As free agency begins and the 2012 NFL Draft is right around the corner, I wanted to give Jets fans a little perspective of the “State of the Union”….New York Jets Edition. For those who are not aware, currently the Jets are $587,000 under the salary cap. That will make it difficult for them to sign any major free agents without trading or releasing players (i.e. Bart Scott). However, while reading this article imagine a world where the Jets have an infinite amount of money and can pick whatever player they want at the current draft positions they have. Some points while reading this you may feel that it is a wish list…and you’re probably right. Before that, we need to look at the NY Jets current roster and the strengths and weaknesses.
Head Coach- Most Jets fans can say that they like Rex as a personality, when he doesn’t write checks his team cant cash, but his coaching is a cause for concern. He needs to be a HEAD COACH, not a defensive coordinator. He needs to be actively involved in the offense, as well as, special teams while still keeping his defensive tactics in mind. We need him to be well rounded. Give Mike Pettine more responsibility with the defense and focus on winning. The separation of the locker room is his fault. He cannot be a friend to the players, but rather a coach that they respect for his down-to-earth hard working personality.
Offensive Coordinator- Other than Marty Schottenheimer I don’t think there’s any one in the NFL thats sad about Brian Schottenheimer being fired. Jet fans will enjoy the offense Sparano is going to bring in. Yes, it may take time. Yes, it’s going to look boring because of his run-first mentality. In the long run Jet fans will be satisfied with the job Sparano is going to do. He will work to the offensive players’ strengths, and he demands a lot out of his players. He’s a great motivator and guys will want to play hard for him. I would’ve liked to see Todd Haley or someone with a little more passing knowledge come in to help, but we’ll have to deal with what we’ve got as far as offensive coaches.
Defensive Coordinator- If I had to give Mike Pettine a grade as a defensive coordinator with more responsibilities this year than last, I’d give him a B. The defense took a hit this year and some of the players seemed to get old and slow very quickly. As Rex takes more responsibility as the Head Coach, Pettine will be asked to take on an even bigger role and he has to come through strong. After all Jet fans, who wants to see Bart Scott and Eric “Two Steps Behind” Smith starting for us again this year?
Offensive Line- Let’s face it…we need a MAJOR overhaul on the offensive Line. Coach DeGuglielmo has had very good offensive tackles like Jake Long down in Miami, but when he sees this line, he’s going to want changes. Matt Slausson had an okay year, but theres more consistent guards out there that we should sign. Wayne Hunter…do I even need to say? He’s currently ranked the 31st out of 32 right tackles in the league. There are a bunch of free agent tackles out there and I think it’s in the best interest of Mark Sanchez to have a good right tackle. Mangold and Brick are solid most of the time and Brandon Moore is aging. Last year, the Jets made a trade right before the season to acquire Caleb Schlauderoff who saw some time with the Packers the year they won the Super Bowl. Can we at least give him a shot? Major reconstruction needs to happen to protect Sanchez and with a run happy offense under Sparano, it needs to be a solid blocking unit overall.
Tight End- Dustin Keller is a good third passing option for Sanchez. He likes throwing to him to. However, he isn’t big enough to cross the middle and create mismatches. They need a tall, athletic tight end to compliment Keller. In a year where we saw the emergence of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, who the Jets saw first hand twice this year, the need for a large tight end is imperative to the success of the offense. They recently brought in a Australian rugby player who is 6’7″ and 240lbs. He was a former college basketball player. They tried him out for tight end, but we never heard anything about him again. The middle round draft tight ends are ok, but not great…but who knows? Gronkowski got drafted in 2nd round and Jimmy Graham got drafted #99 overall. A solid blocker, and physical tight end in passing game will make a huge difference next season.
Running Back- Shonn Greene got stronger as the season went on. He is a good change of pace back that will give you physical tough running, but he’s not an every down back in my opinion. His receiving numbers left something to be desired this year as he dropped a ton of passes this season. If there’s one free agent the Jets should strongly consider it would be Maurice Jones-Drew. He’s a proven every down back and would fit Sparano’s system well. Joe McKnight can be a third down back or Wildcat back sitting behind Jones-Drew and Greene.
Wide Receiver- We know what we’re going to deal with in Santonio Holmes. He’s not going anywhere though. He needs to change his attitude and become the role playing wide receiver he’s always been. The Plaxico experiment, although it worked out well in the red zone (#1 Red Zone offense in NFL, depending on your thoughts about Tom Moore’s consulting) was a shipwreck. They need a YOUNG tall fast receiver. This guy needs to be athletic and a good route runner. A guy like Michael Floyd from Notre Dame is a physical specimen. With a good combine however, there’s no guarantee he’ll be around for the Jets to pick. Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina is another interesting pick. He could slip to the 2nd round in which the Jets may try to trade up in that round to get him. Sanchez needs that deep tall threat to back corners and safeties off so that he can hit guys like Jeremy Kerley underneath for big gains.
