the Jets need to replace Landry at safety. They'd have to be creative in offering a deal that fits his market value, which is supposedly what Idzik excels in.
Rams wideout Brandon Gibson isn't a big-name player, but he's a consistent downfield threat with above-average receiving prowess and should be enticing to the Jets.
Gibson recorded 691 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 82 targets last season. He's a valuable asset that can spread the field and slash over the middle to reel in tough catches.
He has excellent instincts and uses the sidelines to his advantage in single coverage.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via Rotoworld) recently reported that Gibson could seek a multi-year deal worth nearly $6 million annually, a figure of which lands far outside what the Jets would ideally pay for a No. 2 receiver.
It wouldn't be impossible for the Jets to ink a deal with Gibson, though. He could be intrigued by the element of playing in a big market, where his skills would be showcased at a level that wouldn't even compare to the type of attention he earned in St. Louis.
Gibson has gone on record as stating he wants a "fresh start," signifying a commonality with the Jets. Maybe a big signing bonus would do the trick, but he won't come cheap, regardless.
Texans outside linebacker Connor Barwin is going to generate significant interest on the open market this offseason, but should be sought after by the Jets.
Outside linebacker is the Jets' most prominent offseason need, next to quarterback. Barwin appears destined to reel in big money, but he was relatively disappointing last season, recording just 35 total tackles, seven stuffs and three sacks.
He exploded onto the scene in 2011 when he racked up 11.5 sacks on the stat sheet, but has been criticized for inconsistent game play. He's still just 26 years old, though, and has a ton of room to improve.
Ryan was a big fan of Barwin out of college and would likely welcome the idea of adding him to his 3-4 base defense. Perhaps he'd break out again in Ryan's blitz-heavy scheme. He has previously proven his abilities, so the potential is there.
For Barwin, it's just a matter of staying consistent. For the Jets, it's a matter of ponying-up the dollar bills necessary to make the transaction.
NFL.com (via Rotoworld) reports that Barwin would refuse a hometown discount and is unlikely to return to the Texans. He's keen on testing his market value, where several teams will be interested.
The Jets could ultimately be a good fit for Barwin, though. They're a defensive-minded football team that desperately needs aggressive pass-rushers.
It's likely for the Jets to select an edge rusher in the draft, but that shouldn't deter them from doubling-up on man power and making a hard push to acquire Barwin in free agency.