REUNITED AGAIN: Chad Pennington and L.C. hope to re-kindle a very successful flame.
In part 2 of this series we will discuss what the team has done so far since free agency started and where they may look to fill remaining holes.
New York Jets general manager Terry Bradway has adequately addressed specific needs this offseason, highlighted by the trade with Washington for WR Laveranues Coles. In addition, the club has bolstered their talent base by striking deals with RB Derrick Blaylock (Chiefs), QB Jay Fiedler (Dolphins), DT Lance Legree (Giants) and LB Barry Gardner (Browns).
The high-profile swap of WR Santana Moss to the Redskins for Coles undoubtedly headlines the Jets’ offseason thus far. While Moss is younger, quicker, healthier and a more explosive player (especially on deep balls and punt returns), Coles is more physical, runs more precise routes and has a unique bond with the Jets’ QB Chad Pennington. Pennington never seemed to enjoy the same comfort level and trust with Moss that he did with Coles, as they quickly established chemistry on the Jets scout team in 2000.
In fact, Pennington was so eager to see this deal consummated, that upon hearing that talks had stalled several weeks ago, he approached the team with the intention of handing back two million he received as part of his signing bonus in order to find room to give Coles a new deal. Just to reiterate: Pennington offered to hand it back, not extend or otherwise negotiate a lateral move. This is an unprecedented gesture that impressed the team so much that, while they did not take Pennington up on the offer, the Jets immediately restarted negotiations with motivation to make the deal happen.
What should be especially encouraging to Jets fans is that this is not a move that would be made by a player who feels his career is jeopardy due to surgery on his throwing shoulder. Pennington’s team-first attitude is something all Jets fans can find comfort in.
Essentially, the Jets traded back for a player they never really wanted to lose, but in the meantime, used the Redskins 2003 first round pick as ammo to move up for the bonus of soon-to-be perennial Pro Bowl DT Dewayne Robertson. Beside this, the Redskins were left with nine million in “dead money” on their salary cap, a significant amount for a player no longer on their roster. Meanwhile, the Jets enjoyed several productive years from Moss, and then traded him before having to shell out No. 1 WR money that Moss would have assuredly demanded after next season. So it appears Bradway fleeced Redskins owner Daniel Synder, right?
In final analysis, the quality of this move depends solely on the health of Coles’ toe, the joint of which is rumored (not confirmed by player or the Jets) to be chronically arthritic. While there are no cures for this ailment, there are treatments to ease the pain and allow Coles to play through it, as he did last year when he caught 90 balls. Another possibility is a radical procedure to remove the bone causing the problem; however a similar surgery effectively ended the career of former Miami Dolphins WR O.J. McDuffie. Fans would like to believe that the Jets’ team physicians would not have passed Coles’ physical without him being completely healthy. However, the unfortunate truth is that Coles will probably never be completely healthy. Still, this injury is one that can be dealt with and played through. The worst-case scenario would be that Coles becomes a possession receiver that can move the chains and catch balls in traffic and over the middle. Coles has always possessed good speed, but never developed into a deep threat, and this hasn’t been affected by the injury.
At the running back position, the replacement for RB LaMont Jordan comes without disclaimer. Derrick Blaylock is a talented running back that held off the Chiefs’ first-round selection RB Larry Johnson for a couple years and really became productive as the backup to RB Priest Holmes. Blaylock ran a 4.33 40-time coming out of Stephen F. Austin and is known for his tough running, excellent receiving and tenacious blitz pickups. He is a bargain compared to the lucrative deal Jordan received and has statistically had more production in his young career than Jordan. This move should pan out very nicely for the team, and it prevents them from needing to use a first-day draft pick at the position
While Blaylock does not fill the team’s need for a short-yardage ball carrier, it should be noted that Jordan never really was a bruiser at the point of attack. At the second level, Jordan would indeed be courageous and run over defenders who were of the same size and smaller. However, at the line of scrimmage, if there was no hole, Jordan wasn’t creating one. He is and always will be a finesse back in a power back’s body – and while many fans are disappointed with his departure, the contract that he received from the Raiders was far too steep for the Jets to even consider matching. Will he become the 1500-yard per year back that many fans are predicting? In a word: unlikely. However, it will be interesting when receivers Randy Moss and Jerry Porter along with Jordan travel to the Meadowlands next season to face Gang Green.