Quarterback- I recently wrote an article all about Sanchez’s third year in the league and how similar his numbers were to some of the better quarterbacks in the league right now. Did he have a disasterous year? Yes, but he also threw for 26 touchdowns. There’s no doubt in my mind he got complacent last season because he knew Brunell wouldn’t replace him in games. They need to bring in a solid backup who will force Sanchez to work harder and push himself to be great. A guy like Chad Henne would really put pressure on Sanchez especially with his history playing under Tony Sparano. Sparano will not put Sanchez in a position to fail, but if he does it on his own, Chad Henne would be a more than adequate backup.
Defensive End- This is a MUST for the Jets this offseason. Aaron Maybin had a few decent games but his like of physical build makes it difficult for him to power through the better linemen in the league. Mario Williams would be a dream, but with his injury past and the amount of money he’ll be asking for it seems unlikely the Jets will pursue him. A guy that could be all that and then some is Melvin Ingram out of South Carolina. At 275 lbs. he’s a large outside linebacker that can be used in a sprinter’s stance to rush the quarterback in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defensive system. He’s speed and toughness can create an infinite amount of blitz schemes to confuse offensive lines next year. This position is a need we’ve had since John Abraham (when he wasn’t hurt or had a tummy ache).
Defensive Line/Tackles- Resigning Pouha is a great sign. He clogs the middle in run support and I think he and Mohammed Wilkerson can be a solid interior defensive run stopping line. I think at times the Jets rotated too many guys in the game. I think a rotation of Pouha, Wilkerson, and Devito can breed success for both the run game defense and help pass rushers on the outside. These guys should demand double teams leaving a defensive end one-on-one with an offensive tackle. Laws of physics would say that the defensive end will win that battle more times than not. I like the way the interior linemen played and hope that they continue to plug the middle, and add a bonus of a better pass rush.
Linebacker- Bart Scott got old very quickly. He went from the “Madbacker” to “Can’t wait” to now probably being cut. David Harris is an excellent linebacker. He lacks the lateral speed that one would like a middle linebacker to have but he makes plays and that’s all you can ask of him. He’s a Pro Bowler every year in my eyes. However, Bryan Thomas (coming off injury) and Calvin Pace are aging. A dose of youth via the draft or free agency would be the Jets best bet to fix this average at best defense they had last year. This years crop of draft linebackers are big, fast and athletic. The Jets need to take a hard look at Ingram as the draft nears. He can cover passes, rush the passer, and most importantly has tremendous closing speed. A well rounded linebacker is a must for the Jets this offseason. There has been talks of Jarret Johnson from the Ravens who would help immensely, but that all around great linebacker will have to be found via the draft.
Cornerbacks- Darelle Revis….enough said. When his career is finished he’ll go down as one of the top 3 corners to ever play the game. The Jets cannot just lean on Revis though. Cromartie, coming into a major contract extension, had a subpar year and Kyle Wilson continued to struggle although better than his rookie campaign. With more work with Revis this offseason I hope he comes back even better. Cromartie was lost a bit this year. He’s got to get familiar with his role again and that’s defending the other team’s big physical receiver and make plays on the football.
Safety- The Jets safeties this year were a disappointment, With the rise of large receivers and tight ends, Leonhard and Eric Smith and their lack of size, were exploited. Jim Leonhard is a great safety. He controls the defense in a way no other Jet could after he got hurt. His lack of size hurt him this year. Eric Smith is a bad safety. He’ll occasionally make a big hit, like he did on Boldin a few years back, but he is a very slow safety. When I watched the Eagles tight end beat him to the sideline and to the endzone it was evident that he needs to go. A guy that excites me is LaRon Landry. He’s a big physical safety who can cover when he is healthy. Due to his health concerns he can probably be signed for less money. Another guy that intrigues me is Mark Barron from Alabama. He is a big hitter and is extremely fast and physical. I think resigning Leonhard to help run the defense and signing Landry or drafting Barron would be a huge upgrade over Smith. Both of those guys can do what the Jets safeties couldn’t; cover the flats and cover tight ends over the middle.
Punter- T.J. Conley underperformed this year. I was amazed to see that he had an average of 42 yards per kick. It killed me to see Steve Weatherford continually pinning teams deep throughout the playoffs this year. Mike Westhoff has been on the record saying that this is the deepest draft crop of kickers he’s ever seen. So how about in the 7th round the Jets take a solid punter. Free agent punters are out there also. Proven guys that can help their defense lengthen the field. How many times this year did the Jets punt from their endzone and have the opponent start at the 50 yard line or deeper. It’s awfully hard for a defense to stop a team on a 50 yard field. They need a kicker with good hang time on his kicks and has the ability to pin teams inside the 20 at least 15 times next season.
Place Kicker- Nick Folk always scares me. He is shaky but he has hit a great deal of field goals for the Jets. His kickoffs leave something to be desired. They moved the kickoff line up 5 yards and he still couldn’t consistently kick for touchbacks. I know high school kids who kick from the 40 yard line and kick it through the uprights! His inconsistency is a concern and there are a huge amount of free agent kickers out there, as well as “The Kid with the Golden Toe” from Florida State.
Again, remember this seems like a wishlist with plenty of cap space, but this is the reality of the State of the New York Jets. Changes have to be made to make this team a viable Super Bowl contender…or maybe just a playoff team at least!
Stay tuned for more on draft needs and free agent wishlists…