Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Revis Island moves to Tampa Bay in 2013.
The Jets' second-boldest move of the 2013 offseason concerns not a single player but a group. It breaks apart and reassembles what might have been the 2012 team's elite unit: the secondary.
In 2012, the Jets' pass defense finished second in the NFL, trailing only Pittsburgh. They achieved this despite losing perennial All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis to an ACL injury in Week 3. One of the reasons was the play of the secondary. Safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Antonio Cromartie received Pro Bowl invitations.
Fans anticipated that Revis' return would make a strong unit even better. However, only one of the players from the 2012 secondary will start in 2013: Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie.
The rest are either gone or may not start. Safeties Bell and Landry are lost to free agency. Revis is lost via trade. Revis' 2012 replacement, Kyle Wilson, will compete for a starting role against first-round pick Dee Milliner.
Was this necessary? Consider this: Landry signed a four-year, $24 million deal with the Colts. Bell signed a one-year, $905,000 deal with the Cardinals.
If Landry's deal counts for $6 million against the cap each year, adding his deal to Bell's results in an annual cap value just over $6.9 million. A few short months ago, that sounded unaffordable. However, after a combination of cuts and restructurings, the Jets' available cap room at publication stands at $13.3 million. Even after subtracting $5 million to sign draft picks Dee Milliner, Sheldon Richardson and Geno Smith, the $8.3 million left is still enough to afford Landry and Bell. Surprised?
In other words, the Jets could have kept LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell from a financial perspective. If they wanted to leave, however, that's a different issue. The question is now: Will their replacements measure up?
Dawan Landry replaces his brother LaRon at strong safety. Dawan has never made the Pro Bowl. However, his 2012 numbers with Jacksonville are similar to what LaRon achieved with the Jets.
LaRon Landry intercepted two passes to Dawan Landry's one. LaRon defended four passes, Dawan defended two. LaRon had 75 tackles and 25 assists, Dawan had 81 tackles and 18 assists. These numbers don't paint complete pictures of the brothers' performances. They do offer hope that Dawan can replace LaRon.
The free safety position is where speculation reigns. Two second-year players, Josh Bush and Antonio Allen, are battling for the starting job. Bush is the current favorite. There must be some intangible factors at work, because Allen has the statistical edge. He had a sack, a fumble recovery, two tackles and two assists in seven games. Bush played in all 16 games, but only achieved one tackle and two assists. This begs for an explanation.
ProFootballFocus.com's grading system (paid subscription required) provides a hint. It's based on a limited number of plays, as Allen's grade is based on 40 snaps while Bush's is based on nine. However valid the sample sizes might be, the results favor Bush. Grades of negative-1.3 in pass rush and negative-2.4 in pass coverage are the major contributors to Allen's overall grade of negative-4.2. Bush's overall grade of 0.7, while hardly superstar material, looks formidable by comparison.
Allen and Bush played special teams as well. Bush's overall grade was 1.0 compared to Allen's negative-1.5. The key differences were in kickoffs, where Bush's grade was 1.0 against Allen's negative-0.5, and penalties, where Bush's grade of 0.0 edged Allen's negative-1.0.
Raw statistics echo Bush's advantage, as he had eight tackles, three assists and one missed tackle. Allen had two tackles, one assist and a penalty.
This may be interesting, but it's yesterday's news. Whoever wins the job will have to do it on the field. He'll have to replace or surpass Yeremiah Bell's one sack, two passes defended, three fumbles recovered, 70 tackles and 17 assists.
Then there's the cornerbacks.
One cornerback position is solid. Cromartie returns as the Jets' No. 1 cornerback after taking over Darrelle Revis' responsibilities in 2012. It's the other side that Revis' departure effects.
Former first-round pick Kyle Wilson became a starter after Revis' injury. Ourlads.com designates Wilson the starter again. However, 2013 first-round pick Dee Milliner will challenge Wilson once Milliner's shoulder heals.
In short, this year's unit offers more questions than answers. Will Lawan Landry perform like LaRon Landry? Will Bush or Allen make us forget Bell? Will either Wilson or Milliner make an effective counterpart for Cromartie?
Finally, if one of 2012's bright spots generates all of these questions, how many questions will 2012's weaker spots raise?