Best and Worst Moves the New York Jets Made in Free Agency
While they did not make quite as many big moves as predicted, the New York Jets are a much different team at this point than they were earlier this month.
The Jets have replaced longtime veterans including Mark Sanchez, Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes with Eric Decker and Michael Vick, giving the Jets a much different, refreshing outlook headed into next season.
However, there are still several positions that need addressing before the draft. Starters are still needed at the cornerback, wide receiver and tight end positions, and the free agent well is evaporating quickly. Idzik has yet to overpay for a free agent, but it may cost the team in the short term.
Here are some of the best and worst moves made by the Jets' front office after the first wave of free agency.
Best: Signing Michael Vick
For all of the mistakes the Jets have made in free agency this year, nabbing the top available quarterback in Michael Vick may be able to reverse their earlier miscues.
Off-field issues aside, Vick is everything the Jets are looking for in a backup quarterback. While he is not quite the same dynamic player he was in 2010, Vick has enough in the tank to challenge Geno Smith for the starting job, bringing out the best in the sophomore passer.
If Geno Smith is unable to beat out a 34-year-old Vick in training camp, the Jets have all of the intel they need on Smith's chances as a franchise quarterback.
On the flip side, if Smith wins the battle, Vick can provide tremendous value as a mentor and a backup who can step in and win games if Smith struggles or suffers an injury.
There are two downsides to Vick as a backup quarterback: For one, he is not cheap, as $5 million for a player the Jets hope they never have to play is hardly good value. Plus, Vick has yet to shed the "injury prone" label, having not played in 16 games in a season since he was an Atlanta Falcon.
Some fans will still hold a grudge against Vick for his past mistakes, but the Jets are convinced that he is a changed man. Owner Woody Johnson admitted to doing a personal background check with commissioner Roger Goodell, who was instrumental in Vick's successful reform and return to the NFL.
Vick has his flaws—after all, he wouldn't be on the market if he were perfect—but the Jets may have saved their otherwise disappointing offseason with this one move.
Worst: Missing out on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
John Idzik deserves credit for sticking to his guns and not overpaying for any player, but his mishandling of the open cornerback spot opposite Dee Milliner goes beyond stubborn principles.
Knowing that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the last elite man-to-man cornerback on the market, was visiting the neighbor New York Giants the next day, the Jets still had the audacity to give Rodgers-Cromartie an offer that was barely half of what he would ultimately sign for.
Giants: $10M SB/ $16M in 1st 2 yrs RT @adbrandt Jets wanted prove it deal for DRC: $6M this yr w/options. Offer didn't match recruiting zeal— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) March 18, 2014
Idzik completely misread the market, as noted by Mehta in another report. The fact that he made a "desperate 11th-hour offer" reveals that the Jets did not sign Rodgers-Cromartie because they simply thought less of him as a player—they were naive in their belief that a player would entertain such a lowball offer.
Rodgers-Cromartie wound up signing with the Giants, and the Jets are still in search for a No. 1 cornerback for Rex Ryan.
Teams miss out on free agents all the time, but the Jets put themselves in this desperate position in the first place by failing to lock down another top cornerback, such as Alterraun Verner or Vontae Davis.
Now, the Jets face the proposition of being forced to use their top pick on a cornerback. Not only will this likely lead to them "reaching" for talent, but as they saw with Dee Milliner last year, relying on rookie defensive backs to play well right off the bat is risky business.
Best: Not Overpaying Eric Decker
As much as it may hurt them in the short term on the defensive side of the ball, the Jets can thank John Idzik's tough negotiating policy for their favorable contract with wide receiver Eric Decker.
Decker was widely seen as the top receiver on the market who was going to be overpaid because of his bloated stats. Decker is a quality receiver, but a good chunk of his 87 catches, 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns could be attributed to the presence of Peyton Manning.
However, despite being in desperate need of a replacement for the recently released Santonio Holmes, Idzik managed to get Decker under contract for a reasonable price:
Eric Decker's $7.25 mil per ties him with Bills' Steve Johnson.— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) March 13, 2014
Essentially, Decker was paid like the high-end No. 2 most viewed him as, not the bona-fide No. 1 that his numbers suggested he could be.
It is unclear why Decker was willing to settle for such a relatively low number when his numbers suggested that he could have gotten more cash in a bidding war, but Idzik deserves a lot of credit for getting the Jets the player they need at a price that won't chain them down for several years.
