New York Jets' Top Remaining Offseason Priorities
Because of their unexpected inactivity in free agency, the Jets' offseason to-do list is almost as long as it was before the league year started.
While they avoided the trap of doling out huge contracts to undeserving free agents, the Jets have put themselves in somewhat of a corner. Not only do the Jets still have a ton of roster holes to fill, but with the bulk of free agency in the rearview mirror, they must rely heavily on the draft to round out their roster and fill their needs.
The good news is that they have a whopping 12 picks to work with, but relying on a class of rookies to survive a season is hardly a comforting thought. This strategy will help them build a roster that will survive in the long-term at the expense of rapid short-term growth.
Here are the remaining offseason priorities for the New York Jets.
Find an Elite Cornerback
The Jets may have avoided disaster with the acquisition of veteran cornerback Dimitri Patterson, but they are kidding themselves if they think Rex Ryan's defense can survive in the long-term with a relatively average pair of cornerbacks in Patterson and Dee Milliner.
Ryan's defense is predicated on excellent cornerback play. While Patterson could provide good value, the Jets are in the market for a player who can assume the "shutdown" role.
This is all assuming that Milliner develops into a "shutdown" player of his own, which the Jets expect him to do as a ninth-overall pick. While he did play better at the end of last year with three interceptions in his final three games, the Jets are putting a lot of pressure on a young player to make drastic improvements after being benched on three separate occasions last year.
At this point, the only avenue for the Jets to add an elite talent is through the draft. A player like Darqueze Dennard or Kyle Fuller could be viable options in the first round that would give the Jets a long-term solution at the position.
If the Jets don't use their top pick on a cornerback this year, they will find themselves back in the market for one next offseason—assuming Rex Ryan is still the head coach.
Load Up on Wide Receivers
Even after adding Eric Decker, the Jets have a lot of work to do in order to finish their receiving corps makeover.
The thin free-agent market has all but evaporated, but the Jets are lucky that this year's draft class of wide receivers is as deep as it has been in years. Not only is there elite talent at the top of the draft, but there is depth throughout with starting caliber players available deep into the third day of the draft:
Mike Mayock: "I wouldn't be surprised at all, if the Jets pick multiple wide receivers this year." http://t.co/aylMoaiZP1— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) February 18, 2014
Even if the Jets use their top pick on a cornerback or tight end, they can still add a player like Martavis Bryant in the second round, Jarvis Landry in the third and round things out with Shaquelle Evans in the seventh.
More so than any other attribute, the Jets need to be on the lookout to add speed to their receiving corps. Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley are a solid combination of "Z" and slot receivers, but both of them lack the ideal speed necessary to stretch the field.
With 12 draft picks (four compensatory), the Jets are primed to take advantage of the alignment of the strength of this year's class and the need they have at the position. In this case, bringing in a large quantity of young receivers is a more efficient way to go about rebuilding their depth chart than using their prized draft resources on one highly rated player.
Find a Second Tight End
Re-upping with Jeff Cumberland gives the Jets enough to "get by" this season, but if they want to take their offense to the next level, adding a second starting-caliber tight end before the start of the season must be a priority.
Even if Cumberland, who has never recorded more than 400 receiving yards in a single season, develops into the capable starter they are paying him to be, there is virtually nothing behind him. Konrad Reuland and Zach Sudfeld are decent special teams players, but have shown nothing in terms of starting ability.
After missing out on Brandon Pettigrew in free agency (h/t Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News), the Jets must turn to the draft in hopes of finding a young player who can contribute immediately.
The Jets could use their top pick on a tight end by the likes of Jace Amaro, Eric Ebron or Austin-Seferian Jenkins, but greater needs at other positions may cause them to use the pick elsewhere. This puts some second-round options, such as Troy Niklas, into play.
Bottom line is, somehow, the Jets must make a move to upgrade their tight end depth to avoid being one injury away from starting Konrad Reuland or Zach Sudfeld in any game this season.
Find Young Safety Talent
The Jets do have one bright spot in the secondary in third-year safety Antonio Allen, but finding young depth to develop in preparation for Dawan Landry's departure next season has proven to be a challenge.
