2016 NFL Free Agency: Top 10 players NY Jets should target

Dec 6, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) stiff arms Atlanta Falcons strong safety Kemal Ishmael (36) during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay defeated Atlanta 23-19. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) stiff arms Atlanta Falcons strong safety Kemal Ishmael (36) during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay defeated Atlanta 23-19. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Dec 6, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) stiff arms Atlanta Falcons strong safety Kemal Ishmael (36) during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay defeated Atlanta 23-19. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The NY Jets have plenty of holes to fill via free agency this offseason. With the right free agent acquisitions, they will be in a good position to push the envelope in 2016.

The Jets only have one signed running back on the roster right now. So, that position should be a top priority. The Jets also had the fewest catches, yards and touchdowns from tight ends in the NFL this season. This means they will need a pass catcher at that spot, even though some believe Quincy Enunwa will fill that role next season, and they will most likely be cutting both starters from the right side of the offensive line.

The key dates this offseason are today (Feb. 16) and on Mar. 7 at 4:00pm Eastern Time. That is the time period in which teams have to designate their franchise tags. This list will be largely dependent on that, and is fluid, but as of now here are the top ten pending free agents the Jets should target which also includes a few of their own that are eligible to hit the market.

Next: 10. Triple-threat running back

September 3, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Reggie Bush (23) warms up before a preseason game against the San Diego Chargers at Levi

10. Reggie Bush

Bush has had a productive NFL career by many standards, but he came into the league with higher expectations. His production has been inconsistent at best, from a yardage perspective, which is the reason he was drafted number two overall.

He has four seasons with 1,000 yards from scrimmage in his career, including 53 total touchdowns. In his second through fifth seasons, his numbers precipitously dropped, though.

From 2011-2013, he gained 4,172 yards and had 22 touchdowns, but in the last two seasons he only has 597 yards and two touchdowns. So, there’s no reason to think if he is used in the Bilal Powell role, that he can’t produce.

He can also be used as a returner, which gives the Jets a player that fills multiple needs. Even though he’s 30 years old, I think he still has good days ahead of him.

Next: 9. Returner and receiver depth

Oct 4, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Percy Harvin (18) during the game against the New York Giants at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

9. Percy Harvin

I know we have been down this road before. The Jets had Percy Harvin at one point, and the production he gave them didn’t warrant the money he was going to command.

Now, he’s not going to command much money on this market, and it’s a perfect scenario for the Jets, because they can kill two birds with one stone. They can add depth to their receiver corps while adding a much needed return man to a special teams unit that is in dire need of one.

The role he’s going to fill won’t command much money, and the Jets are in “salary cap purgatory.” If they make the prudent moves, they can get out of there with the right players they need and still enough to sign their draft picks to add to the veteran core.

Harvin is still just 27 years old, and he has a lot to prove. It’s a combination of a cheap player with talent who can produce, perfect timing to reunite with him on the Jets.

Next: 8. Help up front

Jan 9, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andre Smith (71) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during a AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

8. Andre Smith Denver proved one thing this season, that the old adage of winning in the trenches holds true. Their offensive line was the biggest key to their success, and on defense, the interior defensive line allowed their linebackers to wreak havoc, especially in the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl 50.

The website Football Outsiders uses a metric called Adjusted Line Yards to measure the efficiency of the offensive line and running attack. Here’show they break it down:

Teams are ranked according to Adjusted Line Yards. Based on regression analysis, the Adjusted Line Yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages: Losses: 120% value 0-4 Yards: 100% value 5-10 Yards: 50% value 11+ Yards: 0% value

According to Football Outsiders, the Cincinnati Bengals were number one in AYL in the NFL in 2015. They were also No. 9 in AYL on runs off of the right tackle position.

Smith is a right tackle the Jets should target, after he manned the right tackle position on the best offensive line in football. They will be cutting the entire right side of the o-line this offseason, and Smith is the best available target on the free agent market.

Next: 7. Former Pro Bowl tight end

Dec 22, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham (84) makes a catch during the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

7. Jermaine Gresham It’s hard to look at someone who produced early in his career and say he couldn’t do that again, especially given the right circumstances. Gresham had high production in Cincinnati, especially in terms of touchdowns.

He had at least four touchdowns in each of his first five seasons in the NFL, totaling 24. In his first three seasons he averaged 90 targets, 57 receptions, 10.5 yards per catch and 5 touchdowns, which led to his two Pro Bowl appearances in 2011 and 2012.

However in the last three seasons, when he hasn’t been the primary pass catching tight end, he has averaged 60 targets, 42 receptions, nine yards per catch and three touchdowns, with career lows in all major statistical categories in 2015. This will allow the Jets to keep his contact number low, while also being able to find a role for him on offense.

The Jets tend to use the fullback/tight end combination rather than the two tight end set commonly employed by Cincinnati. So, Gresham could find a home in this offense, and get back to his early Cincinnati form.

Next: 6. An MVP pass rusher

super bowl 50
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Jan 24, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) is sacked by Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) in the second half in the AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

6. Von Miller

Miller won the MVP in Super Bowl 50, and he will be a pried commodity, if he even hits the free agent market this spring. The big if is why he’s only number 6 on the list. He’d normally be higher, but Denver will most likely give him the franchise tag.

With that being said, if he were to hit the market, the Jets should pursue him and do everything but back up the Brinks truck for him to come to MetLife stadium. Miller has proven to be a ferocious and almost unstoppable pass rusher during his entire career.

