I love both March Madnesses. Filling out tables of college basketball teams has always been a scientific fascination of mine, but so has the other madness of March – NFL free agency. At Major Sports University, I wouldn’t know whether to major in Bracketology or Capology.
For the purposes of my iSportsWeb internship, let’s stick with Capology 101 and try to pull an ‘A’ for the Jets.
There are many moving parts during the NFL offseason, which is why many claim there is no offseason at all. Once the coaching carousel comes to a complete halt, the focus turns to the movement of players, sometimes through trades but mostly in the forms of free agency, franchise tags and the NFL Draft.
As Gang Green enters the new league year $23.3 million under the cap, here are the five easy steps to Adam Zielonka’s New York Jets’ ridiculously oversimplified free agency plan (patent pending):
Step 1: Place the franchise tag on Nick Folk. COMPLETE
This was the right move from the start. Folk had a career year in 2013, making 33 of 36 field goals including all three of his attempts from over 50 yards. The price of a franchise tag for kickers this year is $3.566 million (based on the average of the top five contracts at the position in the league). They might have thought about tagging right tackle Austin Howard, but that would be at a much less reasonable $11 million. The Jets will have to decide whether to pay more or let him go after the 2014 season, but it’s nice to have stability at the kicker position for just a little longer.
Step 2: Restructure Antonio Cromartie’s contract.
The Jets restructured Cromartie’s deal last March prior to the Darrelle Revis trade, moving more money to 2014 to make it easier to lock him in for 2013. Now that 2014 is here, it’s time to restructure again, and that’s not just me saying that – it’s Cromartie. When the player with your roster’s highest cap number publicly suggests he would restructure his deal in order to retire with your team, which Cromartie did in late December, you jump on that offer immediately. Some fans want Cro cut altogether (which would save the team $9.5 million in cap space), but outside of Alterraun Verner, the market for number-one corners is pretty dry this year. Cro can give up the big play now and again, but he’s a top-twelve cornerback in the league when healthy. Keep the guy.
Step 3: Cut the dead weight: Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes, Mike Goodson and Ben Ijalana.
The first two on that list are pretty obvious, and they combine for $16.55 million in cap savings. ESPN Jets beat writer Rich Cimini suggests that Holmes will be cut any minute now, while Sanchez ought to be held onto until they find a viable back-up to replace him. But Sanchez is the epitome of the reputation the Jets are trying to shake, the era they are trying to leave in the dust. Hast thou forgotten the Butt Fumble? We’re still trying to, and it won’t happen until Sanchez is competing for the starting job in Minnesota or Tampa Bay.
The Jets are also expected to look for a new running back in the middle rounds of the draft, meaning that Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell or Mike Goodson has to go. Clearly, the answer is Goodson, who, after signing with the Jets during free agency last year, started the season with a four-game suspension for PED usage, tore his ACL and MCL in his second game back and lost the rest of his season. His future is not with this team, and the Jets can recoup $1,316,666 in cap by cutting him.
Finally, Ben Ijalana was signed between preseason and the regular season after failing to make the Colts’ roster. Still on his rookie contract, the former FCS-school second-rounder (shades of Vlad Ducasse) carries a cap number of $926,658, none guaranteed, a pretty high number for a back-up. The Jets tend to draft an offensive lineman every year to try out in a reserve role, meaning Ijalana is a waste of money.
The theme of all this is finding money anywhere possible. In the cases of the last two on the list, every little bit helps. This isn’t last year’s Jets, who entered the offseason higher over the cap than any other team, but making these four cuts and giving Cromartie, say, a $3.2 million pay cut saves the team a total of $22 million. Adding that to the original number of $23.3 million, the Jets are now looking at $45.3 million to start paying free agents with.
Step 4: Start in-house: Ink Pace, Colon, Cumberland, others
Calvin Pace is my first must-sign. He’ll turn 34 during the 2014 season, but he just reached his career high of 10 sacks last year. The Jets don’t have a game-ready pass rusher ready to step in for Pace and they can’t afford to draft one. A one- or two-year deal will be sufficient while the Jets find a young player to groom as his eventual replacement. Colon is the Jets’ first stable option at right guard since Brandon Moore – he was ranked the fourth-best guard in pass protection in 2013 by ProFootballFocus. Jeff Cumberland isn’t every Jets fan’s idea of a must-keep player, but he’s shown he can be a very good number-two tight end.
