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Predicting destinations of top 5 in-house free agents of the Jets

Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to pass during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to pass during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
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Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to pass during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets have blatant roster holes and minimal cap space. Luckily for them, they don’t have many valuable in-house free agents to retain.

The New York Jets are coming off yet another ugly season. Given the team’s dysfunction from top to bottom, five wins are truly stunning. It’s embarrassing at the same time because the roster is talented in several areas. To make matters worse, their cap room situation is one of the worst in the league.

The releasing of Breno Giacomini, Nick Folk, and Nick Mangold put Gang Green at $18.5M under the salary cap at that point in time. They were nearly $8M over earlier this month prior to the Ryan Clady departure. The only good news you can pull from this is the few in-house players they need to retain. New York does need to address their holes in free agency, although the Jets, fortunately, don’t have to dish out another Muhammad Wilkerson-like contract.

Last offseason, they made the hard decision in letting Damon Harrison go. “Snacks” was the best 3-4 nose tackle in the NFL and his transition to the Giants’ 4-3 scheme was as smooth as silk. Chris Ivory was another key cog in 2015 whom they had no other choice but to say goodbye to. Now Darrelle Revis was released and Brandon Marshall plus Sheldon Richardson could also be on their way out.

The Jets are in serious rebuild mode and they need all the cap space they can get. These overpaid guys simply have to go. The same goes for the pending free agents. Some will be a bargain to re-sign while the others New York will gladly let walk. Without further ado, here are destination and contract predictions for the team’s top five best in-house free agents.

Next: 5. Offensive Tackle Ben Ijalana

Dec 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New York Jets tackle Ben Ijalana (71) celebrates with kicker Nick Folk (2) and punter Lac Edwards (4) after Folk's field goal against the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter at Levi's Stadium. The New York Jets defeated the San Francisco 49ers 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New York Jets tackle Ben Ijalana (71) celebrates with kicker Nick Folk (2) and punter Lac Edwards (4) after Folk's field goal against the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter at Levi's Stadium. The New York Jets defeated the San Francisco 49ers 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New York Jets tackle Ben Ijalana (71) celebrates with kicker Nick Folk (2) and punter Lac Edwards (4) after Folk’s field goal against the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter at Levi’s Stadium. The New York Jets defeated the San Francisco 49ers 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

5. Offensive Tackle Ben Ijalana

New York had significant issues at tackle in 2016. Clady was sidelined for a majority of the year, Giacomini was banged up and rookie Brandon Shell was too raw to step in early. As a result, Ben Ijalana started on the left side for the remainder of the season. After years of sitting behind D’Brickashaw Ferguson, the former 2011 second-rounder got his first taste of protecting the quarterback’s blind side and it wasn’t pretty by any means.

Whether it was Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith or Bryce Petty, they were under constant pressure and it always seemed to come from that left side. Ijalana received an overall grade of 47.6 on Pro Football Focus which ranked 63rd out of the 82 offensive tackles who earned at least 300 snaps. He played far more snaps than the other tackles on the team with 867. His pass blocking grade of 49.2 and run block grade of 46.3 further explain his poor performance.

Despite what we saw from him this past season, he belongs back with the Jets in 2017. He should back up whoever general manager Mike Maccagnan decides to replace Clady with. A one-year deal should do the trick since he’s coming off of a bad year and still doing his best to prove himself. Look for him to rejoin the Jets and battle it out in training camp with the rest of the tackles. Gang Green did the same thing with Ijalana last spring. He could walk, but it’s highly unlikely.

Prediction: New York Jets, one-year deal worth $1M

Next: 4. Offensive Guard Wesley Johnson

Oct 30, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Jets offensive guard Wesley Johnson (76) during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Jets won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Jets offensive guard Wesley Johnson (76) during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Jets won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 30, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Jets offensive guard Wesley Johnson (76) during the second half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Jets won 31-28. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

4. Offensive Guard Wesley Johnson

Wesley Johnson has developed into a respectable lineman as a member of the Jets. He joined the practice squad in 2014 and he’s now the most versatile player on the offensive line. He can play either guard position and he can play center as we saw last year. The only question we have is if he can become a full-time starter in the NFL. He played well in 2016, but can he keep it up?

The 2014 fifth-rounder received an overall grade of 70.2 on PFF which ranked 35th of the 40 centers who earned at least 300 snaps. That may not seem impressive, however, he’s the last center with a 70 or above. The next ranked guy is Anthony Steen who received a 48.9. Johnson additionally received a pass blocking grade of 71.5. There’s some concern with his run blocking (55.5), although he has two stellar guards next to him in James Carpenter and Brian Winters who pave the holes.

