This is the fourth in a series of unrestricted free agency and predraft reports Real Football Services is filing for newyorkjets.com.
Now that the initial wave of free agency is over, the NFL takes a collective deep breath and teams prepare to dig deep into their research and find the gems in the second set of signings that will come over the next month. Some highly productive yet less expensive players will still be available and could have a greater impact on team rosters this season than some of their higher-priced counterparts. We'll get into that list a bit later.
But this little signing hiatus gives us a chance to review what some teams have done in the opening weeks of the offseason. For the Jets, their approach to free agency seems to be a good indicator of how head coach Rex Ryan plans to run his team.
Let's start with Ryan's favorite unit, the defense. The signing of linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard is a sure indication that he plans to turn New Jersey into Baltimore North, as expected.
Scott will step into the "Ray Lewis" role, if you will, a role he would have liked to play for the Ravens but will happily accept on behalf of Ryan and the Jets. He will be a tackling machine and wants to be the emotional leader of this defense. He will be that, and will provide the intensity and experience with the system that will help Ryan get his program moving in the right direction.
The signing of Leonhard is a perfect example of a coach bringing in a player he knows. Leonhard will also obviously have a hand in getting his new teammates up to speed with what Ryan wants. But while his contract tells us that he'll have a chance to compete for a starting job, it doesn't guarantee anything. He could just as easily end up being the third safety on this team, but he has shown that he can be productive and contribute as a starter if needed.
Newly acquired CB Lito Sheppard is at his best as a physical press corner where he can reroute receivers and disrupt the timing of routes — a good fit for Ryan's attacking defense, which likes to put pressure on the passer.
Speaking of that, the one thing the Jets still need on this side of the ball is a defensive end. Ryan's system incorporates a hybrid scheme that disguises fronts and brings pressure from a lot of different points on the field. The more pass rush options he has, particularly off the edge, the more effective the system will be.
But he also needs a player with some size and bulk who can stand up against the run game. Ryan doesn't look at things from a pure 3-4 point of view. He needs a 5-technique player who can fill multiple roles in the defense.
Offensively, the re-signing of G Brandon Moore and FB Tony Richardson tells us that Ryan has a good deal of confidence in OC Brian Schottenheimer; certainly enough to allow him to run the offense as he has in the past. That tells us that they already have the makings of a good working relationship, which is a good sign for Jets fans.
It also says the Jets will be committed to running the ball. That will be key to the team's success, especially as Ryan and company continue to insist that they are ready to let Kellen Clemens and Brett Ratliff battle it out for the starting QB spot. Remember, Ryan is coming from a situation where a rookie QB was good enough for a team that could play defense and run the ball.
He could very well be willing to go with one of the young guns currently on the roster, but they will both be hard to evaluate. Are either of the Jets' options the next Tyler Thigpen, or are they Matt Cassel? If they aren't sure, they will have had to do their homework, and they will have to be ready to decide whether they can afford to pass on a player such as Southern Cal QB Mark Sanchez.
Whoever the QB is, the Jets will need reliable targets in the passing game. Wide receiver is still a need, especially after the loss of Laveranues Coles. Faster is better when it comes to a new receiver, someone who can stretch the field and complement Jerricho Cotchery.
But they need a player with some size, a big target who can muscle his way off the line, get his release and fight for balls downfield. There are several of those kinds of players in the draft, and if they don't go for the QB, WR could be a position that gets filled in the early rounds.
With the big-ticket guys off the board, who are the quality free agents still available to teams at this point? Here's a quick list of some players who are in the next tier of players.
WR Marvin Harrison — Certainly he's not the player he used to be, but given a limited role on a team with at least one other top receiving weapon, he can be a productive possession receiver.
T Khalif Barnes — The former Jaguar looked poised to sign a deal with the Raiders or 49ers, but the deals fell apart. The fact that the Jags showed no interest in him speaks volumes, but he could be a serviceable player for a West Coast team.
T Mark Tauscher — The best of the remaining OTs, he's a good fit for a team that uses a zone-blocking scheme.
QB Jeff Garcia — He's not going to carry your team, and he's certainly not more than a short-term, one-or two-year answer, but he is still mobile and competitive and can win games in this league.
CB Leigh Bodden — Though things didn't work out in Detroit, he is a sure tackler and willing in run support, and he's a physical press corner who can turn and run and shows good speed for a bigger CB.
LB Cato June — June played the Sam LB spot in Tampa, but no one will see him as a player who can play over the TE. He can be an effective Will 'backer when allowed to run to the ball.
LB Angelo Crowell — A productive and versatile player who can play any LB position when healthy. He has medical issues and durability is a concern.
DE Bert Berry — Another versatile but older player who has experience playing multiple roles in a hybrid scheme.
QB Byron Leftwich — He, along with some fans, has a higher opinion of his skills than warranted. He couldn't hold his starting gig in Jacksonville, couldn't break the lineup in Atlanta, but after a couple of decent showings in Pittsburgh, all of a sudden he's a great QB? He's a reliable backup with starting experience who can step up in a pinch.
WR Mike Furrey — He has a reliable set of hands and is a very good route runner, though he is probably limited to a role as a third WR or slot receiver.