The NFL’s annual free agency signing period is set to commence on March 9th, providing teams with a unique opportunity to augment their rosters. As such, Last Word on Sports is offering off-season previews for all thirty-two teams. Here, the New York Jets are featured. Owning the sixth pick, the Jets have cleared a considerable amount of cap space with the hopes of luring prized free agents to New York. Here are the three positions on which they should focus as they begin their preparations for 2017.
New York Jets 2017 Off-Season: Top 3 Needs
Of all the problems that plagued the 2016 New York Jets, quarterback play was easily the most dubious. Jets quarterbacks led the league with a whopping 25 interceptions, 17 of which belonged to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick’s turnover-prone play eventually necessitated a benching, as Geno Smith took over as starting quarterback in week six. Smith’s tenure was short-lived, however, as the former second-round pick tore his ACL against the Baltimore Ravens. Next on the depth chart was second-year quarterback Bryce Petty. In four games, Petty was wildly inconsistent. He displayed quite a bit of arm strength, and engineered an impressive comeback in week 14. However, Petty struggled mightily with his decision-making, throwing seven interceptions.
Whether Petty can be the guy in New York remains to be seen, but year one was certainly an auspicious beginning. The final quarterback on the Jets roster was rookie Christian Hackenberg. Although drafted in the second round, Hackenberg saw no playing time in 2016, slotted at fourth in the depth chart for the duration of the season. To speculate on Hackenberg’s ability, or his development, would be doing Hackenberg a disservice. Quite frankly, until he takes some snaps, Hackenberg will remain an enigma. The Jets will just have to hope general manger Mike Maccagnan was correct in his assessment of the quarterback.
The Jets can pursue a variety of options to alleviate their quarterback woes. Firstly, they could put their faith in Petty, and start him in 2017. Although risky, this option also offers the most reward for an organization desperate for a star at the quarterback position. A second, less-enticing option, would be for the Jets to bring in a proven veteran as a stopgap for 2017, while they develop Petty and Hackenberg behind the scenes. Suitable options for such a decision include Mike Glennon and Brian Hoyer. Lastly, and least likely, the Jets could select a quarterback with the sixth overall pick. If Maccagnan falls in love with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, or North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, the Jets may take a flier on one of them. Obviously, that’s provided Watson and Trubisky are still available at number six. Whichever route they choose, change is inevitable for the New York Jets at the quarterback position.
In 2015, the New York Jets revamped their struggling secondary, acquiring Darrelle Revis and Buster Skrine for exorbitant sums. Just two years later, the Jets may have to overhaul their defensive backfield once again. Revis and Skrine struggled mightily in 2016, and safeties Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist only exacerbated the unit’s issues. Revis has already been released. The move would save the Jets a small fortune, and provide an opportunity to develop younger corners such as Juston Burris and Marcus Williams. Without question, Revis is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and among the greatest Jets of all time. Yet time waits for no man, and clearly, Revis is no longer a serviceable NFL corner. His on-field struggles, paired with his perceived lack of effort and distracting behavior off the field, make him a liability at this stage of his career. Beyond Revis, the Jets have difficult choices to make at every facet of their secondary. Pryor has disappointed, but he’s still a first-round pick in only his first year. Skrine is also a high-profile player, but he was victimized mightily in man-to-man coverage. Finally, Marcus Gilchrist struggled in pass defense, and might not even be ready for opening day.
Ergo, there is a fairly probable chance that the Jets part with all four members of their starting secondary. Yet if the team chooses to do so, they must have a concrete plan in place to move forward in the secondary. A starting defensive backfield comprised of Juston Burris, Marcus Williams, Rontez Miles, and Doug Middleton simply doesn’t possess the talent to overcome the shortcomings of their predecessors. Ideally, if the Jets cut their entire starting secondary, they would seek help in the draft or in free agency. This year’s draft class is rumored to be extremely deep at safety and cornerback. Malik Hooker or Jamal Adams are realistic options with the sixth pick, and could be immediate impact players for the Jets. If the Jets look to free agency to address their secondary, cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore are enthralling candidates.
The Jets began the offseason in a difficult economic predicament. The team was over the cap, never a good situation for a team seeking to rebuild through free agency. Consequently, the Jets were tasked with releasing veterans with expensive contracts. Two such veterans were Nick Mangold and Breno Giacomini, starting lineman for the Jets in 2016. Coupled with the retirement of longtime left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, the Jets have lost three starting lineman in just the past two seasons. Frankly, Giacomini played poorly in his tenure, and was likely to be replaced anyway, but Mangold remained a productive player in 2016. The Jets heir apparent at center is Wesley Johnson, who played well filling in for an injured Mangold. Brian Winters and James Carpenter are solid guards, leaving the team with three lineman of starting caliber.
That being said, questions remain at both left and right tackle, two of the most important positions on the line. Brandon Shell played well on the right in 2016, but he remains vastly unproven. The Jets should invest in a veteran to at the position, someone who can both expedite the development of a Shell and fill in for him if necessary. Lastly, the Jets quandary at left tackle is most worrisome of all. Ferguson’s retirement left the Jets flummoxed, and his predecessor remains unclear. Ben Ijalana wasn’t atrocious in 2016, but I’d be hard pressed to believe he’s the left tackle of the future for the Jets. They’ll have to seek help in either free agency or the draft, as the Jets have no other guards on the roster capable of playing the line’s most important position. In the draft, Alabama’s Cam Robinson remains an option, but selecting him sixth overall may be a reach. This leaves the Jets with only free agency to find their starter. Terron Armstead and Cordy Glenn are two of the best in the business, but they’ll each warrant a hefty price tag. Bradley Sowell and William Beatty are realistic options, if the Jets can persuade them to sign with the team.