New York Jets Free Agency: Off to the Races When Lockout Lifts?
This offseason has been truly an off season for the NFL. The only real news for NFL news-seekers was lockout related. I myself was absolutely sick of the coverage. To paraphrase Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day, wake me up, when the lockout ends.
Well, it now appears that the lockout may indeed be ending and the result will be a microwave of an offseason where teams will be expected to sign free agents and get a roster together quickly to be able to start the season on time.
1. Figure out the Wide Receiver Situation.
The Jets have three unsigned wide receievers, all of whom were a huge part of the Jets' offense in 2010. Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards will demand high price tags and Brad Smith won't be cheap either. Smith was the team's primary kick returner, and also ran the Jets' version of the wildcat to some success.
The salary cap number figures to go up, but so will the floor. Some teams will be forced to spend money and may overbid to get a player like Edwards or Holmes. This will leave the Jets in a position to have to act quickly on a receiver.
Rumors have the Washington Redskins (surprise surprise) interested in Holmes and with the ability to offer more than the Jets can offer to the receiver.
The Jets figure to have cap issues, and there are other cheaper options out there at receiver.
2. Assess the Rookies: Can Ellis and WIlkerson Toe the D-Line?
The Jets have to rush to get the rookies signed and then decide if the additions of draft picks Muhammad Wilkerson of Temple University and talented, but embattled DT Kenrick Ellis (pictured) are ready to patch up that defensive line.
Kris Jenkins has retired which leaves the Jets with a massive hole to fill on the line. Pouha and Devito did admirable jobs, but Rex Ryan likes his defensive lines to be a wrecking force for his defense.
3. Take Care of David Harris
David Harris has said that he wants to be a Jet for a long time. He signed his one-year franchise tag contract early this year. He is the heart and soul of the defense and GM Mike Tannenbaum needs to get creative to keep this guy around a long time with a cap-friendly number.
4. Assess the Running Back Situation
Ladainian Tomlinson is technically still under contract for the Jets and was a surprisingly huge part of the Jets' offense last season. Shonn Greene figures to get the bulk of the carries, but then again, who knows? Greene figured to be the man last year.
The Jets were less than impressed with then rookie Joe McKnight in 2010, but he seemed to emerge toward the end of the season. To make matters more interesting, the Jets drafted Bilal Powell of Louisville to throw into the mix. There is no way the Jets carry four running backs. But, which one will go?
5. the Safety Position
Hopefully, Jim Leonhard doesn't become a cap casualty, and he is able to regain his form after a devestating leg injury last season.
Brodney Pool (who is an unrestricted free agent) and Eric Smith played well for the Jets last season, but neither player was really a playmaking safety - the hallmark of a Rex Ryan defense.
But, who can the Jets target to fill that need? Eric Weddle and Dewan Landry are restricted free agents who will command a high price tag. Former Eagle Quintin Mickel is a possibility as well.
6. What to Do with Antonio Cromartie?
For all the criticism, Cromartie was a steady performer for the Jets last season. His huge kick-return set up the game-winning drive in the playoff game in Indianapolis, and his coverage ability was top notch if you weren't spoiled by watching Darrelle Revis on the other side.
Will another team overbid for Antonio? There are also rumors the Jets want free agent corner Nnamdi Asomugha, but this is a salary cap league and the Jets have limited money to spend. Can they really spend top dollar on two corners and field a solid team?
7. What to Do with Shaun Ellis?
Shuan Ellis is a lifetime Jet and an all-time favorite around the Meadowlands. Each year he continues to make plays despite years of pounding on his body. He is entering his 12th year and figures to lose a step at some point. The defensive line is a position of need for the Jets, could Ellis really make an impact for yet another year?
The positive is that he figures to be a cheap option and with two rookies that figure to be in the rotation, Ellis would be a coach on the field. Hopefully for Jets fans, the Big Kat can still play!
8. the Kicking and Punting Situation
One of the most often overlooked situations in all of sports is kicking and punting. When you are solid in those spots, it tends to be an "out of sight out of mind" sort of thing. But when the situation is bad, it hurts your team all over the field. Without a reliable field goal kicker, teams leave points on the board are forced to go for bad fourth down situations and have to make strange decisions on parts of the field where you ought to be able to put three points on the board.
A bad punter will KILL you in terms of field position. For a cold-weather, defensive-minded football team, that is simply unacceptable.
Nick Folk, who was better than expected last season, and Steve Weatherford, who is a steady veteran at punter, are both restricted free agents. The draft pick compensation would be tempting if either is signed away, but the search for a reliable punter and kicker may be a frustrating one if either or both of them should leave the Jets.
9. What Kind of Offense Should the Jets Be?
If the wide receivers start walking the Jets will need to take a serious look at their offense. Pre Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, the Jets were a running team that sometimes threw to Jerricho Cotchery for the big play and utilized Dustin Keller (pictured) as a game-breaking tight end.
This past year, the Jets were explosive on offense with mismatch problems all over the field. Keller was used mostly as a decoy, and Cotchery was the man under the coverage for the bailout look from Mark Sanchez.
If the Jets lose Edwards and Holmes, they may have to consider how they used to look on offense and decide if that kind of offense can win a championship. Maybe that's why they are stockpiling running backs?
10. Fullback: Is John Conner Ready to Be the Starter?
Is it Conner's destiny (sorry couldn't resist) to be the full time fullback this year? He played well in spots last season, but was performing behind the veteran Tony Richardson. If the Jets offense goes back to a running look, can it afford to entrust the lead full-back role to an inexperienced player in Conner or do the Jets go back to the Tony Richardson well for one more year?