Worst: Failing to Land a Second Receiver
As big as getting Eric Decker was, the Jets failed to capitalize on their favorable contract with the former Denver Bronco by adding another capable receiver that could take some pressure off Decker.
Much of Decker's success in Denver has been attributed to Peyton Manning, but lining up across Demaryius Thomas did wonders for his matchups as well. If the Jets are going to maximize their value for Decker, they needed to add a more dangerous threat than the incumbent Stephen Hill if they are going to make strides on offense next season.
Even after adding Decker, the Jets were linked to several of the top free-agent receivers. New York Daily News' Manish Mehta (h/t Pro Football Talk's Curtis Crabtree) reported there was interest in James Jones, and he told Bleacher Report's Adam Lefkoe there was interest in Emmanuel Sanders as well. As certain as it seemed that the Jets would add at least one more receiver before free agency began to sizzle, the Jets remain in the same position they were in the moment after they signed Eric Decker.
The Jets still have one more card to play, as they have been linked to a trade for DeSean Jackson, as owner Woody Johnson has all but admitted.
Woody Johnson says Jets have interest in DeSean Jackson http://t.co/2Fw5pDJhSc— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) March 23, 2014
Also going in favor of the Jets is the fact that this year's draft is regarded by many to be one of the deepest receiver drafts in recent history—perhaps even of all time.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock: "It's the best wide receiver draft I've seen in years."— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) February 18, 2014
Relying on unproven commodities (rookies) is always the riskier way to go, but more often than not, the young guns provide much more value and potential than their veteran counterparts.
Best: Adding Breno Giacomini
It became clear off the bat that John Idzik was not interested in overpaying for free agents when he let Austin Howard walk in free agency. Howard would later sign with the Oakland Raiders on a five-year, $30 million deal.
The Jets avoided paying a premium for solid-yet-unspectacular play at right tackle, but they were left with a gaping hole at right tackle. Idzik, however, was able to fill this new hole relatively quickly, showing more urgency than he did with just about any other position by adding Breno Giacomini on a four-year, $18 million deal.
At age 28, Giacomini has much less upside than his predecessor, but in terms of recent production, he and Howard are essentially the same caliber of player.
Idzik, who knows Giacomini from his days as a Seattle Seahawks executive, has good reason to be comfortable with Giacomini. In fact, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranks Giacomini five spots higher than Howard in overall production from 2013 (30th overall to 35th). Considering that Howard got almost twice as much guaranteed money from the Raiders ($15 million to $7.9 million), the Jets got better value from the Giacomini contract than they ever could have with Howard.
Again, Giacomini does not have the upside of the younger Howard and will be nothing more than a capable starter, but Idzik's decision to go with Giacomini over Howard will provides much better value.
Worst: Not Being Aggressive at Tight End
With a ton of cap room to work with and two wide open spots at the position, one would assume that the Jets were going to make massive upgrades to the tight ends this offseason.
Instead, all the Jets have done was re-up with Jeff Cumberland, holding out hope that he will finally develop into the feared receiving threat the Jets perceive him to be—despite never eclipsing the 400-yard mark at any point in his career.
In their defense, this year's tight end market is hardly spectacular, and the Jets did show some interest in Brandon Pettigrew before he re-signed with the Detroit Lions. Nonetheless, the Jets still have a wide-open spot they need to fill with the draft rapidly approaching.
The Jets could potentially use a top draft pick on the position, but with so many other needs to attend to, they may not get the opportunity to do so.
Best: Retaining Defensive Backups
They may have a gaping hole at one of the starting positions, but the Jets were at least able to hold on to their quality backups on the defensive side of the ball.
Without a proven starter in place opposite Dee Milliner, retaining Darrin Walls and Ellis Lankster are proving to be even more valuable moves. Walls, the top-rated cornerback in the preseason according to Pro Football Focus, played well in spot duty when filling in for the benched Milliner. Lankster provides great value as a depth cornerback who excels on special teams.
Meanwhile, retaining defensive end Leger Douzable gives the Jets a great three-man rotation at a position that is already littered with stars. According to Pro Football Focus, Douzable was the fifth-best defender on the team—behind four defensive lineman.
These moves are not going be discussed as much as some other marquee moves, but they could be season-savers if injuries plague the starting lineup.
Advanced stats provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).