New York Jets: State of the Franchise at the Start of the 2014 Offseason

John Shea@real_johnsheaContributor IIIFebruary 2, 2014

New York Jets: State of the Franchise at the Start of the 2014 Offseason

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    The New York Jets remain in a positive state of flux as the NFL offseason officially begins in 2014. The Jets are seemingly headed in the right direction under the leadership of second-year general manager John Idzik, who continues to patiently execute a championship-caliber blueprint.

    This offseason marks the second phase of Idzik's long-term plan for success. The Jets are no longer in "rebuilding mode." They now have a legitimate chance to contend for a playoff berth and ideally snag the AFC East crown from the ironclad fists of the archrival New England Patriots.

    Jets fans should be optimistic as the 2013-14 campaign comes to a close. The formerly laughable crew of Tebow-hoarding, trash-talking misfits are on the brink of regaining respect.

    It's true that New York must address several key areas of need in order to assemble a high-quality on-field product. But the Jets have an intelligent group of decision-makers in place, optimally capable of satisfying fans' demands this spring.

    The following slideshow is a comprehensive analysis of the state of the Jets as the 2014 offseason begins.

Cap Situation

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    2013 total spend: $99,038,444

    2014 obligations: $110,199,921

    The Jets' 2014 cap situation is advantageous. According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today Sports, the new salary cap is set for a three percent bump, pushing the number to approximately $126.3 million.

    If that figure holds true, the Jets are already $16.1 million under the cap. Their cap number will assuredly decrease as the offseason progresses and 2014 payroll obligations become redefined.

    Probable salary-cap casualties include Antonio Cromartie ($9.50 million), Mark Sanchez ($8.30 million) and Santonio Holmes ($8.25 million). Losing those contracts would push the Jets roughly $42.15 million below the projected 2014 salary cap, allowing them to be extremely aggressive in free agency.

    The Jets are at a point where they can dictate the open market. Their favorable cap situation is a product of Idzik, who spent the bulk of last offseason fixing the books.

    Now, the Jets have a chance to build a contender.

    *All salary-cap figures are courtesy of Over the Cap.

Impending Free Agents

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    Unlike previous offseasons, the Jets don't have to deal with a laundry list of valuable contributors on the brink of tumbling out of town due to salary-cap constraints.

    That doesn't mean the Jets don't face difficult decisions this spring, but a majority of their unrestricted free agents are replaceable players who won't net big-time contracts on the open market.

    The Jets offensive line has been the least talked-about aspect of their respective offseason needs thus far. For the second straight season, New York could be forced to deal with replenishing their O-line, though.

    Starting right tackle Austin Howard ($2.02 million) and starting right guard Willie Colon ($1.16 million) are both unrestricted free agents this offseason.

    Howard has flashed serious signs of development, efficiently manning his position while starting all 32 games over the past two seasons.

    Colon proved his value as a vocal leader in the locker room in 2013, but is highly injury-prone, suffering a torn biceps in the regular-season finale. This season marked the first season since 2009 that Colon was able to start all 16 games.

    The Jets' front office brass will ultimately need to decide whether they're willing to extend a multi-year contract to Howard and also weigh the pros and cons of bringing back Colon.

    Unrestricted free agents: Aaron Berry (CB), Colon, Josh Cribbs (KR), Jeff Cumberland (TE), Jermaine Cunningham (LB), Vladimir Ducasse (OL), Leger Douzable (DL), Nick Folk (K), David Garrard (QB), Lex Hilliard (FB), Howard, Ellis Lankster (CB), Josh Mauga (LB), Calvin Pace (LB), Ed Reed (S), Darius Reynaud (KR), Isaiah Trufant (CB), Kellen Winslow (TE)

    Restricted free agents: Nick Bellore (LB), Garrett McIntyre (LB), Konrad Reuland (TE), Darrin Walls (CB)

Coaching Changes

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    A majority of Jets coaches will remain in their respective positions in the 2014 season.

