Weighing the Pros and Cons of New York Jets' Top Free-Agent Targets
The good news for the New York Jets this free-agent season is that they have plenty of cap room. The bad news is that free agents alone won't turn a .500 team into a Super Bowl contender.
That doesn't mean that Super Bowl teams don't use free agents. According to the NFL.com photo essay "Mind-blowing Stats for Free Agency," the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks entered Super Bowl XLVIII with a combined 15 free-agent starters.
However, the essay offers a sobering thought on free agents' impact.
Teams expecting an immediate impact from free-agent signings might want to temper their expectations. None of the 2013 free agents to sign with new teams ranked in the top 10 in passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards or interceptions.
The highest-ranked passer was Ryan Fitzpatrick (26th), the highest-ranked rusher was Reggie Bush (13th), the highest-ranked receiver was Mike Wallace (28th), and the highest-ranked interceptors were Brent Grimes, Quintin Demps, Mike Mitchell, Jim Leonhard, Karlos Dansby and Keenan Lewis (all tied for 11th).
The lone exception to this trend was pass rusher John Abraham, tied for 7th in the NFL with 11.5 sacks after signing with the Cardinals.
It concludes with a warning to potential big-spending teams and their fans:
The Miami Dolphins spent the most money in free agency in 2013, signing a crop of players that included Mike Wallace, Brent Grimes, Dustin Keller, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. After going 7-9 in 2012, the Dolphins improved their 2013 win total by only one game.
New blood, in other words, does not a winner make.
The Jets still must weigh each new player's pros and cons carefully. They've experienced the consequences of overspending on an unproductive player in 2013 when they couldn't release Santonio Holmes because of the salary-cap consequences. If they haven't learned from history, they're bound to repeat it.
Here are some possibilities. It's not a top-five list, but some thought went into the sequence. First is a personal favorite. Next is a player discussed in a prominent Jets blog. Quarterbacks who mainstream sites' reports who are of interest come next, followed by a player who will provide an instant defensive upgrade.
We've heard about the Jets' needs for what seems like forever.
They need offensive game-breakers, offensive linemen, safeties, possibly cornerbacks and perhaps an outside linebacker. They also must retain enough cap room to cover the franchise tag they gave to Nick Folk, the possible extension of Muhammad Wilkerson's contract, the required rookie cap and the re-signings of free agents such as Austin Howard and Jeff Cumberland.
They have cap room now and will most likely make more. At the same time, they have a long laundry list.
Check out these players and decide if they'd fit the bill.
TE Scott Chandler
You don't see Scott Chandler's name often in the list of potential Jets signings. That could be a mistake. The Buffalo tight end has played a quiet—yet ever-increasing—role in the Bills offense.
No pun intended, but the biggest thing you'll observe about Chandler is his 6'7", 260-pound frame. That's an imposing target, particularly in the red zone. Consequently, Bills quarterbacks have used Chandler more and more since 2011, his first full season there. That year, Chandler caught 38 passes for 389 yards and six touchdowns.
In 2013, he caught 53 passes for 655 yards and two touchdowns. What's more, unlike free agents such as Jermichael Finley or Dustin Keller, Chandler has only missed three games in three years. In 2013, that durable productivity cost the Bills $2.05 million in base salary and $2.975 million in cap space.
Chandler's numbers represent no performance gains at tight end. The Jets platoon of Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland combined for 57 catches, 786 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. If the Jets want explosiveness from their tight end position, they'll have to take a chance on other free agents like Finley or Detroit's Brandon Pettigrew.
The Jets may seek game-breakers, but not every signing has to be one. On the other hand, three of Chandler's longest gains with the Bills were for 31 yards in 2011, 43 yards in 2012 and 33 yards for a touchdown in 2013. He may prove to be the free agent other teams regret neglecting.
WR Golden Tate
Golden Tate may be the sleeper wide receiver the Jets offense needs. He's never been a 1,000-yard receiver. but that could say more about Pete Carroll's run-oriented offense than about his performance.