I’m not as sold on Howard, as mentioned above. The former undrafted free agent only had to beat out the intolerably bad Wayne Hunter to win the starting job in New York. I’m not saying he’s a bad player – he only allowed two sacks last season, according to ProFootballFocus – but the Jets might be able to upgrade the position through free agency without spending much more than they would have to on Howard. Josh Cribbs is another on-the-fence guy for me; if the Jets think they can retain him on the cheap, it might still be worth it for the return game.
Meanwhile, do NOT re-sign Vladimir Ducasse (an unfortunate bust who can be replaced more cheaply) David Garrard, Ed Reed (not long-term solutions at their combined age of 71 and not worth it in the short term, either) or Kellen Winslow (do I even have to explain?).
Step 5: Gang Green’s Free Agency Checklist
I was about to type “wish list,” but that sort of implies desiring without obtaining. If the Jets are going to be serious contenders in 2014, they need to do what the cap prohibited them from doing last March – sign big-name free agents.
Veteran back-up quarterback: One thousand, one hundred words in, we finally arrive at Michael Vick. Everyone’s favorite free agent to talk about it, playing every pundit’s favorite position, especially when talking about the Jets. As Vick could reunite with his old O-coordinator from Philly, Marty Mornhinweg, and mentor a young Geno Smith while also compete with him for the starting job, there’s plenty of logic behind the rumors. But there will be demand from Vick, if Adrian Peterson’s recent tweet of prognostication and extrapolation is any indication. If not Vick, Josh McCown or even former Jet Kellen Clemens would push Geno and provide some veteran leadership.
Safety: ESPN’s Rich Cimini recently advocated for a Jet push for Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd, and certainly stealing away a division rival’s star safety would be satisfactory. Is there any question that Byrd would be an upgrade over Antonio Allen at strong safety? But Byrd apparently wants more than $10 million a year, and teams will be biting and clawing to sign him. It will come down to how much John Idzik wants to spend on a safety in March when the offense needs much more attention. A less expensive free safety option I like is New Orleans’s Malcolm Jenkins, a New Jersey native.
Wide Receiver: Why did you only put this third on the list, Zee? How long have we all been saying that wideout is obviously the most pressing need in New York?
Hold your horses, other self. It’s imperative for the Jets to draft a promising young receiver prospect to bank the future on, but signing a vet to complement said rookie is only as necessary as the free agent class lets it be. This isn’t last year’s group that included Wes Welker, Greg Jennings and Mike Wallace on market. The cream of the 2014 crop is Golden Tate, fresh off his new Super Bowl experience, followed by Emmanuel Sanders. Hakeem Nicks, meanwhile, has severely dropped off in production, catching no touchdowns in 2013.
O-Line: At least one starter here, either left guard or right tackle. And whether or not the Jets re-sign Howard, left guard will be the more pressing need. Denver’s Zane Beadles and the Giants’ Kevin Boothe are two of several viable options – just stay away from a certain former Miami Dolphin. Plus, there’s always room for O-line depth through both free agency and the draft.
News and Notes: The Jets shored up their cornerback depth earlier in the week by re-signing Ellis Lankster and Darrin Walls and claiming Johnny Patrick off waivers from San Diego. Originally a third-round pick by the Saints in 2010, Patrick recorded a career-high 34 tackles in 2013 and his first pro interception, off Jets division rival Ryan Tannehill of Miami.
~Rex Ryan, John Idzik and senior director of college scouting Terry Bradway took a trip to Clemson University’s pro day last Thursday. The star of the show was Sammy Watkins, who Ryan later admitted would not be available at 18, but fellow wide receiver Martavis Bryant, quarterback Tajh Boyd and cornerback Bashaud Breeland also worked out and could be on the Jets’ radar. Rex’s son Seth plays in the same Clemson receiving corps as Watkins and Bryant.
~ESPN’s Todd McShay revealed his newest mock draft Thursday, projecting the Jets take USC wideout Marquise Lee in the first round. As of last week, McShay’s pick was Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, making McShay was the only major draft-mocker not to mock either Lee or North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron to the Jets.