After the failure that was the 2011 season Jets fans are clamoring for the team to make a big splash in free agency. A portion of the fan base is in all out attack mode, circling the free agent market with the ferocity of a pack of rabid wolves (on Twitter anyway). As I went to get breakfast at a local bagel shop the other morning I overhead a group of Jets fans that apparently live in a fantasy world. These fans were somehow convinced that not only was Peyton Manning completely healthy, he was already coming to the Jets and the team would still keep Sanchez. And oh yeah, Sanchez would have no problem with it. I didn’t have the heart to break the news to them that this could never happen for any number of reasons.
See those are the types of fans that enjoy living in blissful ignorance, if you’re reading this your feet are likely much closer to the ground. You are probably hopeful and have a few wishful thinking ideas floating around in your head, but chances are you’re more interested in hearing realistic ideas that could improve this team and get them back on track to competing for a championship than strictly football fairy tales (and if you want to skip me waxing poetic and just get to my suggestions at each position, just scroll down to the bold positions listed below).
While we here at Jetsinsider acknowledge that it would be nice if the Jets could sign Matt Forte, Mario Williams, Vincent Jackson and convince Matt Flynn to come in and backup Sanchez we also acknowledge that not one of those things has any chance of happening. Unfortunately the harsh reality is the Jets simply don’t have a lot of money to play with so they are going to have to be smart and shrewd with how they choose to spend their money, however much money Mike Tannenbaum can finagle free to spend.
According to recent reports the cap number will not increase from last season and even including the $8.4 million of unused cap money from last season, that teams are allowed to roll over into the following season under the terms of the new CBA, the Jets are just barely under the projected cap of around $120 million. The one piece of good news is, unlike last season, they only have one player, Sione Pouha, whose contract expired that they absolutely must re-sign and he isn’t going to break the bank. When projecting cap numbers and how much money a team has to work with it’s best to turn to the people that focus on the subject and do a great job of explaining everything. Over at nyjetscap.com they do a great job of explaining the ins-and-outs of the cap situation and by doing some educated guessing as to cap moves and possible restructuring (the aforementioned finagling) they found the Jets could find themselves with around $16-17 Million to work with. Of course part of that projection included the Jets saving $2.5 million by cutting Wayne Hunter, which we now know isn’t happening since the Jets guaranteed his contract for the 2012 season. But even if you want to lower the number to around $10-12 million, while it won’t be enough to sign Mario Williams, if spent wisely it could go along way to shore up some of the holes on this team.
A lot has been made of the glaring holes, and rightfully so, but there is still a ridiculous amount of talent on this team and if the holes are plugged with the right players at the right price it is realistic to think the Jets can get back to where they were just a season ago. Tannenbaum will have to wisely blend the perfect draft picks with the perfect free agent signings, but it can absolutely be done and here’s a look at the ways that goal can be achieved starting with the offense.
OL– We’ve already talked about the return of Wayne Hunter, news that was obviously not pleasing to Jets fans, but it signifies the world we live in when looking for free agent o-linemen. With the exception of quarterbacks o-linemen are the most precious commodity for GMs, you get a good one and you don’t let him go until he stops being good. This is why it’s rare to see quality linemen available in free agency and more importantly when they do become available they become pricey. As always the best way to acquire lineman is in the draft and if one of the top o-linemen on the Jets draft board is available at 16 there’s a good chance that will be the direction they go (As of now a pass-rusher like Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram or OL seem most likely).
The re-signing of Hunter doesn’t mean the team is happy with the way he played it just means they realized there aren’t any surefire options on the market that make Hunter completely expendable. The team will definitely bring someone in to compete with Hunter for the job, ideally they would like to get Hunter back into his backup role, but who that is they might bring in is the question. The market for guards is much better and deeper than the tackle position and if not this season the Jets will have to eventually prepare for life without Brandon Moore so a signing of Evan Mathis (Eagles) or Ben Grubbs (Ravens), if reasonably priced could prove wise. As for tackles there have been talks of Sparano being interested in bringing in the Dolphins Vernon Carey to compete with Hunter if the Dolphins don’t bring him back. Carey would make sense as a cheap alternative, but he doesn’t come without question marks of his own. Unfortunately there aren’t many better options out there, which is why Hunter was retained and also why this particular hole will have to be addressed in the draft. The Jets will also work hard to keep Robert Turner to play the primary backup role and come in for jumbo sets, but that might not be so easy as someone could offer him a starting job.
RB– Let’s get this out of the way, LT isn’t coming back. So the Jets will need to add another back to the rotation that as of now would be Greene, McKnight and Bilal Powell. The team will likely select a back in the draft (Doug Martin Boise St. or David Wilson Va. Tech 2nd round maybe?), but it couldn’t hurt to add a big powerful back like Michael Bush from the Raiders. Bush has served as the backup to Darren McFadden and has done quite well and might very well be looking to move on. A Greene-Bush combo with McKnight in a change of pace Darren Sproles/Reggie Bush type role has the potential to be a very dangerous and hard to stop ground game. Unless you’re in the elite class of an Arian Foster, Ray Rice or Matt Forte free agent running backs aren’t overly expensive and Bush could easily and quickly match the value of his contract with his play.
