Breaking Down New York Jets' Thinnest Positions at Start of Free Agency
The New York Jets are at a juncture where they're capable of building a formidable 53-man roster that can compete for playoff berth in the 2014 season. General manager John Idzik has money to burn but it remains somewhat unlikely for the Jets to fill each roster void with 'A' free agents this offseason.
Idzik values the draft as the engine that will enable the Jets to sustain success over the long haul. New York won't suddenly adopt a "win-now" approach in 2014, rather, it will continue to build for the future. The most vital aspect of the Jets' offseason is acquiring new talent on offense, but they must also address a few key positional units on defense.
The Jets' reloading plan required parting with certain veterans, who were integrated proponents of the team's past successes. New York is equipped with the resources needed to become a high-caliber team next season. It's approximately $40 million under the reported $133 million NFL salary cap for the 2014 season. Now, it's time to execute.
The following slideshow examines the Jets thinnest positions on the depth chart at the start of free agency:
(All salary cap numbers are courtesy of OvertheCap.com)
Depth Chart: Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson, Greg Salas, Saalim Hakim
The Jets saved an additional $8.25 million of cap space when they released former No. 1 wideout Santonio Holmes earlier this week. Holmes was an integral part of teams that reached consecutive AFC title games but was an essential non-factor over the past two seasons. The former Super Bowl MVP has recorded just 43 receptions for 728 yards in 15 games since the start of the 2012 season.
His inability to stay on the field was a problem. As he continues to age, his injury issues will likely worsen. Holmes is no longer a top-tier wideout, nor is he a consistently productive player. The Jets will now look to acquire a dependable No. 2 receiver who can complement Kerley and Nelson. It's not definitive that New York will be able to attain a true No. 1 this offseason, although that void will likely be addressed via the draft.
The upcoming draft features a ton of Pro Bowl potential at receiver. At No. 18 overall, the Jets will assuredly miss out on former Clemson vertical threat Sammy Watkins and Texas A&M big-bodied target Mike Evans. They should have a chance to take either Oregon State speedster Brandin Cooks or Southern California downfield target Marqise Lee, though.
Depth Chart: Jeff Cumberland, Zach Sudfeld, Chris Pantale
According to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, the Jets have officially inked tight end Jeff Cumberland to a three-year, $5.7 million deal. The deal was previously publicized as a $3.7 million contract.
Cumberland will readopt his preordained role as a No. 2 tight end in 2014. He suffered some concussion-like issues last season and never truly had the ability to showcase his skills as the top player at his position on the depth chart.
Cumberland doesn't appear to have the pass-catching skills needed to be a No. 1 tight end. He recorded 26 receptions for 398 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. He averaged a solid 15.3 yards per reception and ranked as one of the most efficient yards-after-catch tight ends in the NFL, but he isn't a succinct route-runner. He also doesn't possess the speed needed to gain separation from linebackers.
The Jets currently boast three tight ends on their depth chart, but they need to acquire a legitimate starting-caliber player to solidify the position. The team is expected to have interest in acquiring Detroit Lions' TE Brandon Pettigrew, according to Dom Cosentino of NJ.com.
Pettigrew would be a solid addition to the Jets' passing game. He recorded 41 catches for 416 yards and two touchdowns last season but was shadowed on offense because of the Lions' heavy emphasis on getting the ball to Pro Bowl wideout Calvin Johnson.
New York could potentially look to the draft to fill its need at tight end, although it seems more likely for it to target a future No. 1 receiver in the first round, as opposed to ideally selecting North Carolina TE Eric Ebron or Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro.
Depth Chart: Dee Milliner, Kyle Wilson, Ellis Lankster, Darrin Walls, Nick Taylor
The Jets refrained from the idea of reworking Antonio Cromartie's contract for the 2014 season, specifically because the former No. 1 corner has surpassed his prime. According to ProFootballFocus, Cromartie ranked as the 103rd most efficient cornerback in the NFL last season.
Cromartie managed to play in all 16 games in 2013 but was forced to deal with nagging injuries. He previously owned the biggest cap number of the Jets' roster at $14.98 million. Unloading his contract saved the team roughly $9.5 million.
Cutting ties with Cromartie left a gaping void in the Jets' secondary, a primary personnel priority this offseason. New York allowed opposing quarterbacks to register a cumulative 86.5 QB rating in 2013, while also giving up a total of 26 touchdown passes. Its middling secondary must be addressed this spring in order for the Jets to become the most formidable defense in the NFL next season.
The Jets have been linked to a pair of top-tier cornerbacks on the open market, both of whom would greatly improve the team's secondary. According to Brian Costello of the NY Post, Tennessee Titans' CB Alterraun Verner sees the Jets as a possible fit. Verner recorded 49 tackles, five interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2013. At 25 years old, he's just now entering his prime.
Indianapolis Colts' CB Vontae Davis has also been linked to the Jets, according to Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net (h/t Twitter). Davis mirrors the style of play head coach Rex Ryan likes his defensive backs to possess. He's a physical defender who sustains shutdown ability. Acquiring either Davis or Verner would add stability and depth to the Jets' thin pool of cornerbacks.
Depth Chart: Calvin Pace, Quinton Coples, Garrett McIntyre
The Jets need to shore up their pass rush on the edge this offseason. It's possible for the team to look toward re-signing veteran Calvin Pace to a one-year deal, but they will presumably look to get younger at that position, specifically through the draft.
Pace had a fantastic 2013 season, registering 10.0 sacks after earning reprieve from the season prior. At 33 years old, Pace isn't part of the Jets' long-term plan for success.
According to Pauline of DraftInsider.net (h/t Twitter), the Jets would be willing to bring Pace back on a one-year deal. The Jets' 11-year veteran has been solid over six seasons. He's demonstrated an ability to be dependable, starting all 16 games over the past three seasons. He flashed serious signs of being able to maintain a high level of productivity on the field in 2013 and could perhaps become a valuable proponent for a championship-ready team.
New York is far from being ready to compete for a championship. Pace is at the juncture of his career where chasing a ring could take priority over a big payday. A possible draft option includes Georgia Tech outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, who should be available in the third round where the Jets will likely look to bolster their defense.