At the defensive tackle position, the hole left by former DT Jason Ferguson (whom the Jets seriously pursued, offering $8 million in guaranteed bonus, only to be topped by the Cowboy’s offer of $9 million), will be filled at least in part by former New York Giants DT Lance Legree. Although few are familiar with Legree and his capabilities, the fourth-year tackle is a talented and quick player that has an uncanny knack of making positive things happen. Defensive line coach Denny Marcin observed Legree’s daily work habits when he was employed by the Giants, and it is assumed that his testimonial was a key factor in the Jets decision to acquire him. Legree is fast and disruptive for a tackle, so much so that when the Giants needed someone to play defensive end after the losses of DEs Michael Strahan and Keith Washington to injury, Legree stepped in and produced. While he will not see the amount of snaps that Ferguson did, Legree will be an asset to the defensive tackle rotation. Coupled with the resigning of much maligned 2002 fourth-round draft pick DT Alan Harper (who actually stepped up in the playoffs), the Jets need only one or two more live bodies to complete their compliment of tackles. The Jets carried four tackles last year, however that number could expand to make up for the loss of “Fergie.” Possible candidates include re-signing DT James Reed, veteran Josh Evans or inking restricted free agent DT Rocky Bernard (Seahawks), who the Jets have expressed interest in. Additionally, the Jets could bolster the position through April’s draft. While many fans are optimistic that converted offensive lineman Tim McGill (allocated to NFL Europe) will help, keep in mind that these players sent overseas rarely contribute that same year, as they are usually two-year projects.
Linebacker Barry Gardner is a great under-the-radar signing for the linebacker corps, which is now among the team’s deepest units. Astute fans will remember his superb play at the middle linebacker position for the Eagles, and at 28 years old, he has a lot of good football left. He can contribute to the Jets base defense if needed, but he likely will be inserted into special teams coverage units to fill the voids of LBs Jason Glenn and Kenyatta Wright, as both are currently unrestricted free agents. Note that this is not likely a move to replace LB Sam Cowart, who has since been shipped off to the Minnesota Vikings for a late-round draft choice. The team carried seven linebackers last year and with the addition of Gardner, the Jets currently employ seven legitimate linebackers again. It would surprise this writer to see any further personnel action this year at the position.
Finally, QB Jay Fiedler joins the Jets from the division-rival Miami Dolphins as a backup to starting QB Chad Pennington. Fiedler will keep the seat warm throughout Pennington’s rehabilitation process this offseason. Fiedler is a local product (Oceanside, NY) and is a lifelong Jets fan. Further, the 33-year old veteran seems comfortable with a backup role. As a backup, Fiedler will be more than capable of leading the Jets to victory. He is mobile, smart and has a live arm. All in all, this is another underrated signing that was needed, as sending a raw player like QBs Brooks Bollinger or Ricky Ray out onto the field for an extended period of time could have spelled trouble. With Fiedler, the team has a chance to compete.
So these are the additions and subtractions, but many questions still remain – the answers to which only time will tell: What position will the Jets draft with the No. 26 pick? Will the Australian Sensation P Ben Graham beat out journeyman P Micah Knorr for the punting position? Who will be the Jets tight end to team with TE Chris Baker? Who will the fourth defensive tackle be? Will second-year OT Adrian Jones be able to step into the hole that OT Kareem McKenzie left when he signed a lucrative deal with the cross-town Giants? Will PK Doug Brien return as the place kicker? When will Pennington be able to throw?
For the answers to these questions and more, be sure to stay locked right here for the latest team news and reports at JetsInsider.com: the voice of the NY Jets fan.
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.