Johnson is a restricted free agent, so this prediction is fairly easy. Given the releasing of Mangold, Gang Green obviously needs a starter. Johnson will remain in the ‘Big Apple’ for at least another season. Last year’s original-round tender was $1.671M and that price should be similar this offseason. The Jets would be hard-pressed not to keep Johnson on that number.

Prediction: New York Jets, original-round (fifth-round) RFA tender

Next: 3. Cornerback Marcus Williams

3. Cornerback Marcus Williams

What happened to Marcus Williams last year was really unfortunate. He thrived in 2015 and led the team in interceptions. A solid 2016 would’ve been his golden ticket to cash out in free agency. Instead, he played in 12 games because of a high-ankle sprain. He essentially played in only 10 games since he logged a combined six snaps against the Miami Dolphins in Week 9 and Buffalo Bills in Week 17.

In the games he did see the field, the North Dakota State graduate was productive as usual. PFF gave him an overall grade of 70.1 which ranked 70th out of the 113 cornerbacks who earned at least 300 snaps. He also received modest grades of 70.3 in coverage, 65.4 in run defense and 59.3 in pass rushing. The pass rushing grade isn’t too shabby considering he plays on the outside. He rounded out the campaign with 33 tackles, two interceptions, six pass deflections, a sack and a forced fumble.

Like Johnson, Williams is a restricted free agent. However, the fact that he was an undrafted free agent makes it unlikely the Jets give him an original-round tender. A team interested in him can sign him to an offer sheet and give New York no draft pick compensation. With that being said, you can look for him to be retained on a second-round tender ($2.553M in 2016). Williams is a good No. 2 corner, but no general manager is crazy enough to send the Jets a second-round pick to sign him.

Prediction: New York Jets, second-round RFA tender

Next: 2. Quarterback Geno Smith

Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to pass during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to pass during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to pass during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

2. Quarterback Geno Smith

Geno Smith had similar luck to Williams in 2016. He took over in the Week 7 matchup vs. Baltimore after six weeks of abysmal play from Fitzpatrick. In that game, he would tear his ACL and miss the rest of the season. The worst part of it all is that may have been his last opportunity to compete for a starting spot on a roster in 2017. A serious knee injury is never easy to recover from and his previous struggles on the field don’t help his cause either.

More from The Jet Press

Smith has 5,962 yards, 28 touchdowns and 36 interceptions on a 57.9 percent completion percentage in his first four years in the NFL. He also has 647 rushing yards and seven touchdowns which are impressive for a pocket passer. The interceptions are clearly what will steer teams away from bringing him in to compete for a starting job. His decision-making is the only thing holding him back from becoming a franchise quarterback.

The Jets must avoid bringing back Smith. They need to turn a new page at the quarterback position and he should be a part of the overhaul. Look for him to join a team in 2017 as a backup. He’ll definitely be on a roster because of his playmaking ability with both his arm and legs, but he’s not a starter. A one or two-year cheap deal with a contender is well within the realm of possibility. Anything more would be ridiculous.

Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers, two-year deal worth $6M

Next: 1. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick

Jan 1, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) looks to pass against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) looks to pass against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 1, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) looks to pass against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

1. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick

What more can you say about Fitzpatrick? He was sky-high in 2015 having by far the best year in his career until Week 17 where it all came crashing to an end. He threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter en route to Gang Green’s most painful regular season loss in recent memory. It seems he still hasn’t recovered from that bad quarter as 2016 was arguably his worst season ever.

He finished with 2,710 yards, 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions on a 56.6 percent completion percentage in 14 games. His passer rating was a 69.6 which was the lowest since his rookie campaign. He received an overall grade of 42.1 on PFF which ranked 33rd out of the 36 quarterbacks who earned at least 300 snaps. The $12M contract the Jets gave him in August now looks unbelievably stupid.

MUST READ: The absolute top 8 worst moments of 2016 by the Jets

At 34 years of age, Fitzpatrick is done as a starter in the league. Like Smith, he will most likely find a home as a backup in what could be his final season in the NFL. Journeymen quarterbacks tend to funnel out of the league by the time they reach 35, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the same happen to ‘Fitz.’ There are several teams who would sign him to provide a veteran presence and depth. He should be inexpensive as well.

Prediction: Dallas Cowboys, one-year deal worth $4M

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