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Thoughts on the Jets Heading into Free Agency

Posted Mar 10, 2014

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on newyorkjets.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the New York Jets organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Jets officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

On the eve of the start of NFL free agency, there are at least 10 teams with $20 million or more of salary cap space. As of this writing, after Sunday's release of Antonio Cromartie, outside sources peg the Jets at about $31 million under the cap, putting them in position to be a major player at the start of what could be an aggressive early market.

Every Jets fan wants to know what the team will do to address its needs on the offensive side of the ball, and after evaluating the draft-eligible players at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine, the answer seems clear to us. The early play should be to go after a wide receiver.

Yes, the draft is extremely deep at receiver, and yes, the Jets will likely be looking at some very talented pass catchers in the opening round of the draft, like USC’s Marqise Lee and LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr., guys with speed, skills and character.

Young, Veteran Wideouts

But the truth is they need more than one to address their needs at the position. The Jets should be looking for a young veteran receiver.

Denver’s Eric Decker is considered one of the top free agent receivers available, but he will command big dollars. While he is among the most productive receivers in the NFL over the past two years (172 receptions, 2,352 yards, 24 TDs), there are some questions about whether he is a true number one or just a product of a great offensive system. No disrespect to anyone playing QB for the Jets in 2014, but Peyton Manning isn’t wearing green and white these days.

So the question becomes: Are you willing to pay top dollar for that player? If not, players like Green Bay's James Jones (123 catches, 17 TDs over two seasons) and Baltimore's Jacoby Jones, who has averaged nearly 13 yards per catch over the past two years and adds value as a returner, could be more cost–effective options.

General manager John Idzik’s Seattle connections could have fans thinking about Golden Tate, whose numbers have been limited due to playing in a run-heavy offense, or Sidney Rice. Rice’s medical issues will most likely eliminate him from consideration, but don’t be surprised to see him in for a workout so Idzik can at least see how he’s developing.

In our book, the name to watch is Andre Roberts. The Cardinals' No. 3 is only 24 years old and stuck behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. But he gained over 750 yards as a starter in 2012 before No. 1 pick Floyd was handed the reins.

Other Offensive Areas

Many people are talking about the need at tight end. But with Jimmy Graham getting tagged and Dennis Pitta re-signing with the Ravens, you’re looking at Jermichael Finley, who has dealt with some scary medical issues, and Brandon Pettigrew, who has been panned in Detroit for his inconsistent hands, as the top free agent options.

We expect the Jets to address this need in the draft. Remember the name C.J. Fiedorowicz. The Iowa Hawkeye is 6'6" and 265 pounds, a physical and tenacious blocker, and a solid receiver with soft hands and the straight-line speed to threaten the seam. He’s not a flashy player, so he could still be available in Round 3.

In our opinion, there aren’t enough people talking about the Jets' needs on the offensive line. They should be looking for a guard or right tackle in free agency. Though Austin Howard played well at RT, he is getting interest around the league. Teams know about him now, and the word we’re hearing is that he’s a target for several teams, so the Jets need to be prepared to fill that spot. But the options are limited when you consider the age and production of the players available.

The top name at RT is probably Roger Saffold of St. Louis, and that’s due as much to his versatility (has played RT, LT, and G) as anything else. The team could consider re-signing Willie Colon, but the player we like is Jon Asamoah of the Chiefs, a third-round pick in 2010 who was a strong starter until losing his job under the new regime. A veteran with starting experience who is only 25 years old is a good buy in this market.

Thoughts on QB, Defense

Then there’s the elephant in the room. Do the Jets need a QB? The answers to that question range from yes to no and everything in between, depending on whom you ask. Here’s what we think. Idzik cannot afford to have Geno Smith fail, so our guess is that anyone who is brought in will not be coming into Florham Park to compete for the starting job, at least not in reality.

This is why a player like Josh McCown makes more sense than Michael Vick, despite media reports to the contrary. McCown gets it. He’s 34 years old, looking for another two to three years in the league and a decent payday coming off of a strong season in Chicago. He will be affordable for the Jets, and he will be willing to play the tutor role with the full understanding that he could be called on to step in.

Other considerations could be the non-threatening Rex Grossman, or a player like Tarvaris Jackson, who could step into the system without the coaches having to change a thing.

On defense, we’ll say it again: The need is for an edge pass rusher. Calvin Pace is coming off a 10-sack season, but the team will probably wait on him, and while they do, they could look at a player like LaMarr Woodley, who was a casualty of the cap problems in Pittsburgh. He has 18 sacks over the past three years and could be more productive in a pass-rushing role with the complement of players the Jets have on the interior of the defensive front.

Seattle’s Michael Bennett is free, as is the aging but still productive Shaun Phillips. Cincinnati’s Michael Johnson is an effective pass rusher who is just 27 years old and has 15 sacks over the past two seasons.

Expect the Jets to be aggressive with one big-name player out of the box this week in an effort to solve one of their problems early. But then look for things to settle down as they seek productive players who may be more cap-friendly.

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