What Do the Jets Need to Fly in ‘09?

Last offseason the Jets dipped into a spending frenzy, as they dished out nearly $140 million for new additions. The moves were expected to improve the roster for the 2008 season, but would possibly cripple the team’s cap situation in the near future. However, with Brett Favre’s retirement and the release of David Barrett, David Bowens and Brad Kassell in the last week, the Jets have shed nearly $20 million. As we reported earlier, the Jets are now $18 million under the projected $124 million salary cap.

General manager Mike Tannenbaum has some wiggle room in molding the new roster, but he has several key areas to address. First and foremost, the Jets must find a quarterback. Head coach Rex Ryan plans to implement an all-weather offense, in which the quarterback “does not have to be the solution. They just have to be part of the solution.” That approach worked in Baltimore with Trent Dilfer, Elvis Grbac, Steve McNair and most recently rookie sensation Joe Flacco, but the Ravens’ ferocious defense carried the team to victory on several Sundays. While Ryan plans to bring that ball-hawking defensive scheme to the Jets, it will take time to build a defense comparable to Baltimore’s.

The Jets remain confident in the young but unproven trio of Kellen Clemens, Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge, but it would be wise to bring in a veteran to compete for the starting job in training camp. Teams have made the playoffs with game-managing quarterbacks and ball-hawking defenses, but only the 2000 Ravens took the next step and won the Super Bowl. That season of course, they shelled out the lowest-scoring defense in NFL history.

The Jets’ options from the free-agent pool are currently slim (Kyle Boller, Byron Leftwich) but the list could grow more attractive if gunslingers such as Mark Bulger and Jon Kitna become cap casulties. The Jets could also wait until April’s NFL Draft to address their need, as Kansas State’s Josh Freeman may be the best available quarterback left for the Jets at 17th overall.

If Ryan plans to mold the Jets into the ball-hawking defense that he crafted in Baltimore, he will need playmakers in the secondary. Darrelle Revis continued his ascension into one of the true shutdown corners in the NFL last season, but inconsistency in the other cornerback slot plagued the Jets.  Rookie Dwight Lowery burst onto the scene during training camp and early into the regular season, but he faded late and watched his snaps diminish toward the end of the year. Aside from Revis and Lowry, Drew Coleman remains the only other veteran corner on the roster.

Tannenbaum will need to add some playmakers at the position, but he has limited options. The Raiders’ Nnamdi Asomugha, the Colts Kelvin Hayden and the Texans’ Dunta Robinson would have highlighted the group of free agents, but each player has since been slapped with the franchise tag. Former Raven Chris McAlister should warrant a look, but he underwent knee surgery last November and his durability could become a concern.

The Jets could turn to April’s draft to fill their need, but the top two corners, Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins and Illinois’ Vontae Davis are likely to be chosen before the Jets are on the clock. If both are gone, their next best option would be Wake Forest’s Alphonso Smith.

Part of the secondary’s struggles last season also came from the safety position where Kerry Rhodes and Abram Elam will return. Rhodes has quickly developed into one of the league’s top playmakers in the secondary, but he was inconsistent last season. Rhodes looked slow at times in Bob Sutton’s read-and-react defense, but he could flourish under Ryan. In Ryan’s attack scheme, Rhodes will be given the opportunity to blitz more often.

The Jets will need depth in the secondary and looking toward Ravens safety Jim Leonhard would be a good start. Leonhard is small in stature (5-8, 186 lbs) but he quietly had a productive campaign. He played in all 18 games aside Ed Reed and totaled 69 tackles and one interception. Unlike Bart Scott and Ray Lewis, Leonhard will not break the bank in terms of his desired salary. Giants safety James Butler also will be available and should warrant a look.

While the Jets’ offense flourished at times in 2008, they sorely lacked a wide receiver who could strech the field. Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery are still among the most surehanded receivers in football, but neither is blessed with exceptional speed. David Clowney looked to be the team’s vertical threat during the preseason, but his promising campaign was cut short due to a separted shoulder. Clowney only caught one pass last season, but his role should increase if Brad Smith departs. The Jets do not need to break the bank for a high-priced receiver such as TJ Houshmandzadeh, but it would be smart to grab one from the draft.

The Jets could look toward Florida’s Percy Harvin if he is still available at 17th overall, but they would be wise to fill one of their other needs. Rutgers’ Kenny Britt, North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks and Penn State’s Derrick Williams all would be good value picks and could be available when the team selects 53rd overall.

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