In all but one season he played and started in at least 15 games, which shows he has the durability to last. In all four of those seasons he posted double digit sacks for a total of 60 for his career. He has also added 17 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and an interception.

Miller showed his impact in the big game when he earned the MVP of the Super Bowl, becoming only the fourth linebacker and 10th defensive player ever to garner the honor. He had 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. To have him on the Jets would be huge.

Next: 5. Bonafide running back

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Nov 15, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Rolando McClain (55) chases Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) during the first quarter of a football game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

5. Doug Martin The Jets aren’t just in need of a running back; they need an explosive every down back who can not only break it wide open on the outside, but also give them the tough yards inside. For two of his first four seasons, Martin showed he could be that guy.

Unfortunately the two season in the middle hurt him in this market, because he’s 27 years old, which means he is slowly approaching the magical age for running backs (30), and he already has had injury problems. That may actually help the Jets, because they are in salary cap purgatory this offseason.

For salary cap purposes, incentives fall under two categories, likely to be earned (LTBE) and unlikely to be earned (ULTBE). If it it ULTBE, then, Martin would actually have to reach the incentive for it to count against the salary cap.

This gives the Jets the leg up, and they can use incentives to lessen the load of his contract, based on the injury history. His fumbles from last season are also a problem that can be worked out in the contract.

Next: 4. Dual threat option from Chicago

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Jan 3, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) runs against Detroit Lions outside linebacker Josh Bynes (57) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (92) in the second half of their game at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

4. Matt Forte Before targeting a free agent coming into your team, you should always work on signing your own free agents first. Forte is the final player that is coming from another roster on this list.

Forte could fill a void left if Bilal Powell searches for greener pastures after his breakout season. He isn’t just a runner, but he is a very capable pass catcher out of the backfield.

In his career, Forte has gained 1,000+ yards from scrimmage in each of his eight seasons in the NFL, including rushing for 1,000+ yards in five of those seasons. He has also had 64 touchdowns with three double digit touchdown seasons.

He has showed some signs of aging this season, missing three games. However, despite being 30 years old, he hasn’t shown enough signs of aging to completely write him off.

Next: 3. A Jet worth keeping

Dec 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (29) celebrates his touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (29) celebrates his touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Dec 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets running back Bilal Powell (29) celebrates his touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

3. Bilal Powell Chris Ivory will more than likely want a big money/long-term contract but the Jets aren’t in a position to do so. It makes sense for them to let him walk and focus on re-signing Powell. Despite a solid, but realtively unproductive first four seasons, the Jets were patient and stuck with Powell, and it paid off. It took five seasons, but Powell had his best season last year, and he found his niché.

Despite only totaling 701 yards and three touchdowns, the numbers didn’t tell the whole story. He was a quality security blanket for Ryan Fitzpatrick, he gained the tough yards, and he gained the crucial yards and touchdowns.

With that being said, Powell is 27 years old, and it could be his final contract of consequence. He had one great season, and that shouldn’t be where the Jets’ thinking should be, because he may command too much money.

The Jets need to be prudent with their cap space this season, because they only have around $8M to work with as of right now. They will make the necessary space, and at the right price, they should also re-sign Powell over Ivory.

Next: 2. The bearded wonder

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Dec 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) throws a pass during the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

2. Ryan Fitzpatrick

There is no question as to what the most important position on a football field is, the quarterback. Fitzpatrick proved that this season by having his best season of his career, and he was given that opportunity by IK Enemkpali after he punched Geno Smith leaving him with a broken jaw.

Fitzpatrick proved that when you put the right pieces around him that he can perform, and he did so in 2015 by setting career highs in yards and touchdowns while also becoming the first Jets’ quarterback to throw for 30 touchdowns in one season. However, he did come up small when the pressure was mounted on him the highest, throwing three interceptions against Buffalo, and his three worst performances came in games the Jets should have won against Philadelphia, Houston and Buffalo (twice) throwing 10 of his 15 interceptions.

I will admit to you that I want Fitzpatrick back and I think he deserves to come back, at the right price.  However, I have those feelings with trepidation knowing that Jets may have to be all-in for 2016, the schedule will be tough, and two-thirds of his interceptions came in 25% of the schedule.

Without that glaring information, he’d be number one on my list and going into training camp as the clear number one quarterback.  They should re-sign him knowing that there has to be a competition for the starting quarterback role, though.

Next: 1. The best defensive player on the Jets

Nov 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) celebrates his sack of Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (not shown) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

1. Muhammad Wilkerson

The Jets’ defense was amazing this season. They forced 30 turnovers, had 39 sacks, and Wilkerson was their best pass rusher with 12 sacks; and he’s going to cash in big this offseason.

The Jets can’t allow this offseason to go by without at least franchise tagging Wilkerson. This will allow them to work out a long-term deal while not letting him go elsewhere.

More jets: NY Jets 2015 Spotlight: Antonio Cromartie

Considering the Jets are in win-now mode, Wilkerson needs to be their primary target. Even though players don’t like the franchise tag, the Jets have no other options if they can’t work out a long term deal soon.

The turnovers resulted from the line getting pressure, and Wilkerson was the best at generating pressure. If the Jets can’t land Wilkerson, then it will be a rebuilding team much quicker than anticipated, and it could be the beginning of bad times ahead.