This is the sixth in a series of free agency and predraft reports Real Football Services is filing for newyorkjets.com.
The opening wave of free agency came and went in a flash, and now things have slowed to trot as teams have already been bargain-shopping. Most of the contracts being signed now are for one-year deals at the veteran minimum, which means that most teams have turned their full attention to the draft.
By this time, teams would like to have addressed their most pressing needs so they can enter the draft with a plan to select the best available athlete. The truth is, building a football team is like owning a house — the work is never finished. There's always a position to be upgraded, an injury to deal with, a contract fire to put out.
Another truth is that there's always a need somewhere on the roster, and while personnel people will tell you that they look for the best player, no matter his position, that's not completely true.
That's because in the "win now" NFL, there is no time to take a great athlete and let him develop, and at the money the top draft picks command, you'd better have a plan for how that player is going to contribute to your team and how quickly. The top of the draft has very much become a need-based entity.
With that in mind, we have put together a list of needs among the teams in the AFC East. Here's what we have come up with today for the Jets and Patriots. (Read Part I of this story on the Dolphins and Bills here)
New York Jets
Wide Receiver — With Laveranues Coles gone to Cincinnati, there is a starting spot to fill. The Jets have a better-than-solid possession receiver in Jerricho Cotchery, so they will be looking for a speed player with some size who can run on the perimeter and provide a scoring threat in the red zone. Expect this position to be high on their list of priorities on day one of the draft.
Defensive End — Shaun Ellis' numbers were down in '08 and he isn't getting any younger, and fellow DE Kenyon Coleman had zero sacks a year ago. The OLBs are active pass rushers, but they need another player to come off the edge in Rex Ryan's aggressive 3-4 scheme.
Tight End — Dustin Keller is a viable receiving target downfield, but with veteran Chris Baker gone, the Jets need a blocking TE who can be a factor in the run game that Ryan will surely favor.
Quarterback — If you believe the word of Jets front office personnel, the team is ready to hand the ball to either Kellen Clemens or Brett Ratliff. Remember, Ryan won with Flacco, a running game and defense last year in Baltimore. But there are rumors now that the Jets are monitoring the Cutler situation in Denver, and they will have to have done their homework on Mark Sanchez in case he falls to them in the first round. If Josh Freeman is still on the board in the second, which is unlikely, it'll be hard for New York to pass him up.
Tackle — The starting O-line looks to be very solid if everyone stays healthy, but the depth behind them is woefully thin. Wayne Hunter is the only backup OT on the depth chart at this point, so don't be surprised to see them use a couple of draft picks with that in mind, but a veteran swing man could be in order as well.
Guard — The re-signing of Brandon Moore was key, and Alan Faneca, though on the downside of his career, has made this unit better. But once again, depth is an issue, and with the Jets apparently intent on running the ball, another roadgrader inside is a good idea.
Punter — Reggie Hodges is only 27 years old and already with his sixth NFL team. Free agents Hunter Smith and Mitch Berger are still out there, and there are a couple of late-second-day options in the draft who might be better than Hodges at this point.
New England Patriots
Outside Linebacker — The Pats defense needs to get younger and it starts with the linebacking corps. DE Richard Seymour led the team with eight sacks in '08, so NE needs an edge pass rusher who can consistently get to the QB. Adalius Thomas hasn't had the impact as a pass rusher the Pats had hoped for, and though they like Pierre Woods and Shawn Crable and they brought back Tully Banta-Cain, look for them to add a draft pick here.
Safety — James Sanders was re-signed and Brandon Meriweather is developing as a player, but both are more comfortable as in-the-box players and gave up too many big plays in coverage last year. And even if Rodney Harrison returns, he will be a liability in deep coverage. The Pats need a player with some range in the secondary.
Inside Linebacker — Jerod Mayo is a star in the making, but Tedy Bruschi can't be relied on to be an every-down player over the course of a full season at this point in his career. Bo Ruud and Gary Guyton are young players with promise, but another rotational player wouldn't hurt here.
Running Back — Fred Taylor is a nice complementary player but can't carry the load at age 33. And there is some question as to how the Patriots feel about Laurence Maroney's ability to do the same. However, even if they are willing to give him the ball, injuries and inconsistency have plagued him. Expect the Pats to look into upgrading the position.
Wide Receiver — New England certainly worked to upgrade this position in the off-season, but Greg Lewis will be 30 this year, Moss is 32 and Joey Galloway is even older than that. Plus, in the Pats' spread attack, you can never have enough receivers who are better than Sam Aiken, who is currently the fifth.
Tackle — The Patriots lack depth at this position with Ryan O'Callaghan first in line behind starters Matt Light and Nick Kaczur. A swing guy who can play multiple positions should be a priority on day two of the draft.
Quarterback — If Bill Belichick and company have enough confidence in Kevin O'Connell, then this isn't a worry, but he and Matt Gutierrez are the only guys in line behind Tom Brady, who is coming off a major knee injury. We would expect they'll find a veteran late, just before camp starts. Matt Cassel did a fine job, but the Pats don't want to find themselves in that situation again.