6 Big Splashes in Free Agency the Jets Could Realistically Make

Ryan Alfieri@Ryan_AlfieriCorrespondent IIIJanuary 30, 2014

6 Big Splashes in Free Agency the Jets Could Realistically Make

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    For the first time in a long time, the Jets are set up to be significant players in free agency this offseason. Several of the biggest names on the market could be in play as they try to fill their (many) needs. 

    There will be an emphasis on upgrading a group of skill position players that is as barren as any in the league, but there are also several holes on defense that must be addressed. Otherwise, general manager John Idzik will risk entering the draft needing to fill open spots with overdrafted rookies—a recipe for disaster. 

    Here is a list of top-end free agents the Jets may be in the running for this March.

Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos

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    The first order of business for the Jets is to shore up their depleted wide receiver corps, and they may start at the top of the free agency list with Broncos' wideout Eric Decker

    Decker has been a productive player for the Broncos since he was drafted in 2010, but there is a legitimate concern surrounding him that it is no coincidence that he posted the best statistical seasons with Peyton Manning throwing to him.

    While Manning certainly played a role in Decker's production in 2012 and 2013, he did manage to rack up 613 yards and eight touchdowns with Tim Tebow under center in 2011, which, considering the circumstances, is almost a more impressive feat than his 1,288 yards this past season.

    Still, without any dominant physical traits the make him a truly "elite" player, Decker remains as an ideal No. 2 receiver who will have the statistical leverage to fetch a contract worthy of a "No. 1" receiver. 

    He won't be cheap, but even if the Jets are willing to overpay for Decker, he would be a massive upgrade over anything they currently have on the roster regardless of his cap number.

Dennis Pitta, TE Baltimore Ravens

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    Assuming the New Orleans Saints are smart enough to keep Jimmy Graham off the open market, Dennis Pitta is the top receiving tight end in this year's class of free agent tight ends.

    Pitta eased any concerns regarding his effectiveness after suffering a dislocated hip in training camp, catching 20 passes in the final four games of the season for 169 yards, including a touchdown.

    Pitta almost raised his value as much by not playing at all, as the Ravens fielded one of the most stagnant offenses in the league without their stud tight end to help them move the chains. The Ravens finished 29th in total offense with Pitta missing 12 games.

    He leaves a little bit to be desired as a blocker, but there is no question that he would be a huge upgrade as a receiving threat over anything the Jets had on the roster last year. He won't be cheap by any means, but given the Jets' massive needs at the position (and cap maneuverability), the Jets should consider paying the premium for Pitta's services.

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

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    If the Jets are looking for a (relatively) low-risk, high-reward free agent receiver, Jeremy Maclin is their man.

    Maclin had all but established himself as one of the best young receivers in the game that was set to cash in in free agency this year, but an ACL tear early in training camp ruined his chances of getting maximum value for his production. 

    However, the good news regarding Maclin's injury is that it happened early enough in the season that he will have had plenty of time to heal up before the 2014 season starts. Maclin also has slightly more value to the Jets because of his connection to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who coached Maclin in Philadelphia prior to coming to the Jets.

    Still, ACL injuries are unpredictable in terms of how quickly players are able to fully recover from them (if at all). Even with the extra time to rehab, Maclin carries with him a significant amount of risk. 

    Jets can sign Maclin to an incentive-laced contract that protects them in case Maclin can no longer be the player he once was. He could turn out to be a bargain buy for the receiver-needy Jets. 

Jarius Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills

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    In truth, the Jets have much bigger issues on their roster to go after the most expensive safety on the market, at least right away.

    However, if the Jets lose out on enough of their targeted free agents at other positions, making a run at Byrd could help alleviate the damage. 

    Jarius Byrd has established himself as one of the best free safeties in the league, and he is not going to be cheap with 22 career interceptions to his name since 2009. According to Pro Football Focus, Byrd was the eighth-best safety in the league in 2013.

    Adding Byrd would not only be an upgrade over Antonio Allen and Dawan Landry at safety, but it will allow Allen to move into his more natural position at strong safety. In a sense, adding Byrd would make the Jets better at two positions.

    While he would be a desperate, last-ditch effort to add playmakers to the roster, the Jets will have the cap room to make such an aggressive move to upgrade their secondary.

Jason Worilds, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Despite the fact that one of their incumbent starting outside linebackers, Calvin Pace, is coming off one of the best statistical seasons of his career (10.5 sacks), the Jets cannot put all of their eggs in the 33-year-old's basket. 

    Pace may have had double-digit sacks for the first time in his career, but it was not a result of him playing at a dominant level. While he was certainly better against both the run and pass than his dreadful 2012 campaign, most of his sacks can be attributed to either good coverage or him just being in the right place at the right time.

    Jason Worilds is not the most dominant pass rusher in the league who will rack up sack totals, but he can get consistent pressure on the quarterback without relying on stellar coverage on the back end. The Virginia Tech product has seen his sack totals increase every year, notching eight in 2013.

    Worilds, however, separates himself from some of the other free agent options in his versatility, which is an essential trait to have in Rex Ryan's defense. Worilds is an above-average zone pass defender and can run with most running backs while covering the sidelines.

    Worilds won't necessarily be cheap, but he won't command the type of cap room that someone like Brian Orakpo will. Worilds would be an excellent "splurge" that won't prevent the Jets from attacking other positions in free agency.

Brent Grimes, CB, Miami Dolphins

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    Brent Grimes was set to get a huge payday, but an Achilles tear during the 2012 season forced him to take a one-year "prove it" deal with the Miami Dolphins to convince the football world that he was capable of returning to Pro-Bowl form.

    After finishing as the second-best cornerback in the NFL (behind Darrelle Revis) in Pro Football Focus' rankings, Grimes has nothing left to prove. In fact, he may get even better as he becomes further and further removed from his Achilles injury.

    If the Jets wind up releasing Antonio Cromartie to avoid a $14.98 million cap hit, they will have a huge hole at the cornerback position opposite Dee Milliner—and some newfound cap space to fill it. 

    Grimes will be the most expensive cornerback on the market, but adding a player of his caliber will give the Jets one of the best cornerback tandems in the league. That is, of course, assuming that Milliner develops into the caliber of player the Jets are counting on him to be.

    Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required). Salary cap information provided by spotrac.com.