What's Next for New York Jets After Initial Wave of Free-Agent Signings?

Ryan Alfieri@Ryan_AlfieriCorrespondent IIIMarch 24, 2014

Dec 8, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) runs onto the field prior to the game against the Detroit Lions at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Lions 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It took a bit longer than expected, but the Jets have finally made their mark on the annual free-agency frenzy.

Overall, John Idzik and company were a bit quieter than expected, but they did make a couple big moves that changed the complexion of the team, exchanging Mark Sanchez for Michael Vick and acquiring the top wide receiver on the market in Eric Decker

Outside of their upgrades at receiver and quarterback, the Jets spent most of their assets treading water at other positions with question marks. The Jets re-signed several of their own key backups and acquired Breno Giacomini to replace the departed Austin Howard at right tackle.

2014 Jets Free Agency
AdditionsDeparturesPlayers Retained
Michael VickSantonio HolmesJeff Cumberland
Eric DeckerMark SanchezNick Folk
Breno GiacominiAntonio CromartieLeger Douzable
Austin HowardDarrin Walls
Kellen WinslowEllis Lankster
David GarrardCalvin Pace
Ed ReedWillie Colon
Isaiah Trufant

The biggest acquisitions have come and gone, but the Jets and every other team are a long way away from finalizing their training camp roster.

Remaining Holes

The late acquisition of Vick has breathed new energy into the Jets, but the true story of their offseason has been their inability to close on several deals with coveted free agents.

Staying true to his philosophy of not overpaying for talent, Idzik deserves credit for remaining loyal to his ideals. However, it will cost the Jets in the short term.

The good news is the Jets have plenty of ammo to continue to make upgrades. With eight draft picks (plus compensatory picks) and Fox Sports' Mike Jurecki indicating that they have over $25 million in cap space, the Jets have as much flexibility as any team in the league in terms of signing players and being active traders. 

Even with a surplus of cap space, the Jets still have questions at several positions that will need to be addressed before the dwindling free-agent market evaporates. 


If Idzik were given a mulligan on one decision he made this offseason, it would be his handling of the vacant cornerback position created by the release of Antonio Cromartie. 

Dec 29, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner (left) celebrates his interception catch with teammate New York Jets strong safety Dawan Landry (right) during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mand
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Rather than attacking the premier position in Rex Ryan's defense with urgency, Idzik allowed the market to pass him by, as the top players had no qualms about signing with other teams that were willing to be more flexible in their negotiations.

This all came to a head when the Jets let the last remaining "shutdown" cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, out of their building to sign with the neighbor New York Giants

As of now, the Jets' starting cornerback tandem is Dee Milliner and Darrin Walls. 

Milliner came on strong at the end of last year with three interceptions in three games and Walls held his own in limited spot duty. However, banking on Milliner, who was benched on three separate occasions last year, to develop into a shutdown cornerback so quickly would be risky business. Even if Walls and Miliner play well, they are one injury away from complete disaster.

The Jets could use their top draft pick on another cornerback such as Kyle Fuller or Darqueze Dennard, but as they experienced firsthand last season with Milliner, there is no telling how long it will take for a rookie to adjust to the NFL game.

Meanwhile, the free-agent market is thin—Champ Bailey, Dimitri Patterson and Carlos Rogers are some of the best remaining options.

For a team that is so reliant on quality cornerback play, none of these players are capable of playing up to the standard Ryan demands from his defensive backs. 

Tight End

The Jets avoided disaster by keeping Jeff Cumberland in the fold, but they are kidding themselves if they believe that a player who has yet to eclipse the 400-yard mark in a single season will suddenly develop into a No. 1 tight end.

With Kellen Winslow out of the picture, the Jets need at least one more starting-caliber player at the position before the season starts. 

Idzik missed out on Brandon Pettigrew, leaving the team with the option of adding a player like Ed Dickson or Tony Scheffler. 

More specifically, the Jets need to be in the market for a blocking tight end, as Cumberland is hardly serviceable in that aspect of the game.

Former Jet Ben Hartsock, Pro Football Focus' top-ranked blocking tight end, could be an option if the Jets are willing to pay a premium price for a blocker. 

There are a handful of first-round-caliber tight ends in the draft, including Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. However, if the Jets use their top pick on a cornerbackor another needy positionthey will have to pray that they can steal a player in the middle rounds who can support Cumberland. 

The Jets have the means to add more bodies at this position, but not at the caliber of player that they need to improve on their average tandem of Winslow and Cumberland from a year ago.

Barring spectacular production from a rookie, it will be at least another year before the Jets add another difference-maker at this position. 

Wide Receiver

Could DeSean Jackson be Eric Decker's complement?
Could DeSean Jackson be Eric Decker's complement?Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Adding Eric Decker provides a ton of relief for a team that has seen so much turmoil at this position over the past three seasons, but there is still much work to be done in the Jets' attempt to rebuild the receiving corps from the ground up. 

Decker is a quality receiver—arguably the best available in this year's free-agent class—but the Jets won't maximize his value unless they add another true "X" receiver who can draw coverage away from Decker.

Specifically, the Jets need to inject some much-needed speed into this position to be the presence the Jets were hoping Stephen Hill would become. 

The already-thin free-agent market has just about been exhausted, although Brian Costello of the New York Post reports that the Jets are flirting with some lower-tier players like Jacoby Ford.

The Jets have been mentioned as possible trade partners for DeSean Jackson, with owner Woody Johnson admitting to Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today that the team is interested in the Eagles' top receiver.

Already being familiar with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Vick, Jackson would be an ideal fit in the Jets offense, providing a missing element of speed and explosion.

As huge of an upgrade Jackson would be in the short term, it would cost the Jets a hefty amount of cap space and at least one draft pick from this year's loaded class.

The Jets have the means to make such a move, but they will be paying a premium price for premium talent—the type of move that would go against Idzik's value-maximizing approach.

If such a trade does not happen, not all hope is lost for the Green and White. Luckily for the Jets, this year's draft class is loaded with receiver talent from top to bottom. Even if the Jets are forced to use their top pick on another position, they will be able to find starting-caliber talent deep in the draft. 

While it is never optimal to rely on a rookie to start right away, the Jets picked a pretty good year to be forced to lean on unproven commodities to round out their receiving corps. 

Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).


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