The Jets have already laid out big bucks in free agency to address the problem, signing Eric Decker to a five-year, $36 million contract.
Gang Green went the free-agent route again on Tuesday, and while the addition of speedster Jacoby Ford might add a new dimension to the New York return game, the receiving corps remains a work in progress.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com was among the first to report that the Jets had agreed to terms with Ford, who had 13 catches for 99 yards last year for the Oakland Raiders, after the 26-year-old visited with the team the day before:
The #Jets announced they’ve signed WR Jacoby Ford— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 1, 2014
It was a deal that met with the approval of Bleacher Report's Aaron Nagler:
Jets announce the signing of Jacoby Ford. Good speedster to get those deep throws from Vick, uh, I mean, whoever wins the QB job.— Aaron Nagler (@Aaron_Nagler) April 1, 2014
And that was the first mental image some fans dialed up. Fellow newcomer Michael Vick dropping back and uncorking a long spiral down the sideline to a streaking Ford for a touchdown.
Once upon a time, it looked like Ford was going to do that with regularity in the NFL.
Ford ran a 4.28-second 40-yard dash time at the 2010 NFL combine, and while he may have only had 25 receptions as a rookie in 2010, Ford made the most of them, averaging nearly 19 yards a catch. Among receivers with at least that many catches, Ford ranked fifth in the NFL that year in yards per grab.
Ford also finished that rookie season sixth in return yards, and his three touchdowns tied for the league lead.
From there, the bottom fell out. A foot injury cost Ford half of of the 2011 season and then all of the 2012 season.
In the opinion of Bleacher Report AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen, that Lisfranc injury cost Ford much more than that:
Jacoby Ford never got back his speed after the Lis Franc. Without it, his size and lack of route running ability were apparent.— Christopher Hansen (@ChrisHansenNFL) April 1, 2014
The player we saw last year in Oakland certainly didn't look much like the Ford from 2010. He was barely used as a receiver, and the NFL's new rules on kickoffs sapped much of Ford's value there.
In fact, Ford had more receiving yards as a rookie (470) than he has in the three seasons since (378).
That may all seem like one huge wet blanket, but there are a couple of reasons that pundits such as Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com like the move:
Jacoby Ford is a low-risk, medium reward move. Worth a shot.— gregg rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) April 1, 2014
For starters, while terms of the deal have not been disclosed, it's safe to say the financial commitment is minimal. The guaranteed money is probably non-existent. In other words, so is the risk.
Second, the Jets don't just need front-line players like Decker. The Jets need quantity just as badly as they need quality at wide receiver right now. They need bodies, and Ford provides badly needed depth.
Also, while Ford hasn't come close to replicating his rookie success since hurting his foot, the fact remains he's still only 26 years old. Even at a step slower than he used to be, Jacoby Ford would still be pretty fast.
Add in potential special teams contributions, and it's a move that made sense for the Jets.
However, it also makes sense for the Jets to continue upgrading the receivers for Vick (or Geno Smith) in the early rounds of May's NFL draft.
Ford may well be capable of contributing to the team in 2014 on offense and special teams, but there are a couple things he's not.
He's not the true "X" receiver the Jets need to keep defenses from focusing all their attention on the recently acquired Decker. Neither, if the first two seasons of his NFL career are any indication, is Stephen Hill.
Should the New York Jets use the 18th overall pick on a wide receiver?
Mike Evans of Texas A&M might be, he of the 6'5" size, speed and soft hands.
Ford also isn't Vick's "new DeSean Jackson," a vertical threat who would serve much the same purpose where Decker is concerned.
Brandin Cooks of Oregon State could be, he of the 4.3 deep speed and home run ability.
It's been quite a while since the Jets had a solid stable of wideouts. It was one of the things that contributed to Mark Sanchez's downfall in the Big Apple. It certainly didn't make Smith's rookie season any easier a year ago.
In that respect, whether it's Smith or Vick under center when the Jets open the 2014 season, the team has gotten better.
However, if the Jets are serious about trying to unseat the hated New England Patriots in the AFC East, then the team needs to get better still at wide receiver, and the easiest way to do that at this point is to take full advantage of a deep and talented draft class at the position.