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After the initial waves of free agency run their course, it's become common practice to attempt to grade out each team — determine free agency's winners and losers. In truth, this is a little premature. It's hard to determine the value of an acquired player without knowing what the other moving parts are, what other puzzle pieces make up the picture. So until free agency is complete and the draft takes place, rosters will not be fully formed, and it will be hard to effectively grade the offseason work that's been done.
With that being said, there certainly have been some teams that raised eyebrows, for better or worse, in the opening weeks of the new league year.
If we were to give the Jets an early grade, we'd have to say they've played it right down the middle. Generally speaking, the goal of free agency is to establish stability by re-signing your own priority free agents, fill holes at need positions, and create competition and long-term success by adding strength, speed and youth to your roster, all while managing the salary cap. Ultimately, teams would like to enter the draft in a position where they can take the proverbial "best player available" because all their needs have been filled during the free agency period. While the Jets have made inroads toward that end, they aren't there yet.
On offense, it all starts up front, and while the return of Willie Colon is a positive and the signing of T Breno Giacomini brings some depth and starting experience, the loss of Austin Howard stings and leaves the Jets with some serious questions on the right side of the O-line, relying on two unproven midround draft picks from a year ago, Oday Aboushi and Will Campbell.
Every Jets fan has identified the need for more offensive weapons, and Eric Decker's signing gives the Jets a target with some size (6'3", 215), speed, and production (170 catches and 24 TDs over the past two seasons). However, Decker's never been a true No. 1 receiver, and the Jets will need to continue to add those puzzle pieces around him for him to be effective.
While rumors of the Jets' interest in former Eagles WR DeSean Jackson may excite fans initially, he could make for a tough locker room and serve as a serious thorn in Geno Smith's side, particularly if things don't go well.
Speaking of QBs, the signing of Michel Vick certainly adds some intrigue to the Jets depth chart, but the competition will be good for the team, and for Smith. The fact is that NFL quarterbacks tend to struggle in their second year because defenses now have a book on them and a better plan for defending them. We expect Smith to have a tough sophomore season, and Jets fans shouldn't be surprised to see Vick on multiple occasions this year.
Defensively, the re-signing of Calvin Pace, after his 10-sack performance in 2013, and DT Leger Douzable are important. But the team is still in need of an edge pass rusher and a press-man corner, especially in Rex Ryan's pressure defense.
So there is still more work to do, and there will be plenty of valuable bargain-hunting in the coming weeks. But at this point it is clear where the Jets have to go in the draft. They need a No. 1 WR and a TE plus additional depth on the O-line, and they could use a running back. Defensively, corner and a pass rusher stand out as needs.
With 12 picks, the Jets will have ample opportunity to address most, if not all, of those needs. But our feeling is that if they can come out of the first two rounds with one of the top WR/TE candidates and a corner, they will have helped themselves.
We'll have more in future articles on which players can fill those needs come draft weekend. But for now, here's a quick list of other teams we think fit in the early winners and losers categories with regard to free agency.
Tampa Bay — The Buccaneers ran away with the title this year. Lovie Smith's new team got good! QB Josh McCown is a guy we thought the Jets should have gone after hard, and the Bucs feel like they've found their Rich Gannon. O-linemen Evan Dietrich-Smith and Anthony Collins and TE Brandon Myers are all good players, Michael Johnson is a dangerous pass rusher, Clinton McDonald is a steal, and we felt from the start that Alterraun Verner was one of the top CBs on the market.
Denver — The Broncos are the definition of a "now" team, and their impressive free agency haul certainly indicates that. Emmanuel Sanders and Andre Caldwell bolster an already dangerous receiving corps, DeMarcus Ware immediately upgrades the pass rush, and Aqib Talib is the cover corner they so desperately needed.
Indianapolis — The Colts did very well. Baltimore will regret letting Arthur Jones get away, D'Qwell Jackson brings 800 tackles, 10 sacks and 15 career takeaways to the defense, and WR Hakeem Nicks was a good get on a one-year deal.
Atlanta — The Falcons were very aggressive in March. Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai boost the D-line, and G Jon Asamoah, another player we had targeted for the Jets, becomes an instant starter on the right side of the O-line. Devin Hester gives the team a lethal scoring threat on special teams. They are in best-player-available mode.
Chicago — DE Jared Allen is an upgrade over Julius Peppers, DE Lamarr Houston is an effective young run stopper, and the addition of both means they don't have to start Willie Young.
Dallas — When you have to wave goodbye to as many players as the Cowboys did, including a cornerstone guy like DeMarcus Ware, due to cap trouble, no amount of Brandon Weeden and Henry Melton signings can get you off the losers list.
Oakland — For a team in a self-described rebuilding mode, the Raiders signed too many old guys and took too many risks on players who should have been looking for "now" teams. With the age of players like James Jones, Donald Penn, Khalif Barnes, Matt Schaub, Justin Tuck and Antonio Smith — all 30 — Oakland will have to be doing this again in another two years.
Seattle — This is sort of a function of winning the Super Bowl. Everyone wants to get paid now. The Seahawks lost players for cap reasons, and not getting Jared Allen is a blow. They still have work to do.
New England — Brandon Browner will serve suspension time and isn't as good as advertised. Revis is only there on a one-year deal. The Patriots may not have done as well as everyone thinks.
Kansas City — The Chiefs lost three-fifths of their starting offensive line as well as DE Tyson Jackson, they cut CB Dunta Robinson, and we haven't yet seen what they've done to replace any of them.