New York Jets Offseason State of the Union
With NFL spring practices in the rearview mirror, we have entered the dead period of the offseason before training camp cranks up—the calm before the storm.
This uneventful portion of the offseason allows us to take a step back and examine where teams stand on the eve of the new season.
Most of the roster for the New York Jets is in place, but many questions still need to be answered on both sides of the ball.
Here is the team's current state of the union.
Cap Room Is in Abundance
The Jets have a few worries to deal with as they head into the 2014 season, but their cap space is not one of them. Thanks to responsible (at times, borderline cowardly) spending habits of general manager John Idzik, the Jets have plenty of room to make any last-minute additions if need be.
More importantly, the Jets are set up to be players in free agency next season, when their roster is even more mature and set up to win in the immediate future.
Making this number even more impressive is that fact that all 12 of the Jets' draft picks are officially under contract.
The Jets are under a lot more pressure to win this season, but they will have the flexibility to make wholesale changes to the roster next spring if need be.
This Is Geno Smith's Team
The Jets can no longer act as if there will be a competition between Michael Vick and Geno Smith for the starting quarterback job.
Vick has already spend a good amount of energy this spring insisting on the nonexistence of a competition. Now, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has all but admitted that Smith is the starter based on his projected snap count of next month's training camp, Seth Walder of the New York Daily News notes.
While this goes against the Jets' supposed mantra of constant competition across the board, it does give them one less headache to deal with in training camp. For the first time in a long time, there won't be any questions at the quarterback position for the Jets this summer.
By naming Smith the starter now, they dodge the possibility of benching Smith in favor of Vick for short-term success. Even if they have a successful season and make the playoffs with Vick at the helm, the position would still need to be addressed next offseason.
Smith may be getting all of the nods from the coaches now, but he needs to show massive improvement in year two if he wants to be in this same situation in year three.
Question Marks at Cornerback
General manager John Idzik has done an admirable job filling out the Jets' roster without overspending this offseason. However, his philosophy of refusing to commit big bucks has left his team with a gaping hole at the cornerback position.
The Jets are counting on newly acquired, injury-prone veteran Dimitri Patterson to start opposite second-year player (and former first-round pick) Dee Milliner. This combination looks at least good enough on paper, but Patterson will be playing out of position and Milliner, who was benched three times last year, is already off to a slow start in his second season as he deals with a hamstring injury.
The good news for the Jets is that there appear to be options behind the top two players. Third-round rookie Dexter McDougle has drawn rave reviews from defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman, according to Kimberly Martin of Newsday.
Even New England Patriots castoff Ras-I Dowling has flashed at times and will be "given an opportunity to compete" according to Thurman.
Many of these questions regarding injuries and the value of these players will be revealed when the pads come on in training camp. Until then, the Jets have to be somewhat uncomfortable of what they have at what is the most important position in Rex Ryan's defense.
Loaded with Talent at the Running Back Position
While the Jets are busy answering the questions they have at cornerback, they can take solace in knowing that they have a surplus of talent at the running back position.
Even after parting ways with the mysteriously absent Mike Goodson, the team is faced with the enviable task of finding a role for their top three runners to maximize their individual contributions to the offense.
Ideally, the Jets would have Chris Ivory take the bulk of the early-down carries to wear down the defense and sustain drives. Chris Johnson can be the third-down specialist and home run hitter, while Bilal Powell can be the Swiss Army knife of runners, filling in whenever needed or if Ivory's ugly injury history comes back to haunt him.
The Jets are even insured in case they are plagued by injuries at the position after adding Daryl Richardson off waivers in the spring.
Much of the attention will be squarely on the development of Geno Smith (and rightfully so), but the strength of the Jets offense lies in its immensely talented backfield.
Possible Youth Movement at Guard
The Jets re-signed veteran guard Willie Colon in hopes that they would not have to tap in to their offensive line reserves this season, but a recent knee surgery that has sidelined Colon "indefinitely" will force the Jets to prepare for life without Colon.
Last year's fifth-round pick Oday Aboushi hardly made an impact last season. In fact, he was not active for a single game, suggesting that he was only on the team because he was a member of John Idzik's first rookie class.
However, since making the transition from his college position at tackle to inside at guard, Aboushi has shined when filling in for Colon with the first team. As Kristan Dyer of Metro New York notes, he has drawn praise from coaches due to his impressive performance in spring practices:
Rex: "I'm impressed with Aboushi a little more in these camps than at any time last year...he's done a pretty decent job out there."— Kristian Dyer (@KristianRDyer) June 11, 2014
The fact that Aboushi is excelling in his new role at guard makes plenty of sense. This position change masks the biggest weakness in his game—his slow feet. At guard, he can get the most out of his raw power without being exposed by quicker pass-rushers on the edge.
Aboushi still has a lot to prove before he can be worthy of a starting job, but the Jets have to be pleased with the fact that they may have a viable option to replace Colon after all, if need be.
Receiver Depth Chart Is Wide Open
Through two months of rookie minicamps, organized activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamps, the Jets' wide receiver depth chart is just as wide open as it started.
Of all the receivers on the Jets who have a roster spot at stake, only Stephen hill has stood out so far as a much-improved player through spring practices.
Minicamp over. I think Stephen Hill had the best spring ... At least while we were watching #nyj— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) June 19, 2014
The only other player to impress was free-agent acquisition Eric Decker, who is guaranteed to be the Jets' No. 1 receiver regardless.
Hill may have had a nice spring, but the battle to be a final member of the Jets' receiving corps is far from over. With three draft picks added to the equation (Jalen Saunders, Shaq Evans and Quincy Enunwa), keeping both Jacoby Ford and David Nelson will be a impossibility if the Jets want to carry all of their drafted receivers on the 53-man roster.
At some point, the Jets are going to have to cut a player that deserves to be on the roster because of the sheer volume of talented players at this position.
The Jets have a lot of talent at this position, but much of this talent is underdeveloped. They need one or two of their youngsters to play out of their element and seize the No. 2 receiver job in order for their pass offense to take the next step in 2014.
PlaybookGate Takes Center Stage
It just wouldn't be a Jets offseason without an overblown controversy to pop up in the dead of summer to keep things interesting.
After telling Greg Berdard of the MMQB.com that Rex Ryan was handing out playbooks "like candy," the relationship between the defensive mastermind and his pupil has deteriorated to the point where Ryan was actually defending rival coach Bill Belichick:
Rex on "ridiculous" stolen playbook story: Pettine needs to be quiet; relationship now "in a bad spot" http://t.co/OjomEVXSB7— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) June 19, 2014
Ryan is right in that the idea that other teams would have a distinct advantage over the Jets with their playbook in hand is overblown. Plays and terminology change on a weekly basis; a bunch of drawings and diagrams is useless in the wrong hands.
Either way, it is unclear why Pettine would go public with this information. Perhaps he said it as somewhat of a joke to Bedard, unknowing of the weight of his words in printed form. It is difficult to find a way where Pettine would benefit from tarnishing the images of Ryan or Belichick.
From a Jets perspective, they simply cannot let this minor story turn into any kind of a distraction. If anything, it can be used as a motivational factor—unfortunately for them, the Cleveland Browns are not on the schedule this year.