Tate can block as well as catch. His skill at producing yards after the catch (YAC) fits a West Coast offensive philosophy. He's more than a receiver; Joe Caporoso of TurnOnTheJets.com reports that Tate was second in the NFL in both punt-return yardage and punt-return average. He returned 51 punts for 585 yards, averaging 11.47 yards per return. He's probably not likely to break the bank.
Tate's 5'10", 202-pound frame is not the prototype for a No. 1 receiver. While his strength is catching the ball near the line of scrimmage and using his elusiveness to achieve significant gains, his weakness is in running longer routes that he doesn't disguise as short-yardage plays.
For this reason, it's questionable if he can ever contribute more to an offense than he did for Seattle, where many of his big plays resulted from Russell Wilson's improvisations.
Tate is a useful receiver and punt-return specialist who can help the Jets offense and return game. While he could win a starting role, the Jets will have to keep looking for a true No. 1 receiver.
QB Josh McCown
By the end of March, we should get a better idea of the Jets' quarterback strategy for 2014.
They haven't declared Geno Smith their starter. They also have talked to veterans and draft prospects, such as Jimmy Garoppolo, per Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, alike about competing for the job.
Mccown compiled a 3-2 record filling in for Jay Cutler in 2013. His 13 touchdown passes against one interception indicate that he's not a turnover machine. He's a career backup who is comfortable in that role. He's a veteran-minimum-level player who should conserve the Jets' cap space. He didn't run often in 2013, but he ran well, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
He's 34, not a long-term quarterback solution. The closest he came to playing a full season was 2004, when he played in 14 games. In 2013, opponents sacked him 37 times in eight games.
Although McCown runs well on occasion, his low number of carries and high number of sacks hint that mobility is not a core part of his game. He'd be an effective backup, but the jury is out about if he could be either a full-time starter or an effective mentor for Smith. At his price and turnover ratio, however, he's worth considering.
QB Michael Vick
Another quarterback alternative for the Jets is former Eagles and Atlanta Falcons starter Michael Vick. Vick would come to the Jets after having spent 11 years in the NFL. His ability to improvise and make plays with both his arm and legs has made him an electrifying figure to watch throughout his career.
Vick is an established starter and four-time Pro Bowl player with a mobile style like Smith's. He has worked with Marty Mornhinweg in Philadelphia, learning Mornhinweg's West Coast system. Vick has a winning record with both Atlanta and Philadelphia. He knows how to lead an offense.
Vick will be 34 when the season begins—a brittle 34. He has only started every game of a 16-game season once in his career. Nick Foles, in fact, owes his ownership of the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback job to a Vick injury.
Vick also has thrown 85 interceptions and fumbled 91 times against 128 touchdown passes and 36 touchdown runs. His 2013 base salary was $3.5 million, and total cap value was $12.2 million. The Jets would offer him far less and insist he accept the mentoring of Smith as his top priority. Vick would rather start himself.
Vick could provide offseason competition for Geno Smith and a sparkplug for the offense should Smith falter. He'd come out swinging in an effort to win one last starting job, but it remains to see how well he would accept a backup role.
FS Jairus Byrd
According the ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini, one trait of the Rex Ryan era is a history of cheapness when it comes to safeties. If the Jets don't change this attitude, they risk missing an opportunity to get a true defensive game-breaker: Buffalo's Jairus Byrd.
One of the Jets' biggest defensive shortcomings in 2013 was the inability to generate turnovers. Byrd could change that. In his rookie season, he led the NFL in interceptions with nine. He hasn't approached that figure since, but in five years he's intercepted 22 passes, defended 33, forced 11 fumbles and recovered five. He's a three-time Pro Bowler.
At 27, Byrd is in the prime of his career. His reputation is such that opponents locate plays away from him, yet he still generates turnovers. He's also a top coverage safety.
He's going to be expensive. In 2013, the Bills put the franchise tag on him, but they declined to do so for 2014. Negotiations continue, with Byrd supposedly rejecting a three-year, $30 million offer, a rejection reported by the Associated Press (h/t Mike Rodak of ESPN.com). The prospect of a bidding war looms large. The winner will get a great player and a potential front-office headache.
The Jets have the cap room to join the war for Byrd if they so choose. They may remember the lesson of Darrelle Revis all too well and refuse to engage in those shenanigans again.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.
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