What We've Learned About New York Jets After the Start of Free Agency
The new league year is less than a week old but enough has changed over the past few days to make last week feel like an eternity ago.
With Austin Howard leaving for the Oakland Raiders and missing out on several top free agents right off the bat, free agency was not kind to the Jets initially. However, general manager John Idzik was able to rebound with a solid signing of receiver Eric Decker to get the Jets on the board.
Even though the Jets have not made an overwhelming number of moves so far, there is a lot that can be learned from the way the Jets have conducted themselves over the past few days.
Here is what we can derive from the Jets' free-agency plan so far.
Contract information provided by Spotrac.com.
John Idzik Refuses to Overpay
The Jets may have landed their big-time free agent in Eric Decker but give John Idzik credit—he did not hand out a lavish amount of money to land this year's top free-agent receiver, no matter how desperate the Jets were to sign him.
Decker was a difficult player to project in terms of contract value because despite his numbers (87 catches, 1,288 yards, 11 touchdowns), it was no secret that he was at least somewhat of a product of Peyton Manning. Idzik was able to go against what the market said he should have gotten based on his production (somewhere around the $10 million average per year (APY) range) for a fair $7.25 million APY.
This is not to say Idzik never came close to caving—but his patience was rewarded:
Jets source: "I hope Decker gets out of the building before Idzik gets talked into overpaying for him." #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) March 12, 2014
Idzik also showed restraint in passing on players like Alterraun Verner, Vontae Davis and of course, Darrelle Revis, as soon as they exited their price range. He was also willing to let right tackle Austin Howard enter the market because his contract demands were too high.
While it may have cost him a few players in the short run, Idzik's ability to stick to his principles in free agency will help the Jets stay out of cap trouble over the long haul.
Cornerback Is a Rising Need
Headed into this free agency period, offensive skill positions, particularly wide receiver and tight end, were the positions on life support and in need of a major overhaul.
However, now that the Jets were able to beef up their skill position by adding Eric Decker and retaining Jeff Cumberland, the open spots on the defensive side are becoming much more urgent.
The Jets did not plan for this to happen, as they initially had interest in acquiring a high-end cornerback, either Alterraun Verner or Vontae Davis, early in free agency following the release of Antonio Cromartie, per Brain Costello of the New York Post. After missing out on those two players (Davis re-signed with the Indianapolis Colts, Verner signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), the Jets are now forced to resort to the rapidly evaporating pool of second-tier cornerbacks.
Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reported that Captain Munnerlyn was scheduled to visit the Jets, but he never got past the Minnesota Vikings, who inked him to a three-year deal, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
As competition increases for the last few starting-caliber cornerbacks, it is becoming more and more likely that the Jets enter the draft with a massive need at the position—hardly an ideal situation for a coach who relies so much on quality play from the position.
Sanchez Is Valued
The Jets have answered a bunch of questions about their roster over the past few days, but the fact that Mark Sanchez is still under contract remains one of the world's biggest wonders.
With a cap hit of $13.1 million, it was all but assumed that Sanchez's days as a Jet would be long over by now.
Sanchez does provide the Jets some value as an experienced starter who would at least compete with Geno Smith enough to make the battle interesting but not at $13.1 million. The Jets are going to have to trade, release or restructure his contract at some point—but why are they waiting?
It is possible that the Jets are looking for trade partners or waiting until they have a cheaper backup lined up before making his release a formality. After all, Sanchez would apparently be a hot commodity on the open market.
Mark Sanchez is reportedly drawing major interest from certain NFL teams http://t.co/NdQvaOlJZv— Bleacher Report NFL (@BR_NFL) March 8, 2014
Eventually, the Jets will perform some type of action with Sanchez but one thing is clear: the front office values him much more than their fans do.
Not Satisfied at the Skill Positions
The Jets may have acquired the top free-agent receiver available in Eric Decker but by no means are they done tinkering with the receiver and tight end positions.
According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the Jets have strong interest in Emmanuel Sanders and are close to reaching a deal with tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Mehta also reported a connection between the Jets and Green Bay Packers receiver James Jones and were showing strong interest in USC receiver Marqise Lee at his pro day.
In other words, expect the Jets' offensive personnel to have a much different look in the coming days and weeks.
Eric Decker may have been the best receiver on the market, but he has yet to prove that he can carry the load of a No. 1 receiver on his own. In order to maximize their investment in Decker, the Jets are wise to continue to add talent and depth at the position while they still have the resources to do so.
Plus, after dealing with an unusual amount of injuries at the position over the past two years, the Jets should understand the importance of depth at the two positions more than ever. Even after adding another starter in free agency, adding a pass-catcher in the early rounds of the draft (even the first) should not be out of the question.
No Hurry to Bring Back Calvin Pace
Despite reports from earlier in the offseason suggesting that the Jets were interested in retaining their veteran outside linebacker, the Jets appear to be in no hurry to bring back Calvin Pace.
The veteran outside linebacker had one of the most surprising bounce-back seasons of 2013, notching a career-high 10 sacks at the ripe age of 33. While many of his sacks were "coverage" sacks, he was a better playing in all areas, contributing to the Jets' third-ranked run defense.
Now a free agent, one would figure that there would be a limited market for aging linebackers and that the Jets would be a logical fit, making for a quick and easy reunion. So far, there has been no news on the Pace front.
The Jets are right to evaluate the market before making any decisions they would come to regret, but the longer they wait, the greater the chance Pace lands with another team. Because of his familiarity, Pace provides more to the Jets than any other team, but he is still a somewhat attractive option as a relatively cheap starter who can be a stopgap player for a year.
If Pace is removed from the market, the Jets will be desperate to either find a starting-caliber outside linebacker in a hurry or reach for one in the draft—which is never a good idea.