The following feature was written by Real Football.
The Jets officially began the offseason $20.8 million under the 2007 salary cap of $109 million, which put them in good financial stead and in a position to make some significant improvements to their team during the free agency period. But with the release of RB Kevan Barlow and veteran O-lineman Trey Teague earlier this week, and the expected retirement of Curtis Martin, the team has created even more salary space and could be in position to make a run at some of the top available free agents this time next week.
The Green & White are in good shape with their own free agents, with RT Anthony Clement the only starter not signed. But there are other needs for this 10-6 team that faces a tougher road in terms of their schedule in 2007.
On offense, the performance of Chad Pennington during the 2006 season was nothing short of remarkable, and if the O-line can keep him upright and healthy, there seems to be little reason to believe that he can't have a repeat performance this coming year. If he doesn't, the Jets brass has given every indication that they like second-year man Kellen Clemens. However, the running back position still has some questions. Even with Barlow and Martin out of the mix, the team still has three backs in the fold; Cedric Houston, Leon Washington, and Derrick Blaylock. While the veteran Blaylock was a non-factor for much of the season, the team likes the potential of the two younger runners. But Houston, though he has shown that he can run with power and be a goal line force, has struggled with injuries his first two years in the league, and Washington, while showing great versatility and playmaking ability, carries some questions of durability due to his lack of size and an injury history that dates back to his days at Florida State. As a result, expect the Jets to take a long look at some of the top RB's on the market in search of a player who is capable of carrying the load in a feature back role. The leading candidate seems to be San Diego's Michael "Burner" Turner, who has served as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup the past three seasons, but has flashed starter capability in limited playing time.
Other needs on offense could include depth at the wide receiver position, where veteran Justin McCareins was a disappointment last season. Rookie Brad Smith showed playmaking ability and could emerge as a solid 3rd WR over time, but look for the Jets to explore the free agent market for a veteran who can give them some significant playing time and step in as a spot starter in case of injury, perhaps a player like Seattle's DJ Hackett who is comfortable working on the perimeter or from the slot, and has some starting experience, or a player like Minnesota's Travis Taylor who can stretch the field. Also look for the Jets to be active in the TE market. One of Pennington's greatest strengths is his accuracy in the short to intermediate passing game, and though Chris Baker has shown flashes at times, he has not developed into the go-to receiving threat head coach Eric Mangini is accustomed to from his days in New England, where the TE was and continues to be a key to the offense. For that reason, don't be surprised to see New York make a serious run at the Patriots' Daniel Graham. A strong blocker, Graham is also an excellent receiving threat who can run the seam in the middle of the field and is also adept at finding open space against zone coverage. But he has taken a backseat to Ben Watson in recent seasons and could jump at the chance to play a more significant role in the passing attack for Coach Mangini in a system that is familiar to him.
Up front, the Jets have established the foundation for a strong O-line group with 1st round draft choices D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold at LT and C, and three-year starter Brandon Moore at RG. Pete Kendall still provides consistent play and veteran leadership at LG, but he is entering his 12th season in the league, and the team has to begin looking at the future at that position. However, the greater need will be at RT where they would like to upgrade if possible. Clement has good size and experience, but players like New Orleans' Jon Stinchcomb, who is more athletic, and Dallas' Marc Colombo, who boasts excellent size and strength, would be significant additions. And both have played for coaches that Mangini has worked for in Sean Payton and Bill Parcells.
On the defensive side of the ball, expect the Jets to be in the market for a top cornerback. Andre Dyson is a solid starter, but in a deep group that includes David Barrett, Justin Miller, Hank Poteat (who was just re-signed this week), and Drew Coleman, there isn't a top-notch, shut down corner. With plenty of money to spend, the Jets could make a run at Buffalo's Nate Clements, considered by many to be the top player in this year's free agent class. Not only would he instantly improve the Jets with his outstanding speed, coverage ability, and ball skills, his signing would put a serious dent in the defense of the division rival Bills.
The NFL Combine: A Sneak Peek
Next week, our scouts will be reporting from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, but before everyone arrives and starts unpacking the stopwatches, here are some players we think could raise their draft stock with a strong performance:
Chris Houston, CB, Arkansas: A junior, his greatest strength is his speed. He has told our scouts he expects to run well on the fast track in the RCA Dome, so don't be surprised to see his name among the top times this week. While he is a playmaker, he is also very inconsistent at times, but a fast time will shoot him up several boards.
Tim Crowder, DL, Texas: Crowder is another player who looks the part. He is extremely athletic and very strong, and has the frame to add another 20-30 pounds. He will measure up well in Indy and should perform well in drills, boosting his grade higher than it probably should be if it were based strictly on his game production.
Michael Bush, RB, Louisville: Bush has a unique combination of size, strength, quickness, and agility. He has been rehabbing from a broken tibia since September, and if he runs well could re-establish himself as one of the top backs in the draft. His greatest struggle will come during the medical exam when doctors will look to see if his wheels can withstand the NFL grind.
Kevin Kolb, QB, Houston: He really came on a senior. Kolb has all the intangibles and is a good athlete, but he will separate himself from the pack in passing drills. Though he has a cannon of an arm and will throw ropes in the vertical passing game, he also shows outstanding accuracy, particularly on short and intermediate passes.
Run Receiver, Run: There are some very athletic and productive WR's in this year's draft group, but few have the straight line speed that scouts will be recording this week in Indy. Players like USC's Dwayne Jarrett and LSU's Dwayne Bowe are first round talents who may not run well in February, but are NFL-ready receivers. Bowe's college teammate Craig Davis and Ohio State junior Anthony Gonzalez are other potential Day One picks who may not impress in a track meet, but were extremely productive at the college level.