Jets fans might be intrigued by the thought of adding BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but one has to wonder how much of his success was due to the fact that teams are always gearing up to defend the Pats passing attack. Marshawn Lynch is another name that could gather some interest, but as impressive as he is when he enters Beast Mode, it doesn’t happen too often as he has been wildly inconsistent his whole career. The Jets could afford to sign Bush without handcuffing them elsewhere and he would likely be the best fit.
WR– As with LT you can go ahead and say your goodbyes to Plaxico Burress. His time here was a disappointment and he supposedly wants to go to Philly and no one seems to have a problem with that. What this does mean however, is the Jets need to find themselves a couple of new receivers and no Randy Moss will not be one of them. The market for receivers is as solid and deep as any in recent memory, but the top end guys are likely out of the Jets price range and there aren’t any game changers. Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe (if Chiefs don’t tag him) and Vincent Jackson could all help Sanchez and the Jets, but are worth nowhere near the money they will command. Someone like the Saints Robert Meachem could fall in the Jets price range though. He can stretch the field and is a solid red zone receiver, but he’s been inconsistent with Drew Brees as his quarterback what happens to him with Sanchez?
Stevie Johnson is a bit of a knucklehead and do the Jets really need another knucklehead at receiver? He is also a bit too loose with the drops whenever the game is on the line. Pierre Garcon should fall in the middle of the comfort zone of talent and money being equal. Garcon has had consistency issues of his own, but definitely has the talent to be an effective receiver and with so many other receiver options out there he is one the Jets can likely afford.
Aside from Meachem and Garcon there aren’t a lot of viable options for the Jets here and as with the running backs you can assume the Jets will look to the draft to upgrade this position. As of now the receiving core consists of just Holmes, Kerley, Patrick Turner and Logan Payne, obviously the team will be shifting back towards the ground-and-pound with Sparano coming in, but this group still needs an upgrade.
TE– Recently there has been some speculation that the Jets would consider trading Dustin Keller because he isn’t a fit with Sparano and while one can understand the argument for doing so, now is clearly not the time. As mentioned the receiving core is already thin and the team will continue it’s tradition of thrusting new receivers on Sanchez each season. Knowing this why would you trade a quarterbacks best friend, the tight end, and the only target who has been here throughout his career? Keller has underachieved, he starts out fast and slowly disappears, but with LT leaving Keller is Sanchez’s only security blanket left and they can’t afford to change that this season. The move shouldn’t be to exile Keller, it should be to bring in another tight end, one who specializes in blocking.
Anthony Fasano (who is very familiar with the Sparano system) and Joel Dreessen are the two guys that should be targeted. Both will be in the Jets price range and both would fit in great as a blocking tight end that would allow for Keller to stick to worrying about catching the ball. Jeff Cumberland will return from his injury and has the potential to be a threat in the passing game, but he’s no help in blocking and you can’t count on potential. Either Fasano or Dresseen would allow the Jets to run the offense they want and allow Keller to do what he does best, also they are both solid receivers in their own right and we all know how much having two receiving tight ends have helped certain offenses recently.
QB– No Peyton Manning, sorry. Too much risk involved and if it doesn’t work it’ll set the team back years. Matt Flynn isn’t going anywhere where he isn’t the starter. If you’re one of the fans whose already given up on Sanchez, that’s too bad because you’re going to have to deal with him for at least one more season. The Jets like Greg McElroy and what he showed last preseason, but we need to see more before we can feel comfortable with him. It’s possible the Jets look to the draft to take someone to push Sanchez, but not likely as all the quality QBs will go early. This might be wishful thinking because he could go somewhere he’s more likely to start, but Jason Campbell would be the perfect backup to Sanchez. He’s a game manager who isn’t going to wow you, but he can do his job effectively and if Sanchez gets hurt or struggles Campbell is the guy available who could fill in the best. Maybe the Jets could convince him to sign a one-year deal and serve as Sanchez’s backup and see how the season plays out. It might be a pipe dream, but it’s a good one.
In conclusion, obviously Jets fans want every good player out there but seeing as that’s not possible there are likely to be many fans disappointed with the free agent offensive moves. After scoping the landscape it appears the best moves are to go after Bush and either Fasano or Dreessen. Those are the two spots the Jets can afford the exact help they need. They’ll have to sign a tackle or two to compete with Hunter, but it’s unlikely to be a big name. If they can sign Bush and one of the tight ends and maybe throw in Garcon and Campbell to backup Sanchez they won’t create a lot of headlines but the right players, not headlines, is what will improve this team.
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