Dec 28, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New York Jets inside linebacker David Harris (52) sacks Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) in the first quarter at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Jets have completed half of their rebuild, so the 2018 offseason will make or break the Todd Bowles/Mike Maccagnan regime.
It’s normally inappropriate to talk about next year if the current season hasn’t started, but I’m doing it anyway. The New York Jets are in a two-year rebuild and they aren’t ready to compete yet. Barring a monstrous leap from Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg, Gang Green is destined for a top-five draft pick in April.
General manager Mike Maccagnan didn’t make enough splashes in free agency to get the team into immediate contention. The signings of Morris Claiborne, Kelvin Beachum, Josh McCown, Quinton Patton and Chandler Catanzaro make sense, although they won’t win you football games. It’s obvious that he’s trying to build through the draft and this year’s class gives fans a reason to be excited.
They overhauled the safety position by drafting Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye in Rounds 1 and 2. To address the receiving core which was hurting entering the offseason, they grabbed ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen. Maccagnan rounded out the rest of the class with tight end Jordan Leggett, edge rusher Dylan Donahue, running back Elijah McGuire and cornerbacks Jeremy Clark and Derrick Jones.
Given the brutal 2017 schedule and roster holes, 2018 will be the more important year. They’ll have their chance to complete the rebuild and compete for a playoff berth like they did in 2015. Now is clearly not the time. Without further ado, here are the top five positions they’ll need to address next spring to make it happen.
Next: Honorable mention - Cornerback
Oct 17, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) catches the ball as New York Jets cornerback Marcus Williams (20) defends during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Honorable mention – Cornerback
The addition of Claiborne and the two draftees was a step in the right direction, however, New York’s long-term cornerback situation is murky. Buster Skrine will most likely be gone after 2017 and Marcus Williams isn’t the strongest of No. 2s. We also don’t know if Juston Burris is ready to start or if anyone else is capable.
Even if Williams or Burris were to become reliable on the outside, the Jets need another quality guy. Claiborne is on a one-year deal and Maccagnan could let him walk if he regresses or cannot stay healthy. Skrine must be replaced as well.
The unit essentially hinges on Claiborne’s production. If he falls on his face, cornerback all of a sudden becomes an enormous hole. In a nightmare scenario, New York may need to replace him and also find a CB2 if Williams/Burris fail to impress.
Next: 5. Tight end
December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Clemson Tigers tight end Jordan Leggett (16) against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
5. Tight end
If you think Leggett instantly solves Gang Green’s dilemma at tight end, then you’re sadly mistaken. He did slide considering the third-round grade some scouts had on him, but no fifth-rounder is the solution to any roster hole. If he does develop into the team’s answer, it’ll take time.
Leggett will have his crack because of the lack of talent at the position. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Braedon Bowman, Eric Tomlinson, Jason Vander Laan, Brian Parker and Anthony Firkser won’t cut into his playing time too much. With Seferian-Jenkins suspended for the first two games, Leggett is a lock to open the year as the starter.
The Jets will still have to acquire a tight end in 2018 who can make an impact right off the bat. Whether it’s through free agency or the first two rounds of the draft, New York’s young quarterback needs that big security blanket. Leggett won’t be that guy, at least right away.
Next: 4. Inside linebacker
Nov 6, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New York Jets middle linebacker David Harris (52) tackles Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. The Miami Dolphins defeat the New York Jets 27-23. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
4. Inside linebacker
It’s surprising that David Harris is as valuable as he is at 33 years of age. It’d also be surprising if he played beyond 2017. With that being said, the Jets have to find a way to replace him next offseason because the position isn’t deep, to begin with.
The current inside linebackers on the roster are Darron Lee, Bruce Carter, Randell Johnson, Connor Harris and Austin Calitro. Lee is the only true starter while Carter played predominately special teams in 2016. Maccagnan would be hard pressed to leave Lee stranded with no partner in crime.
What the Jets should do is find a guy on day two of the draft like they did with Demario Davis in 2012. The former third-rounder molded into a tackling machine by his sophomore season and became a major piece of New York’s run defense. Replacing Harris has to be high on the to-do list.
Next: 3. Running back
3. Running back
Like Harris, Matt Forte won’t be around much longer. The veteran was signed last offseason as Chris Ivory‘s replacement and showed he’s running on fumes. After a hot start, he battled injuries until the year’s end and found himself playing less than Bilal Powell.
Powell is one of the more underrated backs in the league who can hurt defenses in a variety of ways, although he’s no bell cow. Elijah McGuire, on the other hand, is a complementary back at best later on in his career. The Jets got decent value on him in the sixth round, but they shouldn’t expect much in the next two seasons.
Maccagnan has to decide whether he wants a workhorse or someone who can co-exist with Powell. When it’s all said and done, it may depend on what happens at quarterback. Gang Green won’t invest in a lead back if they find the face of their franchise under center.
Next: 2. Wide receiver
Oct 23, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (81) runs for a touchdown after catching a pass from Geno Smith (not shown) during the first half of their game against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
2. Wide receiver
New York did the right thing by letting go of Brandon Marshall. He was making too much for the amount of production he was giving the offense. Unfortunately, the same might be done with Eric Decker in 2018 when you consider his age and $9M cap hit.
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If Maccagnan is mulling the decision to cut him now, then he’d absolutely pull the trigger in March. Quincy Enunwa could be in his final year in green and white as well. It’d be a mistake to let him walk, however, it’s possible given all the roster needs of the Jets.
This is one of the Jets’ most concerning positions at the moment and it’s only getting worse. If I’m Maccagnan, I’d spend big money in free agency on multiple wideouts like Philadelphia did. Gang Green is expected to have over $60M in cap space according to Over The Cap, so this is possible.
Next: 1. Quarterback
December 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty (9) during the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. The Jets defeated the 49ers 23-17 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
New York has needed a franchise quarterback since the fall of Mark Sanchez. When next offseason arrives, it’ll mark six years of turmoil at the position. Yes, Ryan Fitzpatrick had himself quite the campaign in 2015, but we all know how it concluded.
The Jets are in a spot to land one of the best quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft class unless Petty or Hackenberg emerge as the future. Neither has shown any glimpses of promise in their time with the team which makes this unlikely. New York might as well reserve their top-five pick and get a scouting head start.
Maccagnan’s job is on the line here. Whether the Jets pick first overall or by some miracle outside of the top 10, they have to do whatever they can to get one of the best quarterbacks in the class in the building. Enough with the free agent signings and mid-round picks, get your franchise quarterback at the very top.