    The most noteworthy news surrounding the Jets' decision-makers is head coach Rex Ryan's multi-year extension, which effectively eliminates preemptive "lame-duck" status.

    Ryan arguably completed the best coaching job of his career this season, leading the Jets to a surprising .500 record despite most football pundits claiming New York would struggle to win more than five games.

    Ryan deservedly earned reprieve this season. His staff has been virtually awarded stability in the aftermath. The only major coaching change the Jets need to make this offseason is on special teams, due to Ben Kotwica accepting the same position with the Washington Redskins.

    According to Manish Mehta of New York Daily News, LSU special teams coach Thomas McGaughey is the leading candidate to land the same gig with the Jets. The position remains unfilled at the moment, though.

    Coaches: Ryan, Marty Mornhinweg (offensive coordinator), Dennis Thurman (defensive coordinator), Louie Aguiar (assistant special teams), Bobby April III (linebackers), Mike Devlin (offensive line), Karl Dunbar (defensive line), Justus Galac (strength and conditioning), Steve Hagen (tight ends), Ron Heller (assistant offensive line), Sanjay Lal (wide receivers), David Lee (quarterbacks), Anthony Lynn (running backs), Tim McDonald (defensive backs), Brian Smith (assistant defensive backs), Jeff Weeks (assistant linebackers)

Quarterback Situation

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    The Jets' formerly defunct quarterback situation became a cataclysmic crash landing in the 2013 preseason when Sanchez suffered an inexplicable season-ending shoulder injury in a meaningless contest.

    Ryan was outrageously criticized for the blunder, seemingly accepting a bulk of the blame. Sanchez's injury paved the way for rookie signal-caller Geno Smith, who was mostly unimpressive in two preseason appearances.

    Smith became known the as the Jets' de facto quarterback as the regular season began. Fans remained bluntly hopeful that Smith would prove himself as the answer, that he would become the anti-Sanchez.

    Smith's struggles bordered on ridiculous, though. He committed the exact same number of turnovers (26) that Sanchez did in each of the previous two seasons. Smith completed just 55.8 percent of his attempts for 3,046 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013.

    His numbers were exceptionally short of spectacular, but his relentless attitude and ability to overcome adversity is a leadership trait that cannot be taught. Smith led the Jets to five game-winning drives in his rookie campaign.

    He'll likely begin the 2014 season as the Jets' starting QB, but he is probably going to face some hard-nosed competition in training camp.

    The Jets are expected to acquire an additional signal-caller this spring in an effort to ideally push Smith toward enhancing his dual-threat skill set. It's also possible for New York to explore upgrading the talent pool in the draft.

    Free-agent QBs: Chad Henne (Jacksonville), Tarvaris Jackson (Seattle), Josh McCown (Chicago), Michael Vick (Philadelphia)

    Possible draft targets: Tajh Boyd (Clemson), David Fales (San Jose State)

Draft Preview

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    The Jets have the resources needed to build a winner in 2014. The draft will be a vital aspect of solidifying the future of their 53-man roster.

    New York could have as many as 12 selections in the the 2014 first-year player draft, courtesy of compensation from the Darrelle Revis trade and previous free-agent losses.

    The Jets have several key needs this offseason. The most crucial roster voids include wide receiver, tight end, safety and cornerback. The Jets also need to add an exterior pass-rusher capable of constantly forcing pressure on opposing quarterbacks in the pocket.

    New York finished the 2013 season ranked 13th in sacks (41.0). Their defensive line is anchored by should-have-been Pro Bowl defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson.

    The Jets' front seven is on the cusp of becoming one of the best units in the NFL. Adding another formidable pass-rusher would help them become the most dominant defense in the league.

    New York ultimately needs to prioritize adding playmaking talent to their roster, though. Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins would be an ideal selection in the first round, but he likely won't be on the board when the Jets take over the clock at No. 18 overall.

    Former UNC tight end Eric Ebron might be the best option available at that spot. He has the size and athleticism needed to develop into a versatile playmaker at the next level. USC receiver Marqise Lee is also a viable option, if available.