The New York Jets have much to address this offseason. With boatloads of free agent cash and a strong draft position, this organization has a rare opportunity to rebuild and retool. Here’s a five-point plan on how to get the job done.
The New York Jets can “check off all the boxes” in terms of various Kirk Cousins concerns (maximum money, potent defense, offensive philosophy). But assume that the Michigan-bred Cousins will opt for life in Middle America — Minnesota, Denver or Cleveland, before suburban New York.
Due to the alarm clock issues of Muhammad Wilkerson, the aging of Matt Forte, and the gross inefficiencies of Ben Ijalana and Wesley Johnson, the Jets will have north of $90 million to spend in free agency. That’s like manna from heaven for this starving gridiron franchise.
Mike Maccagnan and his staff then go into April’s draft that is very deep in RBs, CBs, QB, and O-linemen — all Jets deficits. Last season, there was no urgency to produce — this year, the front office has run out of excuses.
The rebuilding process began this weekend at the 2018 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Here is a 5-point plan to return this beleaguered franchise to playoff contention in 2018 and beyond.
Next: 5. Take It On The Run
5. Take It On The Run
Overview: Last draft, the Jets locked down their safety position with first-rounder Jamal Adams and second-rounder Marcus Maye — though the latter may one day be the better pro. But at cornerback, beyond an unrestricted free agent and a situational nickel-back, they’ve got nothing but question marks, allowing a ghastly 60 TDs over the past two seasons.
Sign/Draft: Ignore the chatter about overspending on Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler, the Jets should go after E.J. Gaines, Bashaud Breeland — or better yet, Tyrann Mathieu, a multi-faceted defender, down with Adams, and linked to Todd Bowles through his child with Coach’s step-daughter. On Day One they could draft freakishly athletic Josh Jackson or explosive Pacman Jones-ish Denzel Ward. There are also NFL-ready corners on Day Two — UCF’s Mike Hughes or Louisville’s Jaire Alexander — or early Day Three: SDSU’s Kameron Kelly and Virginia Tech’s Brandon Facyson.
Re-sign/Retain: Morris Claiborne flashed the shutdown cornerback skills expected of him in Dallas, and he should get paid handsomely in free agency — hopefully by the Jets. Buster Skrine should be retained if he only plays in nickel packages. Darryl Roberts may be this team’s best corner, in terms of coverage, tackling and avoiding dumb penalties.
Sleepers/Fallers: There are nice young corners to plug-in, be it the highly rated Jeremy Clark, last year’s UDFA camp fave Xavier Coleman, and the previous year’s Doug Middleton. Those battling for their Jets futures include Juston Burris, Rashard Robinson, Derrick Jones; and Rontez Miles.
Next: 4. The Magnificent Seven
4. The Magnificent Seven
Overview: The Jets’ formerly ferocious front-seven ranked 24th against the run in 2017. The organization must address such glaring needs, as well as the many unfilled holes at linebacker.
Sign/Draft: The signing of run-stuffing DT Star Lotulelei could anchor this line for the next half-decade, but a lateral move like Redskins DE/OLBs Trent Murphy or Junior Galette may be more viable. In the draft they can take DE Bradley Chubb (NC State) or OLB Tremaine Edmunds (Va. Tech) on Day One, or edge-rushers in Day Two — Dorrance Armstrong (Kansas), Darius Leonard (SC State) — or Day Three: Lorenzo Carter (Georgia) or Nathan Shepherd (Ft. Hays State). Senior Bowl standout Bilal Nichols (Delaware) is an underrated late-round DT talent.
Re-sign/Retain: The GM pulled a preseason heist last season, trading bust Calvin Pryor for a rejuvenated Demario Davis, a defensive leader who must now be re-signed. They also must bring back ’17 surprises Kony Ealy, Xavier Cooper and David Bass. There’s something to build around between Leonard Williams, Steve McLendon, Jordan Jenkins, and an out-of-position Darron Lee.
Sleepers/Fallers: Expect more big things from high-motor small-program LBs Josh Martin (Columbia), Julian Stanford (Wagner), and OLB Dylan Donahue (Western Georgia). Jets needing to address their job security include Mike Pennel, Deon Simon, Lorenzo Mauldin, Bruce Carter, and Freddie Bishop.
