Jets fans will be holding their breath hoping that the team can find a way to re-sign RB LaMont Jordan among others. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
Despite the gut-wrenching events of the AFC Divisional Playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Jets 2004 campaign was a resounding success that bolds well for the present and the foreseeable future. This is a young team with the majority of its core players under contract that now has the realistic shot at dethroning the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the AFC East division after the departures of both Charlie Weis (offense) and Romeo Crennel (defense) this year.
Last year, the team had numerous offseason needs, but kudos to much-maligned General Manager Terry Bradway, who addressed nearly all of the team’s weaknesses through free agency and the draft.
This spring, Jets are in the envious position of making some minor roster moves to tweak their roster. Gang Green has 12 Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) scheduled to hit the open market in early March, including some key veteran starters. Before projecting the possibilities in free agency this year, here is a breakdown and analysis of the Jets’ free agents in 2005.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
QB Quincy Carter: The former Dallas Cowboy castoff has a strong arm and excellent mobility, but suffered a relapse in his drug rehabilitation and was unavailable during the team’s pivotal playoff run. Carter is a serviceable starter, evidenced by his 2-1 record after QB Chad Pennington was sidelined with a shoulder injury midway through the season. Carter is not expected to re-sign, but Coach Herm Edwards left open the possibility he could return under the right circumstances.
RB LaMont Jordan: Jordan is the bruising, dynamic change-of-pace back who evolved into a vital aspect of the Jets offense this season. Unfortunately for Jordan, the Jets have future Hall of Fame RB Curtis Martin in their starting lineup. Jordan has expressed his desire to become a feature back and that could play a major factor in negotiations with the Jets or other potential suitors. The Jets front office has made it clear they want to retain Jordan, but it doesn’t appear money is the top priority on Jordan’s list
TE Anthony Becht: Becht has been a reliable red-zone target over the years as well as a very tough run blocker. However, he appears to have worn out his welcome in New York with untimely drops and penalties.
OT Kareem McKenzie: The 2004 season saw the Jets’ starting right tackle regress after two productive seasons in which he did not yield a sack or receive an infraction. While the Jets would like to keep their veteran offensive line together, GM Terry Bradway has previously encountered tough times dealing with McKenzie’s representatives, the Poston brothers.
DE John Abraham: Retaining Abraham this offseason will be pricy as he is a three-time Pro Bowler and is only 26 years old. When healthy, Abraham has the explosive burst and quickness to be an elite pass rusher and is quite stout versus the run. It has been widely reported the Jets intend to place the franchise tag on Abraham ($6.7 million) to limit his mobility on the open market. The Jets would be foolish to allow Abraham to hit the free agent market and the franchise designation allows the team to receive some compensation should they decide to trade him this year.
DT Jason Ferguson: Ferguson is the team’s run-plugger tackle who provides a tough, physical presence along the interior of the defensive front. Ferguson had become a steady, productive player for the Jets in recent seasons and should draw significant interest early on in free agency.
DT James Reed: "Tank" Reed played very well in situational duty last season and would be a valuable re-sign for the organization should Ferguson bolt in free agency.
DT Josh Evans: Evans’ future remains cloudy with the Jets as he missed the entire season with a serious back injury. His return will ultimately hinge on his progress in rehab. There also remains a possibility Evans could decide to retire.
LB Kenyatta Wright: Wright has been a valuable special teams contributor for the Jets and his return will depend largely on whether the club would prefer younger, cheaper alternatives at the position.
LB Jason Glenn: Glenn is a quality backup linebacker who possesses above average quickness and strong leadership skills. The emergence of LB Mark Brown this year may have hurt his chances to return.
CB Terrell Buckley: Buckley is a journeyman who is unlikely to return after a late season slump which saw the defensive coaches lost faith in his deteriorating skills.
P Toby Gowin: Gowin is simply an adequate punter who also kicks off and holds on extra points. The team would love to make an upgrade at the position.
WR Wayne Chrebet: Late season concussion could lead clutch wide out to consider retirement this offseason. Chrebet saw his role diminish further with the acquisition of WR Justin McCareins last year.
CB Ray Mickens: Mickens tore his ACL in his knee early in September and he could be deemed expendable as the club looks to bring an influx of young talent into the secondary.
SS Reggie Tongue: Despite his pivotal interception return for a touchdown versus the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC divisional playoffs, Tongue was virtually ineffective throughout the season and was outplayed by rookie S Erik Coleman. The Jets will likely cut their losses with Tongue this offseason.
PK Doug Brien: A horrible day at Heinz Field capped a late-season slump for Brien, who lacks pro range and cannot kickoff. Conventional wisdom says this player needs to leave New York, but a relatively new and somewhat hefty contract (for a kicker) makes this a delicate situation.
It’s estimated that the Jets will be about 10 million under the cap following the expected franchise tag of Pro Bowl DE John Abraham. The deadline to designate a franchise player is Feb. 22. The Jets will have holes throughout the roster due to their substantial number (11) of unrestricted free agents this year. The club was successful in locking up DE Shaun Ellis and QB Chad Pennington to long-term deals in the past year, and look for that trend to continue. It remains unlikely the Jets will be a major player in the early stages of free agency, when the prices are typically astronomical. The Jets are more likely to employ a wait-and-see approach and could make most of their personnel moves a month or two into free agency.
