Assessing the Value of the New York Jets' Upcoming Free Agents
The New York Jets were tight up against the salary cap in 2013, and as a result, they did a lot of bargain-basement shopping on some free agents who had some question marks but could be had on a cheap one-year deal.
As a result of those deals, the Jets have a high number of unrestricted free agents this offseason, with 14 players set to hit the open market if they are not re-signed.
Between right tackle Austin Howard, tight end Jeff Cumberland, guard Willie Colon, outside linebacker Calvin Pace and others, there are plenty of big decisions waiting for the Jets in the coming weeks.
With a hat tip to OverTheCap.com for its list of free agents, let's take a look at what lies ahead in the decision-making process for the Jets and assign a value grade to each potential free agent on the Jets' roster.
Snap data and advanced statistics, unless otherwise noted, provided by Pro Football Focus' premium section (subscription required).
Role: The Jets traded starting right tackle Wayne Hunter to the St. Louis Rams prior to the 2012 season, paving the way for Austin Howard to become the team's new starter. At 6'7" and 333 pounds, Howard is a great run-blocking right tackle but has some work to do in pass protection.
Production: Howard was responsible for just two of the 43 sacks of quarterback Geno Smith in the regular season. He did, however, allow him to be hit 15 times and hurried 21 times.
Need: If the Jets move on from Howard, there will be some significant questions to answer at tackle. Will the Jets go with third-year tackle Ben Ijalana, who has participated in just four games in his NFL career and spent the entire season on the inactive list for the Jets? Would they dare turn to fourth-year project Vladimir Ducasse, who has been tried at several positions to no avail? The questions are significant enough that the Jets should be anxious to re-sign Howard.
Injuries: There are no major injuries to report in Howard's four-year NFL career. He has started every single game for the Jets over the past two years.
Value grade: A-
Role: Cumberland was the Jets' top tight end in 2013 in terms of percentage of snaps played, coming in at 685 snaps (67.8 percent) on the season. He was primarily a blocking tight end; on the season, 349 of his snaps were spent as a run-blocker, 75 in pass protection, and he ran a pass route on the other 261 of his snaps.
Production: Cumberland's production was nearly identical to 2012, as he finished with 26 catches for 398 yards and four touchdowns. His 26 receptions were fifth most on the team, and his four touchdowns were the most on the team.
Need: It depends on whether the Jets keep fellow free-agent tight end Kellen Winslow. It wouldn't be a stretch for the team to retain both tight ends since neither is expected to sign a bank-breaking contract, but with so many other needs, the Jets may look to spend their money elsewhere.
Injuries: Cumberland has missed just two games in the past two years since becoming a key player on the Jets. He missed a game in 2013 due to a concussion and one in 2012 with a dislocated right hand. He was hobbled by a hamstring injury in 2013, but it was minor enough for him to play through it.
Value grade: B-
Role: Colon was the Jets' starting right guard, playing all but 13 snaps in 2013. At 6'3" and 315 pounds, Colon may look like a road-grading run-blocker, but he has earned a reputation as a premier pass-protecting interior lineman.
Production: Colon was up and down over the course of the year, but he allowed just one sack, three hits and 14 pressures of quarterback Geno Smith in 2013. The Jets were also one of the better running football teams in the league in 2013, averaging 4.4 yards per carry (10th-best in the NFL) a year after averaging just 3.8 (23rd).
Need: If the Jets do not re-sign Colon, the situation on the interior of the offensive line will go from bad to dire. At present, Brian Winters is the starter on the left side, and he struggled mightily all season. Colon's backup, Vladimir Ducasse, is unproven and is also set to hit the open market.
Injuries: In his final three seasons with the Steelers from 2010-2012, Colon missed 39 of a possible 52 games (48 regular season, four playoffs) to injury and just one game combined in 2010 and 2011.
Value grade: B+
Role: Pace has been the Jets' starting outside linebacker for the past five years; the veteran has never been considered an explosive pass-rusher (most of his 10 sacks in 2013 were of the cleanup variety), but at 6'4" and 265 pounds, he has the big body and frame to set the edge in run defense.
Production: As mentioned above, he logged 10 sacks in 2013, but many times, you could say he was just "cleaning up" after one of his fellow defensive linemen got pressure and moved the quarterback off his spot. He also contributed 10 tackles for loss, according to Advanced NFL Stats.
Need: The Jets should be OK if they move on from Pace, with Antwan Barnes returning from injury. Quinton Coples should get the starting duties on the opposite side of the front seven, and Garrett McIntyre can be a supplemental piece as a backup. The Jets may want to consider drafting a true stud at outside linebacker.
Injuries: Pace has played all 16 games in each of the past three seasons. The last time he had a major injury, it was a fractured foot that kept him out the first four games of the 2010 season.