Next: 3. Pass It Around
3. Pass It Around
Overview: Where to begin? The league’s 28th-ranked offense needs a major talent upgrade this offseason at all skill positions: quarterbacks, receivers and running backs.
Sign/Draft: If the Jets whiff on Cousins, they should take a flyer on Teddy Bridgewater. Even so, they need to address the QB position on Day One with Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Day Two with Western Kentucky’s Mike White, or Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, or early Day Three on Marshall’s Chase Litton or Memphis’ Riley Ferguson. Days Two offers gems at WR (Clemson’s Deon Cain, Memphis’ Anthony Miller) and RB (Georgia’s Nick Chubb, SDSU’s Rashaad Penney), as does Day Three with Southern Mississippi’s Korey Robinson, or Northern Iowa’s Maurice Fountain, and Iowa’s Akrum Wadley and Grambling’s Martez Carter.
Re-sign/Retain: The return of Josh McCown, coupled with signing Bridgewater and drafting Mayfield would give the Jets one of the best QB crews in the league. In terms of high impact ballers, the franchise needs to extend Jermaine Kearse, endure Robby Anderson, and give the damn ball to Bilal Powell!
Sleepers/Fallers: Expect an offensive injection from a 2018 combination of Quincy Enunwa, Chad Hansen, and scatback Elijah McGuire. Young receivers ArDarius Stewart, Devin Smith, and Charone Peake, still have a great deal to prove.
Next: 2. The Last in Line
2. The Last in Line
Overview: Today’s QBs complain about relentless pressure up the middle — and only four other teams had a worst sack percentage than Gang Green. At tight end, they’ve got a troubled possible star receiver and a monster sixth-lineman, but what they need is a blend of the two skill sets.
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Sign/Draft: Panthers guard Andrew Norwell would be worth the overspend — as would Ravens center Ryan Jensen, in terms of his gritty young professionalism. If they sign a vet QB, they could nab a generational lineman in Notre Dame OG Quenton Nelson.
More likely is in Day Two or early Day Three, be it a NFL-ready center like Iowa’s James Daniels or Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow, or one of the many road-grading tackles, like Pittsburgh’s Brian O’Neill, UCLA’s Kolton Miller, Mississippi State’s Martinas Rankin or Western Georgia’s Desmond Harrison.
Re-sign/Retain: Despite a see-saw season, Austin-Seferian-Jenkins is this team’s best TE in aeons, and must return to the fold. Guard James Carpenter is one of the Jets’ best players and should receive an extension. All other positions are up for grab.
Sleepers/Fallers: Expect 2018 input from versatile lineman Dakota Dozier and injured TE Jordan Leggett. It was smart and cap-friendly to let Ben Ijalana and Wesley Johnson test the free agent market. Monmouth TE Neal Sterling (6 receptions, 82 yards) could be on the outside looking in.
Next: 1. Kick in the Eye
1. Kick in the Eye
Overview: The kicker, punter, and long-snapper were not the problem last year. They’ve got few viable options in their 27th-ranked return game — besides some bright spots in coverage between Josh Martin, Bruce Carter and Charone Peake.
Sign/Draft: Free agent WR Donte Moncrief could be an inexpensive option for punts and kickoffs. Help for the return game could come Day Two with a corner like Mike Hughes (UCF) or receivers like Deon Cain and Dante Petit — or with the ultimate Day Three steal, Miami’s Braxton Berrios.
Re-sign/Retain: Kicker Chandler Catanzaro has earned his green-and-white return. He, punter Lachlan Edwards, and rookie snapper Thomas Hennessy lead the team’s most cohesive young unit moving forward.
Sleepers/Fallers: Any return man not named Jeremy Kerley, ArDarius Stewart, Jojo Natson, or Kalif Raymond would be a significant upgrade over 2017’s production. Unlucky ex-Cowboy Lucky Whitehead and the small Natson will spend training camp proving their NFL worth. So will most of the Jets players at minicamp and training camp during the work-up to the 2018 season.