5 Free Agents the New York Jets Must Target
With the 2013 season in the books, the time is now for the Jets to prepare for an offseason that could vault them into playoff contention.
Unlike last year's cash-strapped spring, the Jets should have plenty of cap space to make a lot of noise in free agency. While getting great value is always the goal, the Jets can afford to make a few splurges on big-name free agents to upgrade their thin skill positions.
Here is a list of some free agents who need to be on the Jets' shopping list come March.
Jairus Byrd, FS
While Dawan Landry proved to be a reliable veteran presence at the safety position, the Jets could use an upgrade to get more dynamic at the position with a player who is capable of creating more disruptive plays, not just always being in position to make a tackle.
Since entering the league in 2009, Jairus Byrd has established himself as one of the top ball-hawking safeties in the NFL with 22 interceptions in five years (nine came during his rookie season).
Byrd plays free safety, a position that is currently occupied by Antonio Allen, but bringing in a player like Byrd will allow Allen to shift over to his more natural position at strong safety, leaving third-down duties for Dawan Landry.
Byrd, by far the best safety on the market this year, will not be cheap, but bringing him in could solve the Jets' issue of not creating enough turnovers.
Brian Orakpo, OLB
Most of the Jets' holes are on the offensive side of the ball, but that does not mean they do not have issues on defense that need to be resolved.
The Jets still need to upgrade their edge pass rush, which was clearly missing after Antwan Barnes went down with an ACL injury. With the 33-year-old Calvin Pace set to be a free agent, the Jets have a chance to finally bring in a dynamic player at the outside linebacker position to put the finishing touch on the defensive front.
Orakpo will be the most sought-after player at his position, coming off of a 10-sack season in 15 games. The former first-round pick out of Texas is capable of performing every duty Rex Ryan requires from his outside linebackers, from defending the run to playing out in space.
While he would be quite the investment for a team that is looking for more offensive than defensive help, the Jets should at least consider getting into the bidding for Orakpo's services.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE
Former first-round pick Brandon Pettigrew has had an up-and-down career with the Detroit Lions. His production has declined since his 83-catch 2011 season, reeling in just 59 and 41 passes since then. Maddening drops and a few injuries have held him back from being regarded as one of the better tight ends in the league.
However, what makes Pettigrew most appealing is his ability to block. The Jets have not had a quality blocking tight end since Ben Hartsock left in 2011—adding Pettigrew would essentially kill two birds with one stone.
While there is some injury risk, Pettigrew may be one of the value buys in the tight end market this offseason.
Jason Worilds, OLB
Jason Worilds has been able to make the Steelers forget about James Harrison rather quickly in his first full season as the starting outside linebacker opposite LaMarr Woodley.
The Virginia Tech product has excelled in all areas of the game. The 12th-best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings (subscription required), Worilds finished the season with eight sacks and 34 defensive "stops." He is also athletic enough to play in coverage against tight ends and running backs.
Worilds is not quite the terror on the edge that Orakpo is, but he will come at a much cheaper price and has the versatility to thrive in Rex Ryan's scheme-diverse defense.
James Jones, WR
The Jets will be in the market for a top-flight wide receiver, but they are so depleted at the position that they need to bring in multiple players through free agency and the draft in order to field a receiving corps that is capable of winning games.
James Jones has spent a lot of time buried on the Packers' depth chart, but when he has been given an opportunity to play in place of injured players, he has thrived. In 2013, he posted a career-high 817 yards despite playing in just 14 games and being without Aaron Rodgers for an extended period.
There is a lot to like about Jones as a player, as he is a big body who can make tough catches, but he has always struggled with drops throughout his career.
If the Jets can bring him on to be their No. 2 receiver instead of Stephen Hill, it would be a massive upgrade over their struggling second-round pick.
Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).