It's a good week to be a Jets fan! The arrival of Thomas Jones alone was enough to make most fans' year, but now along comes the Willis McGahee trade to Baltimore, making the Jets' deal look even better. By swapping 2nd round selections with the Bears, New York essentially gave up the value of a third round pick for a guy who has rushed for over 2,500 yards over the last two years, and has averaged over four yards per carry in three of the last four seasons while tallying 25 TD on the ground in that time. McGahee is a very good back, who has been a nightmare at times for the Green & White (aren't you glad he's out of the division now Jets fans?), but the Ravens are now paying $40 million for a back who didn't rush for 1,000 yards last year and hasn't ever averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in his career. And, they had to give up three picks to do it.
It's been a big offseason for running backs, and if you look at the backs who have moved so far, Jones stands up to all of them. Travis Henry has the potential to do well in Denver, but he hasn't produced the way Jones has, particularly in recent seasons. Ahman Green goes to Houston, but does so as a 30-year old runner who has been injury prone and is on the down side of his career. Green has nearly 1,900 carries to Jones' 1,300. Jamal Lewis is an upgrade for a bad Browns team, but he isn't the player he was three years ago and lacks the pop he had when he was running over every defense in the league in 2000. Someone will end up with Corey Dillon, a back who was talking retirement a few weeks ago, and while Dominic Rhodes played well in the postseason, there's a reason he wasn't the starter in Indy for much of the season. So while the Packers look to Vernand Morency and the Bears begin the Cedric Benson era, the Jets are set in the backfield with Jones leading a group that also includes Leon Washington and Cedric Houston. Bravo, Mike Tannenbaum. Bravo.
So what's next? Teams have been spending money at an alarming rate, even on second and third tier players, and guaranteed money in contracts has reached a level that makes contracts from just two years ago seem obsolete. Will the trend continue? It looks that way, but there are teams like the Jets (so far), who will show some patience over the course of the next month and become real winners in the offseason.
The market for free agent money begins to drop around the second week of April when the big money teams have spent their cash, the college scouting for the draft is essentially complete, and the remaining free agents are now up against the youngsters. With two weeks to go before the draft, teams will be in a position to put an offer out to a player, and if they don't take it, have the negotiating leverage of being able to say, "We'll draft someone at your position." When that happens, then there is no deal for the veteran player.
The Jets greatest remaining needs are at cornerback, defensive end, linebacker, and tight end. Ideally, the team would like to be able to address a majority of their needs in free agency so that they are free to pursue the best available player in the draft. They have shown little interest publicly in players like CB Nick Harper, LB Cato June, or TE Jerramy Stevens. So that means it's time to wait.
If the team enters the draft still facing these needs, there are several ways they can go with four picks in the top 89. At pick number 25, the team could address the DE need with Nebraska's Adam Carriker, who at 296 pounds ran a 4.7 40 at his pro day this week. We told you earlier this week about Miami TE Greg Olsen, who would give Chad Pennington a big, reliable target in the middle of the field. The Jets 3-4 defense requires plenty of quality LB's and Penn State's Paul Posluszny, at 6-2, 240, could be a good fit in round one.
The Jets could look for a pass rusher in rounds two and three with picks at #59 and #63. Tim Crowder of Texas weighs in at 272 pounds and has the frame to add some weight, making him an ideal fit at end in the 3-4. Pittsburgh CB Darrelle Revis is very athletic, has good coverage skills, and can make plays on the ball in the passing game and the running game, but despite being raw and inexperienced as an early entry junior, he projects as a mid-second rounder due to his obvious talent. Cal's Damieon Hughes ran poorly at the Combine, which will hurt his draft stock, but he is a terrific athlete and has a good burst to the ball despite his lack of long speed. He projects as an excellent Cover Two corner at the NFL level.
Another player to watch is Arizona State TE Zach Miller. He has the versatility that head coach Eric Mangini looks for in his tight ends, showing the ability to line up as a traditional TE, as a fullback, or as an H-back, and can go in motion or work from the slot. But in addition to having a good set of hands, he's a better blocker than given credit for. However, his 4.86 time in the 40 has him in a bit of a freefall. If he falls to #59, he would be a great pickup for the Jets.
Finally, in the third round look for the Green & White to take a hard look at Nebraska LB Stewart Bradley. He moves very well in the open field for a 250-pounder and has the football intelligence, the athletic ability, and the versatility to rush the passer and play in coverage, either inside or outside in the 3-4 defense. Also, remember the name Tanard Jackson. The Syracuse CB is big, physical, and very athletic with the speed to turn and run with most WR's. He's excellent in man to man coverage and has all the physical skills to be a star, but you haven't heard much about him because he played on a bad team. Listen for his name in Round Three.