The 8 Moves the New York Jets Must Avoid in Free Agency
Sometimes, the best moves made are the ones that were never made at all.
With so many players signing to bloated contracts, free agency is a system that sets up NFL teams to fail. Rarely is a team able to find good enough value to warrant cap-eating contracts when so many younger, cheaper options abound in the draft.
Still, teams are forced to fill their needs and round out their rosters with proven veterans through free agency. As New York Jets general manager John Idzik proved last year, free agency can be a great way to fill roster holes in a hurry if money is allocated correctly.
Unlike last year, the Jets are in a position where they have the ability to throw around money and spend lavishly as opposed to being constantly on the lookout for bargain buys. Now, the hard part will be to use some restraint and spend responsibly to preserve the team's long-term outlook.
Here are some moves the Jets need to avoid in free agency.
Sign Jairus Byrd
There is no doubt that the man who is arguably the best safety in football would be a welcome upgrade in a Jets secondary that has not had a ball-hawking safety since the team traded Kerry Rhodes in 2010.
However, while the safety position is not exactly a strength of the team, it hardly warrants the need to spend so much money on an upgrade. When given the chance to play, Antonio Allen showed flashes of brilliance, particularly in man coverage against tight ends. His ability to contain players like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham is unique.
Meanwhile, while Dawan Landry did not make many highlight-reel plays, he was far from a liability and provides great value as a veteran safety.
Technically, the Jets should have no problem making a competitive offer for Jairus Byrd. Assuming that he will become the highest-paid safety in the NFL, he could very well average around $9 million per season.
The Jets have the cap room to make such a move, but they have more pressing matters to attend to. They have no starting tight ends on the roster, their top wide receiver will be Jeremy Kerley and two of their starting offensive linemen (Austin Howard and Willie Colon) are set to hit the free-agent market. Every dollar going toward Byrd takes away money from a more pressing need.
The Jets should only go after Byrd if just about every other top free agent they target slips through their fingers—that is, if another team hasn't already inked him to a long-term deal.
Let Austin Howard Walk
The Jets do not have may top free agents to retain this year, but they must ensure that they hang on to their one valuable pending free agent, right tackle Austin Howard.
He turned heads in training camp of 2012, winning the job over the struggling Wayne Hunter, and never looked back. After proving that 2012 was no fluke season by allowing just two sacks all year in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Howard has earned a long-term deal.
Arguably the best right tackle to hit the market this year, he has enough leverage to beat Gosder Cherilus' deal with the Indianapolis Colts that averages $7 million per season. This number may seem a bit high, but Howard is still a young player who will only get better with experience.
The Jets have already begun negotiations with Howard, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. If they want to avoid having to compete with the open market to keep him, it is in their best interests to get a deal done before free agency opens on March 11.
Fail to Sign Several Wide Receivers or Tight Ends
The Jets' situation at tight end and wide receiver is nothing short of desperate. After the inevitable release of Santonio Holmes, the Jets starting lineup today would "feature" Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson and Konrad Reuland.
As stacked as this year's draft class is for those two positions, the Jets need to come out of free agency with multiple starters at each position under contract.
Unfortunately for them, some of the biggest names have already been signed before they hit the market. Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper and Dennis Pitta were all retained by their respective teams (Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens) before anyone else had a chance to grab them.
There still are a handful of quality players set to hit the open market, including Emmanuel Sanders, Brandon Pettigrew, Golden Tate, Eric Decker and Hakeem Nicks. The Jets won't be able to land all of them, but they need to find at least a few upgrades before the draft.
Otherwise, the Jets will find themselves in a desperate position during the draft, forcing themselves to draft receivers and tight ends early, leading to an inevitable "reach"—a recipe for long-term failure.
Add a Top-Tier Running Back
While they do need as much help on the offensive side of the ball as they can get, one of the few position groups that is solidified is the running back position, as Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory combined for one of the better running back tandems in football.
Surprisingly enough, the Jets have been rumored to have interest in two of the top running backs in this year's free-agent class, Ben Tate and Donald Brown, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York.
