New York Jets' Bargain Guide to the 2014 Offseason
Just because the New York Jets have a lot of money to spend this offseason, it does not mean that they should spend it recklessly and not look to squeeze every ounce of talent out of every dollar. After all, free-agent "bargain buys" were a huge reason for their (mild) success last season.
The Jets will spend their money on a few higher-level free agents, but the teams that are able to maximize their value by getting productive players without holding their salary cap hostage tend to have the best long-term success.
Here is a bargain-bin free-agent shopping list for the Jets.
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Indianapolis Colts
Stephen Hill has yet to develop into the deep threat the Jets were counting on him to be, and they cannot afford to wait on him any longer.
Darrius Heyward-Bey never quite lived up to his status as a former top-10 selection in 2009, but there is no denying the fact that he has a combination of speed and size that is difficult to find.
He never quite earned a full-time role in the Indianapolis Colts offense last season, catching just 29 passes for 209 yards, but he is only two years removed from his 975-yard campaign in 2011 with the Oakland Raiders.
Heyward-Bey is also a very good blocker, thanks to his size. In fact, his ability as a blocker may have had a negative impact on his receiving production.
Heyward-Bey may not have been a scheme fit in Indianapolis, but he could fill the Jets' need for a deep threat on the cheap. After all, because he had such a poor statistical season last year, he will be available for a much cheaper price tag on the open market.
WR Jacoby Ford, Oakland Raiders
The former Clemson Tiger exploded onto the NFL scene as a rookie with a 470-yard season in 2010, but Jacoby Ford has since cooled off considerably. He finished with just 99 yards in 2013, as he was phased out of the offense to the point where he was inactive for the final week of the season.
Ford's production may have taken a nosedive, but there is no denying the fact that he still has an element to his game that could help the Jets' dormant offense and return game—speed. Ford ran a blistering 4.28 40-yard dash at the combine, per NFL Combine Results.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why Ford's production has fallen off a cliff since his rookie year, but it would be logical to assume that his surgically repaired Lisfranc that put him on injured reserve in 2012 has something to do with his ineffectiveness.
Now almost two years removed from the injury, Ford may be closer to his former self than ever before. He will still be somewhat of an injury risk, but he has a lot of upside to make the Jets more explosive at both the receiver and returner positions.
S Michael Huff, Denver Broncos
With Ed Reed set to hit free agency, the Jets have a need for a proven third safety who can be used in "big nickel" packages with three-safety looks.
Michael Huff disappointed in Baltimore, struggling to get on the field and playing poorly when he did get a chance, leading to his eventual release (he would later sign on with the Denver Broncos and serve as a depth player).
Huff may have some declining skills, but he is only two years removed from a quality 2011 season in which he ranked as the 26th-best safety in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Huff will be 31 when the season starts and appears to have declined to the point where he is no longer capable of starting, but he may be able to be productive in a limited role. He should be able to sign for the veteran minimum.
OLB Calvin Pace, New York Jets
The Jets won't have to go very far to find a low-budget option to fill their outside linebacker position, as their own Calvin Pace should be at least good enough to get them through one more season before injecting some much-needed youth into the position.
After an abysmal 2012, Pace rebounded with a career-high 10-sack season. While this will give him some leverage in negotiations, it is clear as day that fortune played a factor in many of his sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Pace was the 31st-best pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker (out of 42).
However, Pace was much better against the run, as his ability to contain on the edge was a factor in the Jets' third-ranked run defense.
While the Jets would ideally like to find a more dynamic player at the position with some more sand in his career hourglass (Pace will be 34 in October), he is good enough against the run and has improved enough as a pass-rusher to warrant another season in green and white if he is willing to settle for a reasonable dollar amount.
TE Ed Dickson, Baltimore Ravens
His teammate, Dennis Pitta, will get a lot more money in free agency, but Ed Dickson could provide some value as a depth tight end as well.
2012 and 2013 were not particularly kind to Dickson, posting under 300 receiving yards in each season and grading out as the worst blocker at the position in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. Hamstring injuries that started in training camp likely played a role in his regression.
Dickson, however, was a productive player in 2011, catching 89 passes for 528 yards. The former third-round pick has been a disappointment overall, but his lack of production also means that he won't cost much on the open market.