Value grade: C+
Role: Garrard was one of the Jets' backup quarterbacks this year but did not see the field. For years, Garrard was a starting quarterback for the Jaguars, but his time in Jacksonville came to a swift, unceremonious end when the Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert.
Production: Garrard was playing solid but unspectacular football for the Jaguars in his five years as a starter from 2006-2010. He finished each of those seasons with over 60 percent completions and an 80 passer rating.
Need: The Jets have backup Matt Simms on the roster as well, and he was the top option for playing time when rookie Geno Smith was removed from the game.
Injuries: Garrard has not started a game since 2010, having battled knee and back injuries over the years since then.
Value grade: C-
Role: Ed Reed was signed off waivers to be the Jets' starting free safety. His role eventually became as the scapegoat for the struggles of the Jets pass defense due mainly to the fact that he was no longer able to fill the role of being asked to cover sideline-to-sideline as a safety in Cover 1.
Production: Reed intercepted three passes in his seven games for the Jets but was on the wrong end of more than a couple long passes going over his head.
Need: When the Jets brought Reed into the fold, it was curious that they would put young up-and-coming safety Antonio Allen on the bench. Allen's presence on the roster makes Reed expendable.
Injuries: Reed dealt with lingering effects from a hip injury that hindered his 2013 offseason and kept him out of action for several weeks to start the season.
Value grade: C-
Role: Winslow is primarily a receiving tight end, playing 219 of his 342 snaps in 2013 as a receiver. That's been the case throughout his career. In 2011 with the Buccaneers, Winslow played 579 of 840 snaps as a route-runner, and he has run routes on nearly 65 percent of his total offensive plays since 2008. The Jets needed to replace the departed Dustin Keller last offseason and got some solid play from Winslow, but they could afford to use him more.
Production: At 6'4" and 240 pounds, Winslow makes a nice option in the red zone but only managed to catch two touchdown passes in 2013. Still, he was incredibly reliable. Not only did he catch 72.1 percent of the throws in his direction (31 of 43), but he also didn't drop a single pass.
Need: The Jets are lacking in potent red-zone weaponry, and Winslow could provide them at least one option inside the 20-yard line. In the end, it may come down to keeping one of either Winslow or Cumberland.
Injuries: Winslow has dealt with knee issues for the past several years, and those same issues plagued him in 2013, as he was listed on and off the injury report with a knee injury.
Value grade: C+
Role: Cribbs assumed multiple roles for the Jets in 2013, from returning kicks and punts to playing wide receiver to being one of a couple options at quarterback in the team's Wildcat packages. His role on offense was limited, though; Cribbs played just 30 offensive snaps in 2013.
Production: Cribbs' production was all over the place. He averaged 12 yards per punt return and 24.5 yards per kickoff return. He also attempted 13 rushes, picking up 55 yards (4.2 YPA), and caught two passes for six yards.
Need: The Jets don't have a slew of options with regards to potential kick returners, but Bilal Powell could be the team's lone Wildcat option—although, if you ask me, the Wildcat should go the way of the dinosaur.
Injuries: The Jets placed Cribbs on season-ending injured reserve in early December with a torn pectoral muscle, and his 2013 offseason was hampered by a meniscus injury. He has not dealt with major injuries prior to this season.
Value grade: C
Role: Folk has been the Jets' starting kicker since 2010 after coming over from the Dallas Cowboys.
Production: Folk went 3-for-3 from 50-plus yards and hit 91.7 percent of all of his field-goal tries, tied for the 10th-best average in the NFL in 2013.
Need: The Jets do not have another kicker on the roster, so they would need to re-sign Folk unless they want to search for a new kicker this offseason.
Injuries: Folk has not been injured at any point in his seven-year NFL career.
Value grade: A-
Role: Vladimir Ducasse came out of Massachusetts as an offensive tackle, but he has primarily been a left guard for the Jets. He ended the season as a "sixth man" on the offensive line, filling in as a guard in mostly running situations, putting his 6'5", 325-pound frame to use.
Production: Ducasse entered the 2013 season as the Jets' starting left guard but lost his job to rookie Brian Winters after Week 4 with Ducasse committing repeated penalties and errors in pass protection. He committed six penalties and gave up 10 hurries, four hits and two sacks of quarterback Geno Smith in the first four games of the season alone. One week, he was flagged four times and gave up four total pressures; the next, he was flagged twice and gave up seven total pressures.
Need: He has done nothing to prove that he is a starting-caliber offensive lineman in the NFL, so unless the Jets are desperate for depth, Vlad's days in New York may be done.
Injuries: There are no major injuries to report for Ducasse, who has not missed a single game in the past three years due to injury.
Value grade: D
Role: Mauga was a backup linebacker and special teams ace for the Jets. He played 185 defensive snaps in 2011 and 52 snaps in five games in 2012 before his season ended abruptly.