It does make sense that the Jets are interested in bringing in another body at the running back position, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Mike Goodson's ACL injury. However, it is a bit odd that they are looking at the top of the free-agent list to fill their third running back spot.
Either Tate or Brown would be a welcome addition, but neither will be cheap. Both players are coming off quality seasons, as Tate averaged 4.3 yards per carry and Brown stole the starting job from Trent Richardson. Every dollar spent on either of those players would take away from a position that needs more attention.
Retain Ed Reed
As much as his friend/coach Rex Ryan would love to keep him around, the Jets are better off cutting their losses and moving forward without the future-Hall of Fame safety.
While he did manage to end the season with three interceptions in seven games, he was as big of a liability as anyone in the beleaguered Jets secondary. Including the time he spent with the Houston Texans in the first half of the season, Reed surrendered a 118.8 quarterback rating when thrown at, according to Pro Football Focus.
Outside of his three interceptions, Reed did no defend a single pass until Week 16 against the Cleveland Browns. Meanwhile, untapped potential in players like Antonio Allen went to waste for half the season to allow Reed to get on the field.
Reed provides most of his value off the field, mentoring the younger defensive backs. While this is a valuable asset to have, it does not justify keeping him on the field.
Give Big Money to Hakeem Nicks
Hakeem Nicks' contract year could not have gone much worse. While he was able to finally prove himself to be somewhat reliable from a health standpoint by playing in 15 games, he fell far short of producing like a No. 1 receiver should.
In what was the most important year in his career, Nicks caught a pedestrian 56 passes and scored a grand total of zero touchdowns—horrendous numbers for a player who once scored 11 touchdowns in a single year in 2010.
Based on his production and the fact that his character issues began to resurface—he was a bizarre late scratch in an important game against the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants have made almost no effort to retain him—the general manager who gives Nicks a big-money deal deserves his fate.
Giving Nicks a ton of money seems like a recipe for disaster, but that does not mean he should be removed from consideration entirely. Because of his depleted value, Nicks may be had on the cheap:
Just reading tea leaves, best guess for Hakeem Nicks is he winds up taking fairly cheap one-year contract after hitting the market.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) March 3, 2014
Nicks' value may be on at an all-time low, but he is still a better receiver than anyone on the Jets roster. If he is willing, he may be able to give the Jets some good value while he earns the long-term deal he covets.
Let Willie Colon Walk
While Austin Howard may be getting the majority of the attention as the Jets' most-coveted free agent, they cannot allow right guard Willie Colon to walk without a fight.
Proving that he can stay healthy by not missing a single game all season, Colon turned out to be one of the best bargain buys from 2013. Pro Football Focus rated him the fourth-best guard in pass protection last season.
For some odd reason, the Jets do not feel that Colon should be a top priority. According to ESPN's Rich Cimini, they see Colon as a "fallback option." The Jets did spend two draft picks on backup offensive linemen last year (Oday Aboushi and William Campbell).
Unless the Jets are trying to keep these two players a secret, they did not exude much confidence in either player by keeping them on the inactive list for all 16 games. The Jets need an insurance option, and bringing back Colon as veteran insurance makes too much sense not to happen.
Retain Jeff Cumberland
Jeff Cumberland has already surpassed all expectations as a former undrafted free agent, but after failing to develop into a legitimate receiving threat that strikes fear into opposing defenses in his fourth season, the Jets need to make wholesale changes to the position.
After recording a sub-400-yard season for the second consecutive year, the odds that Cumberland will develop into anything more than an average starter are slim. The fact that he is a liability in the blocking game only makes him less valuable.
However, it appears as if the Jets are still holding out hope that Cumberland will break out. According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the Jets and Cumberland are in talks about a contract.
Retaining Cumberland would not be a catastrophic move, especially if he is kept on as a backup. Still, the Jets cannot afford to tread water with projects that have plateaued.
This year, the Jets have the resources to bring in proven talent at the tight end position—dusting off lost projects like Jeff Cumberland will only stunt the effectiveness of their offense.