After electing not to get into a spending war in free agency for the services of Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward or Donte Whitner, the Jets are once again faced with the proposition of finding talent in the draft.
Given their immense needs at other positions, it seems unlikely that they would use a pick on the position until at least the third round. Someone like Baylor's Ahmad Dixon would be a good fit as an in-the-box safety who is a perfect replacement for the similarly skilled Landry.
The Jets don't appear to want to be completely reliant on the draft to add to their depth, as former Eagle Kurt Coleman visited the team on Wednesday, according to Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post. The addition of Coleman would give them a veteran presence at the third safety spot, but the Jets will still need an infusion of young blood at the position that they can build around.
Find a Third Running Back
One of the few areas in which the Jets have been proactive is at the running back position, which, interestingly enough, is one of the few (relatively) solidified positions on offense.
Despite having a quality one-two punch at the position with Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory, the Jets have been connected to several free-agent running backs, including Chris Johnson (h/t Ian Rapoport of NFL.com) and Maurice Jones-Drew, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News (who wound up signing with the Oakland Raiders).
The Jets do have Mike Goodson on the roster, but their involvement in the running back free agent market suggests that they have little confidence in his ability to fully recover from his ACL injury, at least this year.
Adding a player like Chris Johnson would be an upgrade over Goodson or another runner they would draft in the middle rounds, but it could come at a higher cost for relatively minimal return. Assuming Powell and Ivory return as the top two backs, the extra runner they add would only get a few carries a game—hardly worth anything more than a minimal investment.
The best way the Jets can go about solidifying the running back spot is through the draft. Adding a rookie like Baylor's Lache Seastrunk or Wisconsin's James White would be just as productive in such a minimal role without costing nearly as much.
Plus, these players have less wear and tear on their tires and have room to develop—Chris Johnson or any other veteran is only going to decline from this point.
Add a Young Edge-Rusher
The Jets' front seven has come a long way since Rex Ryan's first season back in 2009, but they have yet to address the lingering issue of their lack of an edge pass-rusher.
Antwan Barnes provided some production in this role early last year before suffering an ACL tear in Week 5. With the health of the aging Barnes in question, using at least one of their dozen picks on a young edge-rusher would be a shrewd maneuver.
In terms of draft prospects, the Jets don't need to draft a finished product—they would be better-suited to take an explosive, pass-rushing specialist that may be lacking refined technique or size to play on all three downs but can contribute right off the bat and eventually develop into a full-time outside linebacker.
Some middle-round names for the Jets to consider are Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu, Virginia Tech's James Gayle, Missouri's Michael Sam or Aaron Donald of South Florida.
All of these players have athletic upside but struggle in other aspects of the game (particularly against the run). With Calvin Pace taking care of the early-down duties, the Jets can take their time in developing these players on the bottom of the depth chart.
Endorse a "True" Quarterback Competition
Landing the top free-agent quarterback in Michael Vick may prove to be John Idzik's best move of this year's free agency period, but it presents a unique quandary for the Jets as they sort out their depth chart.
On the surface, Vick is a perfect solution to all of the Jets' needs from their backup quarterback: Vick will not just "push" Geno Smith for the starting job, but he is more than capable of winning the job outright—by a significant margin.
It is easy to forget that Vick outplayed Nick Foles in the preseason last year for the Philadelphia Eagles' starting gig. Had it not been for injury, Vick would have never given the starting job up. If Vick can stay healthy, there is little reason to believe that Smith is capable of beating out Vick, even if he has gained a few fractions of a second on his 40 time with age.
If Vick does outplay Smith, the Jets have no choice but to play the better quarterback. Head coach Rex Ryan, who may be facing unemployment if he fails to improve on last year's 8-8 record, certainly has the motive to play the best player.
Still, the question remains: is John Idzik willing to sit a young player like Smith for the sake of a single season?
Idzik may have the franchise's long-term interests in mind, but this is the bed he made when he signed Vick. Playing the lesser player can have rippling effects in the locker room while costing the team precious wins.
Idzik has been preaching his mantra of competition since he took the job. Now is the time to back up his words.
After all Vick is on a one-year contract. The Jets can always go back to Smith next year, consider a trade, draft another quarterback next year, etc.—in other words, let the situation play out with an authentic, fair quarterback battle.