Cornerback: Donnie Abraham is on the wrong side of 30 and the team needs someone to groom as a future starter. The club hit on last year’s addition of CB David Barrett, but this position is still considered a team weakness.
Offensive Tackle: In the wake of Kareem McKenzie’s likely departure, the team will have to evaluate whether rookie tackles Adrian Jones or Marco Cavka are ready for prime time. If not, the team will look to free agency (Ryan Diem, Jonas Jennings, Floyd Womack) or the draft to fill the position.
Defensive Tackle: If the Jets can re-sign Jason Ferguson, it would remove defensive tackle as an offseason priority.
Running Back: If Lamont Jordan bolts in free agency, the Jets will need to acquire a capable replacement to fill Jordan’s role. Additionally, the club might want to invest in a young prospect to groom behind RB Curtis Martin for the future.
Tight End: Chris Baker has maintained a relatively low profile during his brief career with the team and will need to emerge as a capable starter to replace TE Anthony Becht, who isn’t expected back. New OC Mike Heimerdinger prefers to utilize multiple receiving TE sets and the team will need to upgrade the position.
Quarterback: In light of Chad's serious shoulder procedure and impending long rehab, the team would be foolish not to search for a quality backup this offseason. With Pennington likely to be limited during offseason workouts, the team will need someone to keep the seat warm until he returns.
Strong Safety: The likely departure of Reggie Tongue has fueled speculation that the Jets will invest a high draft choice on an upgrade at safety. However, it is more likely the team goes with existing personnel (Jon McGraw, Rashad Washington) to fill the slot next to Erik Coleman.
RANDY MOSS RUMORS
Throughout the last few weeks, a topic that has sparked the interest of every Jets fan is the potential acquisition of superstar WR Randy Moss from the Minnesota Vikings. Offers could possibly include DE John Abraham, WR Santana Moss and/or an assortment of draft picks. Hindering a potential blockbuster deal is Vikings owner Red McCombs, who is currently in the process of selling the team and Coach Mike Tice, who has vehemently denied any trade speculation involving Moss.
MOST IMPORTANT SIGNING
Arguably the most important addition for the Jets this offseason is the hiring of new offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, formerly of the Tennessee Titans. Gone is the predictable and conservative play calling of former coordinator Paul Hackett. Heimerdinger will reunite with WR Justin McCareins and his offensive scheme should revitalize a Jets attack that fell stagnant last season.
Overall, this draft is very deep at the cornerback position, which is a good thing for the Jets, who hold the No. 26 overall selection. Prospects who could be available include Carlos Rogers (Auburn), Justin Miller (Clemson), Brandon Browner (Oregon State), Marlin Jackson (Michigan) and Bryant McFadden (Florida State). These players are potential top-15 prospects, but could be available due to the influx of underclassmen including Antrel Rolle (Miami), and Pac-Man Jones (West Virginia) this year. Additionally, the NFL’s enforcement of personal contact rules has lessened the value of the position.
Another area that is well stocked this year is the running back position. Excluding the top prospects, there is a wealth of talent that will be available for the Jets in the second round and beyond. Among the names that could be available for the team to select in round two include Eric Shelton (Louisville), Vernand Morency (Oklahoma State), Marion Barber III (Minnesota) and T. A. McClendon (NC State). Other potential draft sleepers include Ryan Moats (Louisiana Tech), Brandon Jacobs (Southern Illinois), Dewitt Betterson (Fort Valley State) and Derrick Wimbush (Troy State).
In the trenches, the team may look to the draft to replace Jason Ferguson and solidify their DT rotation. Unfortunately, aside from productive All-Big 12 junior C.J. Mosely (Missouri), there is no prospect worthy of a late first round selection. Travis Johnson (FSU) is overrated/undersized and Anttaj Hawthorne is soft. However, two names to keep in mind for later rounds are Luis Castillo (Northwestern) and Albert Means (Memphis). Castillo is a former prep wrestler champion that brings intriguing leverage and motor to the position. Means is a legit wide-body and shows surprising quickness and agility for a man his size. Castillo is a projected 2nd rounder and Means could go in the 5th or later.
The offensive tackle crop is very weak this year as there were at least 5 legitimate first round graded prospects that did not declare. However a name that should be watched during offseason workouts is Washington OT Khalif Barnes. He is not an elite tackle prospect, but rather a solid all-around player that can be a starter in the league for years to come. A reported workout freak, Barnes is very mobile and could run around a 5.0 second 40 yard dash time, which is outstanding for a man his size.
Overall, the Jets are a team with a solid foundation and should remain highly competitive for years to come. The Jets’ involvement in high profile trade rumors for Vikings’ WR Randy Moss and their attempts to provide the team with a new stadium located on Manhattan’s West Side shows how committed the franchise is to capturing a World Championship The team has already addressed their most glaring weakness from last season with the hiring of coordinator Mike Heimerdinger to fix the offense. If this move works out half as well as the team’s hiring of defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, 2005 will be a year to remember for Gang Green.
In addition to contributing to Jets Insider.com, Matthew Bitonti is the publisher of DraftDaddy.com a website that covers all aspects of the NFL draft.