There is no telling whether or not Dickson will ever return to his 2011 form, but the Jets are bare enough at the tight end position to at least take a look and see if he can fill one of their many open spots on the depth chart.
TE Brandon Myers, New York Giants
Despite the New York Giants' recent history of being able to rotate tight ends on a seemingly annual basis with success, former Oakland Raider Brandon Myers was just never able to get on the same page with Eli Manning in their disappointing 2013 campaign.
Myers posted a respectable 522 yards in 2013, but he was significantly less effective than he was in his 806-yard 2012 season, despite working with a much better quarterback in Manning.
It is difficult to determine exactly why Myers' production slipped off so much, but it does mean that he will not be as highly coveted in free agency.
Myers has yet to prove that he can consistently play at the level expected from a No. 1 tight end, but he has a well-rounded game that can be maximized in a No. 2 role.
QB Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars
There is no question that the Jets need to add a veteran asset to their quarterback depth chart to give them insurance in case Geno Smith falls on his face.
Chad Henne is hardly a franchise-caliber player, but the Jacksonville Jaguars were a significantly better team when he was under center instead of first-round bust Blaine Gabbert. In 15 games, Henne threw for over 3,200 yards and completed over 60 percent of his passes.
Henne never quite became the player the Miami Dolphins were expecting when they used a second-round pick on him in 2008, but his newfound experience has made him a less erratic player and much better decision-maker. He won't carry a franchise on his back, but he won't completely embarrass himself if he is called upon.
After all, if Geno Smith cannot beat out the likes of Chad Henne next offseason, the Jets will know everything they need to know about his future as the Jets' starting quarterback.
OT Eric Winston, Arizona Cardinals
Proven, premium offensive tackles are never going to come on the cheap, but the Jets may have to resort to some overlooked players if they allow Austin Howard to test free agency.
Since he was surprisingly released from the Houston Texans following the 2011 season, Eric Winston's career has been difficult to dissect. Following his decent season with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012, he took an abnormally long time to land a contract with the Arizona Cardinals for the 2013 season.
Winston's production did take a steep drop this past season, with him landing in the bottom 10 of offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus' rankings. He was, however, able to win the starting job in training camp over second-year player Bobby Massie, proving that he is still capable of starting, even if he is not quite as dominant as he was a year ago.
Winston may be coming off a "down" year, but he could also provide a tremendous bargain if he can somehow start to resemble the player he was with the Texans just two seasons ago.
CB Josh Wilson, Washington Redskins
If the Jets wind up cutting Antonio Cromartie in the interest of saving cap space (as they are expected to), they may find themselves in a situation where they need another veteran body at the cornerback position to at least provide them with some insurance.
Since his stellar 2011 season with the Baltimore Ravens, Josh Wilson has steadily declined to the point where he ranked as the 80th-best cornerback in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. He would eventually start to lose playing time to rookie David Amerson, as he was used in more nickel packages as the season unraveled in Washington.
However, while his PFF rank may be less than stellar, he was playing on one of the worst defenses in football last season, one that was giving up passing yards at a near-historic rate. Though Wilson was part of the Redskins' problems on defense, he is a better player than the stats may indicate.
After all, both Amerson and DeAngelo Hall were ranked lower than him in PFF's rankings (they tied for 84th).
While Wilson may not be starting material following last season, he is still only 28 years old and could still turn his career around with a change of scenery.
S Stevie Brown, New York Giants
The Jets have had success with injury-plagued players in the past under general manager John Idzik, with Willie Colon, Chris Ivory and David Nelson being prime examples of the Jets getting tremendous value from overlooked players.
With a need for a third safety to play in "big nickel" packages, there are not many better fits than Stevie Brown.
Brown exploded onto the scene in 2012 with nine interceptions as the Giants' nickel safety. However, he was unable to cash in on his success when he suffered an ACL tear in his preseason meeting against the Jets, ironically returning one of Geno Smith's interceptions when he was injured on a tackle.
After Ed Reed proved that his days were far behind him in the second half of last season, the Jets are in desperate need of a ball-hawking safety. Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen can handle the run and man coverages rather well, but the Jets need to create more turnovers from their secondary—it only forced 13 all season.
Brown carries on obvious injury risk with an ACL tear, but if the Jets can get him on a one-year "prove it" contract, he could turn out to be yet another steal on the free-agent market by John Idzik.
Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).