With the Super Bowl having been played and free agency fast approaching, the Last Word on Sports NFL Department will be looking at the top three needs for all 32 NFL teams. On our radar next is the New York Jets.
The Jets were on the cusp of their first playoff appearance since the 2010 season before a week 17 loss to their AFC East rival Buffalo Bills ended those hopes. With the 20th pick in the first round of this year’s draft and a handful of notable free agents to attempt to re-sign, this is an important off-season if the Jets want to maintain the momentum they created in Todd Bowles’ first season as head coach.
New York Jets 2016 Off-Season: Top 3 Needs
The Jets aren’t hamstrung by their salary cap situation by any means, with about $22.67 million in cap space as of this writing. But it wouldn’t hurt to free up some more in order to upgrade the roster. Among the positions that could be in the crosshairs with this in mind is right tackle.
Breno Giacomini started all 16 games at the position for the Jets last season. It was not pretty at times. Though quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s play was crucial in the club’s near playoff run, there were instances where he was running for his life and Giacomini was partly to blame. He allowed 44 quarterback hurries which was tied for the fifth worst in the league among tackles.
The eight-year veteran currently carries a $5.625 million cap hit heading into 2016. He has two seasons left on a four-year contract he signed in 2014 that carried $7 million in guaranteed money. If the Jets decided to part ways, it would clear a combined $8.875 million in cap space over the next two years, including $4.375 million this season.
But if the Jets do decide to address this need either through free agency or the draft, the list of available right tackles isn’t exactly lengthy this year. Most of the top talent in the draft is at left tackle, and some of the better free agents available also played on the left. So a move to bring in a new right tackle might necessitate that player making their own move to the other side of the line.
Among the players who could be targeted in free agency, you have left tackles Donald Penn of the Raiders and Cordy Glenn of the Bills. Cleveland right tackle Mitchell Schwartz could also be in the mix. If they decide to go the draft route, some college prospects the Jets could have a look at in the first two rounds or so include Ohio State’s Taylor Decker, Michigan State’s Jack Conklin, Indiana’s Jason Spriggs, and Georgia’s John Theus.
Three Jets inside linebackers will be hitting free agency in 2016, including regular starter Demario Davis. The fourth-year man out of Arkansas State was second on the team in tackles behind David Harris. But he registered just two sacks on the year and was one of the poorer linebackers in the league when dropping into coverage. Only three players at his position who had more snaps than him gave up more passing touchdowns. And he was also responsible for a 59-yard pass play, the third-longest for any inside linebacker in the league last season.
If the Jets decide to bring in some new faces at inside linebacker, they have options both in free agency and the draft. Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are among a few players from the Denver Broncos’ championship winning defense looking to sign an extension. Both could be acquired at a relative bargain compared to what their current teammate Von Miller’s going to fetch on the open market. Marshall’s a restricted free agent though and the Broncos could slap a first-round tender on him. Other options via free agency could be Derrick Johnson of the Chiefs or the Colts’ Jerrell Freeman.
There also are a handful of tantalizing prospects that should be available when the Jets make their first round selection. Alabama’s Reggie Ragland and Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith are among the players at this position expected to be available around the middle to end of day one. The only issue is that if they don’t pull the trigger here, they may have to wait until the later rounds if they want to address this need in the draft.
There are a few positions that we could easily include as a third need the Jets need to address this off-season. Quarterback is a possibility especially since Ryan Fitzpatrick is not only a free agent but also isn’t getting any younger. And if defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson decides to sign elsewhere, that will also become a position of need.
But there are a few reasons why we’re going with running back here. Firstly, pretty much the entire Jets backfield from last season is entering free agency, including Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Stevan Ridley. Ivory’s seventh season in the NFL was likely the best of his career as he finished with 1,070 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. It was good enough to earn him his first Pro Bowl invite.
Now it’s possible that the Jets may sign Ivory to an extension and there’s no doubt his stellar play in 2015 warrants one. He carried a $2.75 million cap hit last season and under a new deal that number would certainly increase. But with Ivory about to enter his eighth year in the league, there will undoubtedly be concerns about a drop-off in production. We’re all familiar with the limited shelf life of NFL running backs.
It’s for that reason the Jets may consider upgrading at the position via the draft. And they may be favorably positioned to do so in the first round. With Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott projecting as a middle to late first round pick, he may indeed be there when the Jets select 20th. Most scouts, front office executives and other draft experts agree that he’s probably the most NFL-ready back this season. There seems to be the potential there to become an instant contributor and possibly turn in a Todd Gurley kind of rookie season for whoever picks him.
Note: salary cap data referenced in this article courtesy of overthecap.com