Production: Mauga logged nine special teams tackles in 2011, but he missed two more tackles. His lone interception came in an INT siesta against the Jacksonville Jaguars in which the Jets grabbed four picks.
Need: The Jets have gotten by without Mauga for the past two seasons; something tells me they'd be OK without him if he didn't return in 2014, and it looks like that will be the case.
Injuries: It's been a tough couple seasons for Mauga. He played just five games in 2012 after tearing his pectoral, and he didn't get to play at all in 2013 thanks to a back injury that forced him onto injured reserve on Sept. 1.
Value grade: F
Role: Hilliard was the Jets' top fullback in 2012, playing 284 snaps. He ran the ball 31 times that year and caught four passes, while spending 188 of his snaps as a lead blocker.
Production: With a 3.9 yards-per-carry average, Hilliard's lack of explosiveness was evident when he touched the ball in 2012; however, at 5'11" and 233 pounds, Hilliard isn't exactly big enough to be a highly impactful blocker.
Need: Rookie fullback Tommy Bohanon stepped in and did admirably in place of the injured Hilliard. It wouldn't cost much to retain Hilliard, but the Jets have no reason to doubt Bohanon's ability at this point, and carrying two fullbacks would be just foolish.
Injuries: Hilliard broke his scapula prior to the 2013 season and missed the whole year on injured reserve, but he's been healthy for the majority of his career otherwise.
Value grade: F
Role: Reynaud has been primarily a kick returner, and he's been tried as a wide receiver in previous stops, but his official positional title with the Jets is running back. He bounced around the league, from the Vikings to the Giants to the Titans, but he had never even been tried in the offense until he joined the Titans in 2012.
Production: He was never a spectacular return ace before joining the Titans, when he broke out with two punt-return touchdowns and a kickoff-return touchdown. In 2013, however, he took a big step back and was averaging just 23.7 yards per kickoff return and 7.5 yards per punt return before being released by the Titans in October.
Need: If the Jets opt not to bring back Cribbs, the need for Reynaud may increase; there could be a competition brewing over the return duties this offseason. If they retain Cribbs, though, there may be little need to keep a flash-in-the-pan return ace.
Injuries: Reynaud's 2010 season was hampered by a hamstring injury, but other than that, he's been relatively injury-free in his career.
Value grade: C-
Role: The 6'4", 284-pound defensive lineman moved all over the line, playing defensive tackle in four-man lines and defensive end in three-man lines. He was primarily an interior defender but played the 1-, 3- and 5-technique defensive line positions in 2013. He played 242 total snaps: 139 on passing downs, 103 on running downs.
Production: Douzable capitalized on his limited opportunities, getting 13 total pressures (eight hurries, two hits, three sacks), nearly one for every 10 times he went after the quarterback.
Need: The Jets have an elite starting defensive line, but depth is an important piece of the puzzle. Kenrick Ellis is good in a supplemental role as a 0-technique nose tackle, backing up Damon Harrison, but Douzable makes a good backup to the likes of Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson because he has a similar skill set (though obviously not to their talent level).
Injuries: Douzable missed the 2012 season with a shoulder injury he suffered in the preseason but has been relatively injury-free other than that.
Value grade: B-
Role: Lankster was a big part of the Jets defense in 2012 thanks in part to some injuries that forced him into 335 snaps that year. The Jets came away unimpressed, as evidenced by his dip to just 30 snaps in 2013.
Production: According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Lankster allowed a completion on all five of the throws in his direction in 2013. Quarterbacks went 24-of-43 (55.8 percent) with three touchdowns and two interceptions (78.1 passer rating) in 2012.
Need: The Jets secondary has come unraveled in recent years, losing one key piece after another, and it could also be losing Antonio Cromartie this offseason if the Jets opt to make him a salary-cap casualty. It probably wouldn't cost much to bring him back, so it might be a good idea to keep him around for one more year as part of a healthy competition in training camp.
Injuries: Lankster wasn't playing at the end of the season, with a broken jaw that kept him out of the Jets' final two games.
Value grade: C
Role: At 5'11" and 180 pounds, Berry is a small cornerback but tends to play most of his snaps on the outside.
Production: Berry has not had much of a chance to produce because he has not been on the field much. In his lone healthy season, Berry played 11 games, starting three, and allowed completions on 62.3 percent of the throws into his coverage according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Need: The Jets' depth chart at cornerback is thinning out more and more each year. Darrelle Revis left the fold last year, Cromartie could be on his way out this offseason and Kyle Wilson is set to hit the open market the year after that. However, how much of a need is there for a cornerback who can't stay healthy? The Jets could probably have Berry very cheap; give him a shot in 2014, and if it doesn't work out, they can move on without much difficulty.
Injuries: A torn ACL brought an abrupt end to Berry's season before it even began, as he suffered the injury on the second day of training camp. That marked the third time in Berry's four-year NFL career that his season has ended on injured reserve.
Value grade: C-
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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