2011 NFL Free Agency: Can the Jets Afford Santonio Holmes and Nnamdi Asomugha?
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With the lockout finally over, it's time to talk free agency. The Jets have many key free agents to sign, but it's assumed that Braylon Edwards, Antonio Cromartie and Brad Smith will land elsewhere due to cap constraints.
This means the first order of business for New York is to re-sign Santonio Holmes. Holmes is the best offensive player on the market and he made a huge impact for the Jets after returning from his suspension last season.
In 12 games, Holmes had 52 receptions for 746 yards and six touchdowns. In his final nine, he had 42 catches for 616 yards and all of his scores.
It took Holmes three games to get acclimated to Mark Sanchez and the Jets' system but once he did he was a difference maker, scoring game-winning touchdowns in the final 10 seconds (or on the final play) in two consecutive November victories.
I know the Jets have other free agents to sign, but Holmes is easily the best player of the three. Edwards and Cromartie are top-10 names in this free-agent period, but there's another big name the Jets are rumored to be after.
Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, arguably the league's top cover corner (along with current Jet Darrelle Revis), is hitting the market. It's rare that a player of this caliber becomes an unrestricted free agent and the Jets would love to pounce on the former Cal stud.
I think Asomugha and Holmes are the two best players available. The real question is: Can the Jets afford both?
Already $1.2 million over the new salary cap, New York has some tough decisions to make. They can restructure the contracts of players like D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas, but will that be enough to allow them to pay two top-tier free agents?
I'm no salary cap expert, but I'm not sure the Jets will be able to afford these two players. So the question becomes, who should the Jets go after harder?
If the Jets add Asomugha and lose Holmes, it will be absolutely impossible to throw on this team. They were a top-six pass defense last season and the Raiders were second, mainly due to Asomugha's presence.
Combining Asomugha and Revis would make New York's pass defense the best in the NFL, hands down. With an already solid group of linebackers and Shaun Ellis being the only potential loss along the defensive line, the Jets run defense would also stay in the top 10 after ranking third last season.
It's a legitimate possibility that the Jets could allow fewer than 15 points per game if they sign Asomugha after allowing 19 points per game last season. But would their offense be able to move the football?
Even with Holmes and Edwards, the Jets sometimes struggled to score points. Losing his top two receivers would not help Mark Sanchez's development, even if New York brought in players like Plaxico Burress, Randy Moss or Sidney Rice if they could afford them.
LaDainian Tomlinson is a year older and another year slower. Also, while Shonn Greene is likely to take on an increased workload, he's yet to prove he can handle the extra touches.
If the Jets keep Holmes and miss out on Asomugha and Cromartie, they will be stuck with Kyle Wilson on the other side. Unless Wilson made vast improvements during the lockout, which seems unlikely, he's not ready to start at the NFL level.
The Jets may have Revis shutting down one side of the field but Wilson will get picked on all day, not to mention how bad the Jets nickel and dime backs will be.
Keeping Holmes would mean the Jets offense could stay afloat and Sanchez would avoid a disastrous third season. But would that be enough to overtake New England and finally win the division?
It really doesn't matter who wins the division, as the Jets proved last season. The defensive-minded Jets beat the offensive-minded Patriots in the playoffs because of the way the teams were built.
Adding Asomugha to an already stacked defense would make the Jets a force to be reckoned with in cold-weather playoff games. As much as I love Holmes, if I had to choose one player, it would be Asomugha.
There are talented but troubled wide receivers on the free agent market that would come cheaply as low-risk, high-reward gambles. Burress and Moss are the two names that come to mind.
Both of those receivers have reputations as selfish players, but both would step into roles where they would see a lot of balls thrown their way. That, along with the opportunity to play for a winning football team, means these two could be excellent gambles.
Filling the cornerback position opposite Revis will not be cheap for the Jets, but having Revis and Asomugha locked up for multiple seasons gives the team time to draft talent at receiver as well, leaving their Super Bowl window open for a few more years.
The NFL is a passing league. If you can stop the pass, you can win games. No matter how bad their offense might be, Revis and Asomugha would allow the Jets to do just that.
The Jets would love to get their hands on both Holmes and Asomugha, but that would take some skillful cap maneuvering. They will likely have to choose one, and the choice should be Nnamdi.
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