The First 5 Things the New York Jets Must Do When the Lockout is Lifted
Over 100 days and counting, the NFL lockout is still on. The situation has gotten to a point that fans never would have thought it would get to following the conclusion of last February’s Super Bowl. If the lockout does not get resolved within the next couple of weeks, the NFL is in danger of losing millions of dollars and having the preseason cut short. There is even a chance that the first couple of weeks of the regular season might be in jeopardy should a deal not be agreed upon.
While there has been lots of back and forth between the players and owners filled with plenty of frustration for both sides as well as the fans of the sport, the past few days have been extremely positive with an agreement to end the lockout nearing.
The two sides have reportedly agreed on a rookie wage scale and are on the fast track to end the stalemate after months of conflict. A deal is set to be made within the next week, less than two months away from the start of the NFL season.
The end of the lockout will result in one of the shortest and craziest off-seasons in the history of the NFL. So hold on tight for a month of wheeling and dealing as free agency will open up for good and teams will finally be able to sign players.
This lockout has been especially tough on the New York Jets who have plenty of unsigned free agents to take care of before playing their first regular season game against the Dallas Cowboys. The New York front office has their work cut out for them when the locks come off and not much time to fool around.
And so with time not on their side, here are the first 5 things that the New York Jets must take care of the second after the NFL lockout comes to an end.
1. Take Care of the Wide Receiver Position
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Young Mark Sanchez has progressed nicely in his first two seasons as a pro but if he wants to become a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, he needs help at the wide receiver position. Last year he had the privilege of throwing the ball to two Pro Bowl caliber receivers in Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. This season he needs at least one of those wide outs on his team to improve on his solid 2010 campaign.
The first thing the Jets must do once the lockout ends is sign either Holmes, Edwards, or both players. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Brad Smith is also a free agent and there might not be enough money to go around for the Jets to maintain the same receiving core as last year.
In an ideal world New York would love to keep all three of the talented receivers. But that will be tough to do. So with limited money, the Jets must make it their number one priority to re-sign Santonio Holmes.
Mike Tannenbaum prepared the team for this day when three of his wide receivers would become free agents by drafting the dynamic Jeremy Kerley out of TCU in the fifth round and wide out Scotty McKnight in the seventh round. Kerley is a similar player to Brad Smith and can replace Smith as a wild cat specialist and a return man on special teams for much less money.
After they sign Holmes, Edwards should be a priority but not as big of a priority as the Super Bowl XLIII MVP mainly because of Edwards’ ongoing legal problems which can cause him to miss games in the regular season.
If they cannot get Edwards signature, another possible free agent signing would be Plaxico Burress who is returning to the NFL after serving a two-year prison sentence. Burress is a tall receiver who can fit well in the Jets’ offense. He is a similar type of player to Edwards and would help out Mark Sanchez immensely, especially in the redzone.
No matter what combination of receivers the Jets sign, they will not get it wrong. Any one of these four receivers (Holmes, Edwards, Smith, Burress) would be good enough for the Jets to contend for a Super Bowl this upcoming season. If they sign any two of them, then they will be in even better shape.
2. Sign Rookie Draft Picks
The NFL Draft is always a good way to build a team and add depth to an already talented roster. The Jets had six picks in the 2011 Draft and added key pieces such as Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis to the defensive line. These two defensive beasts will surely provide New York with a more effective pass rush and allow Rex Ryan to hold back on blitzing his linebackers and secondary in order to get pressure on the quarterback.
The Jets also drafted exciting running back Bilal Powell out of Louisville possibly as a long term replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson, Jeremy Kerley, Greg McElroy to backup Sanchez, and wide receiver Scotty McKnight.
All are talented players who will contribute to the team this season, but due to the lockout, all of these rookies remain unsigned.
Once the lockout is lifted, Tannenbaum and the Jets need to sign this group of players and put them to work right way. Any one of these players can turn out to be a special player in this league for years to come. Thus, it is important for Gang Green to take care of business and add youth to this team as soon as the lockout is lifted.
3. Decide Who to Re-Sign and Who to Let Go
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There is no question that last year’s Jets team was a talented group of players. But a year later, over a dozen of these players are now free agents, leaving New York with many tough decisions to make once the lockout ends.
Among those who are currently not under contract for the Jets are Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Brad Smith, Shaun Ellis, Wayne Hunter, Jason Taylor, Trevor Pryce, Drew Coleman, Eric Smith, James Ihedigbo, Brodney Pool, Nick Folk, and Steve Weatherford.
The list is a lengthy one with some great players who have performed well for Gang Green the past few seasons. Unfortunately, signing all of these players will be next to impossible.
Tannenbaum needs to determine which of these players is worth a contract and which aren’t. The biggest priority for him should be holding onto Holmes, Hunter, Cromartie, Coleman, and Weatherford. These players are extremely valuable to the team and would leave a hole on the roster if they choose to depart New York.
Signing free agents like Taylor, Ellis, and Pryce might help the team now, but these veterans will not be part of Gang Green’s future. It is really tough to determine whether or not these kinds of players can perform up to par so late in their careers after so much mileage on their bodies.
It is a good thing none of us are in charge of making these decisions. It’s no wonder that Mike Tannebaum gets paid the big bucks.
4. Bolster the Secondary
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Free agency will be extremely difficult on the Jets’ secondary. In addition to star cornerback Antonio Cromartie becoming a free agent, Drew Coleman, James Ihedigbo, Eric Smith, Brodney Pool are all currently unsigned. Sure Darrelle Revis is freakishly talented, but even he cannot save a defense on his own.
Revis needs help in the secondary. Cromartie is the perfect match for him but he will likely want money that will force him out of New York. If that is the case, the Jets need to find a suitable replacement. Nnamdi Asomugha would be nice, but you can forget about him putting on a Jets uniform.
People do not give Drew Coleman enough credit for what he did last season. He was effective when presented with the challenge of covering the opposing team’s slot receiver. He must be signed because Dwight Lowery and Kyle Wilson have had difficulties covering speedy slot receivers like Wes Welker.
The safety position has also been a bit of an issue for the team the past few seasons. Jim Leonhard’s injury exposed the Jets secondary and showed the flaws in Eric Smith and Brodney Pool’s game. Big tight ends like Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkoswki created mismatches for the defense and found chunks of yards in the middle of the field.
Based on the Jets defensive style of play, it is extremely important for Rex Ryan to have a shutdown secondary. There is too much uncertainty in the secondary as of now. So once the lockout ends, New York has to sure up the position and strengthen the defense by signing cornerbacks and safeties that will fit in well in Rex Ryan’s defense.
5. Get Back to Work Immediately
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Last but certainly not least, after all of the front office moves and roster transactions take place, the Jets just have to get back to work. The team needs to begin playing together immediately in a professional environment with coaches and team officials there to give them advice.
Players have stayed in shape on their own time and have held team workouts during the lockout (i.e. Mark Sanchez’s Jets West camp in California), but nothing is quite like an actual NFL training camp.
The rookies need to get accustomed to the step up in competition from college football and learn the ins and outs of the professional game all in a very short time. They need to learn offensive schemes, defensive schemes, they need to learn the playbook, and they need to develop chemistry with their teammates.
Even the veteran players need to get back to work as soon as possible to shake off the rust after a long layoff. Players can do all of the fitness drills that they want, but ultimately they need to get back to playing football as soon as possible.
So with no cameras following the Jets around this preseason, the team could get right down to business and focus on playing football and getting ready for the start of the NFL season.