The 6 Toughest Decisions the New York Jets Will Have to Make This Offseason

Ryan Alfieri@Ryan_AlfieriCorrespondent IIIJanuary 20, 2014

The 6 Toughest Decisions the New York Jets Will Have to Make This Offseason

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    After enduring the growing pains of 2013, general manager John Idzik now has the flexibility to build the team he envisioned when he took the job. 

    However, this newfound freedom breeds new questions that Idzik and the New York Jets brass must make difficult decisions on, whether it's retaining or parting ways with a veteran or staying active in the quarterback market. 

    Here are some of the toughest decisions the Jets will make this offseason.

    Salary cap information provided by Advanced statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Will Antonio Cromartie Be Retained?

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    In order for the Jets to free up the cap space, they will need to add free agents this offseason, and they will have to part ways with several veteran players, including Antonio Cromartie. 

    With a cap hit of $14.98 million next season on the heels of his worst season as a pro, you and I have as good of a chance to start for the Jets under such a contract as Cromartie next season. Even he has admitted that his release is all but a formality at this point, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN. 

    This does not mean, however, that Cromartie's time is done in New York. There is reason to believe that Cromartie's struggles last year stem from an injured hip that ailed him all season. If he can prove that he can come back healthy for one more season, bringing him back under a lesser contract makes plenty of sense. 

    After all, he is just a year removed from his Pro Bowl-caliber 2012 season.

    A lot has to happen for Cromartie to prove a clean bill of health and for the two sides to come to an agreement, but if the two sides can agree on a reasonable contract, there is a good chance that Cromartie will be back in New York in 2014.

How Far Should They Go to Address the Quarterback Position?

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Jets have to be generally pleased with Geno Smith's rookie campaign, particularly in the way he finished strong with two straight turnover-free wins.

    However, the Jets have no reason to believe with certainty that he is the Jets' franchise quarterback for the next decade. Until he proves that he can be much more consistent on a week-to-week basis, the Jets should stay involved in the quarterback market as their search for a franchise quarterback continues. 

    Now, the Jets must decide just how aggressive they want to be in the quarterback market until they find the elusive "franchise" quarterback.

    Should they draft a quarterback in the first round or wait until the middle rounds to find a "project" player? Should a veteran be brought in from free agency to compete with Smith this season?

    The Jets will almost certainly make at least one more move at the quarterback position to give them insurance in case Smith fails to pan out, but it remains to be seen what type of move they plan on making to address the position. 

    How aggressive the Jets end up being will be very telling as to how much faith they have in Smith.

Should Calvin Pace Be Brought Back?

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    One of the pleasant surprises of the 2013 season was the play of veteran outside linebacker Calvin Pace. Despite coming off his worst season as a pro in 2012, the Jets kept their faith in the aging linebacker and brought him back for one more season to fill the void at the outside linebacker spot. 

    Pace rewarded the Jets' faith with his best statistical season to date, notching 10 sacks and being a vital part of the Jets' excellent run defense.

    However, as good as his stats were this past season, many of his sacks came as a result of good coverage rather than Pace overpowering his opponent. At age 33, there is as good of a chance of him rapidly declining next season as him replicating his 2013 campaign. 

    Whether or not Pace will be retained will come down to whether or not the Jets make a significant investment in an upgrade at outside linebacker (either via a big move in free agency or with a high draft pick). 

    Ideally, the Jets would like to upgrade this position once and for all, but they would also be willing to live with Pace for one more season if need be.

Allocating Cap Room for Free Agency

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Because of their relative patience last offseason, the Jets have positioned themselves nicely to make a big splash in free agency this season with some newfound cap space to work with. 

    Now comes the hard part.

    The Jets have a chance to really attack their needs at the skill positions, but they have so many needs that they will have to choose between which positions they attack with their space. Do they use all of it to round out the wide receiving corps or use more of it to rebuild the tight end position?

    Much of how the Jets spend will ultimately come down to how much they like the players on the market, how the market plays out and whether or not they can come to an agreement with their targeted free agents.

    For example, should the Jets allocate their money toward one expensive free agent, such as Dennis Pitta? Or should they divvy up their spending between some lesser players to build depth, choosing to sign players such as Brandon Pettigrew or James Jones?

    It may be tempting to throw all of the money at a bigger name, but the Jets are so thin at the skill positions that choosing quantity over quality is the much safer route.

Is Brian Winters' Job Safe?

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    The Jets used the 2013 season to get their young rookies valuable experience, including left guard Brian Winters.

    After the Jets' third-round pick from last year was handed the starting job in Week 5, the results were discouraging at best. He finished as the 77th-best guard in football in Pro Football Focus' rankings (out of 81 ranked players).

    However, there was a silver lining in Winters' unimpressive season, as he finished strong in the season finale after not allowing a single quarterback hit, hurry or sack. 

    He will certainly see some type of competition this summer, but most teams would not be willing to bench an interior offensive lineman taken on the second day of the draft. Doing so would be Idzik admitting a mistake on an early draft pick, putting a scar on his resume very early in his young career as a general manager. 

    The Jets will have to find a balance between giving Winters a chance to win the job outright without forcing him into the lineup at the cost of the team's performance.

Is Nick Folk Worth the Premium Price?

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    Coming off his best season yet in New York, kicker Nick Folk is arguably the Jets' most important free agent this year. 

    Having missed just three field goals and responsible for a handful of late, game-winning kicks to give the Jets a season to ruin in the first place, Folk has earned the right to a raise that would make his salary above the league minimum. 

    As important as Folk was last year, giving him the money he will be looking for is not as easy of a decision as it would seem. Kickers can be unpredictable from year to year, as a few missed kicks can destroy a kicker's confidence in a matter of weeks. 

    Paying premium money for a kicker also takes away cap room that could be used on another position. With so many needs to fill, sing valuable resources on special teams is a bit of a head-scratcher.