By Glenn Naughton
While the slew of recent roster moves made by New York Jets General Mike Maccagnan has fans and many in league circles talking about the team preparing to “tank” in 2017, the fact remains that the Jets now have a surplus of salary cap room (with possibly more coming), and it wouldn’t take all that much to elevate the team from doormat, to being at least competitive next season.
Parting ways with cornerstones Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Marshall have grabbed headlines as the team has created just over $33 million in salary cap space, and there are still plenty of moves that could possibly be made, some more likely than others, that could easily put the team in the $50+ million range.
Topping that list would be dealing troubled defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson which would yield a savings of $8 million, and the likely release of safety Marcus Gilchrist. Due to make $7.3 million this season, Gilchrist’s release would create another $4.6 million, meaning those two moves on their own would have the Jets sitting pretty at $46 million in cap room.
Rich Cimini of ESPN New York recently reported that aside from Richardson and Gilchrist possibly on the way out, Buster Skrine, Eric Decker and Calvin Pryor could also be shown the door, though it would appear Decker’s wife took a shot at putting any Decker rumors to bed via twitter last night.
We ain't going anywhere. Chillax
— Jessie James Decker (@JessieJDecker) March 4, 2017
Even with all of the team’s moves, talk of the Jets going “all out to tank” is a bit premature. There is an approach the Jets can take that will allow them to be competitive in 2017, and until we see what direction they go in, we won’t know if this is the team looking forward to next season’s draft in hopes of a top-3 pick, or if they’ll build a roster that can make a push for the playoffs.
Impossible, you say? Not if you believe the school of thought that if you win in the trenches, you can be successful in the NFL.
With a black cloud currently hovering over the psyche of a fan base that just sat through a 5-11 season, it’s hard for some Jets fans to see the few positives the team has to build around, but the fact of the matter is that with one or two mid-level signings, the team could be more than formidable up front on both offense and defense.
Re-signing right guard Brian Winters gives the Jets an excellent tandem on the inside with left guard James Carpenter. Right tackle Brandon Shell is far from a sure thing, but he far exceeded expectations with his late-season audition last year when he didn’t allow a single quarterback pressure through his first three starts. If Shell continues to grow, that means the Jets are set at 3 of the 5 spots up front.
It’s hard to imagine the Jets won’t take a center at some point in the draft and there are a few good ones to be had in LSU’s Ethan Pocic, Ohio State’s Pat Elflein and Baylor’s Kyle Fuller. If not, they could take a shot at retaining Nick Mangold’s replacement from last season in Wesley Johnson, who was solid in his place. That would, of course, leave left tackle as the team’s only vacancy, where the pickings are slim, but there are a few veteran options that could offer stability.
The Jets are rumored to have interest in free agent Russell Okung who will probably command a bit more than he’s worth in a weak market, but there are a couple of other options for the Jets.
— NFLTradeRumors.co (@nfltrade_rumors) March 4, 2017
The ageless Andrew Whitworth of the Cincinnati Bengals who continues to play at a high level at age 35, may be willing to come on board for a short-term deal that allows the Jets to develop a draft choice in the meantime. Also on the market is veteran tackle Matt Kalil who hasn’t lived up to his drat status as the 4th overall choice in 2012, he would be an upgrade over anyone currently on the Jets roster and easily capable of starting somewhere in 2017.
Kelvin Beachum is another option and a player who the Jets showed interest in last off-season, but he was so bad in Jacksonville that the Jags let him go after just one year.
Essentially, the Jets are a left tackle and a draft pick at center away from being just fine up front and potentially dominant up the middle. This would mean that the always lingering question of who will play quarterback for the Jets is as big as ever, and really the single position that will tell us if the Jets have any interest in fielding a quality product this season.
Speculation has continued to mount that the Jets are going to make a push for Tampa Bay Bucs free agent quarterback Mike Glennon, or Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor should the Bills decide to part ways with their starting signal caller. Adding either Glennon or Taylor would put the Jets in the best QB position they’ve been in for decades. Were the team to go with a veteran like Brian Hoyer to compete with Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg, it would be an undeniable (though they would still deny it) waving of the white flag for the upcoming season.
Looking across to the defensive line, if Richardson is dealt, there will of course be a pair of Pro Bowlers in Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson leading the way. Formerly seen as the best of the group, Wilkerson is now an unknown. The Temple product, who is coming off of his worst season as a pro as he failed to produce on the field, and damaged his squeaky clean image off of it when it was learned that he’s made a habit of skipping or showing up late to practices, is a question mark after his tumultuous season.
In fairness to Wilkerson in terms of his on field production, it’s not out of the question so suggest he may have rushed himself back after breaking his leg in week 17 of the 2015 season, perhaps impacting his get off on the line. As a matter of fact, Wilkerson appeared so lethargic for much of the 2016 season that the Jets had better hope the injury played a role, because if that’s the type of effort they’ll be getting from Wilkerson moving forward, the team is in big trouble.
With a pair of solid interior linemen in Steve McLendon and former 7th round pick Deon Simon, who showed steady improvement last season, the Jets unquestionably have the talent to be very good along the defensive line, which again, is not something you generally get out of a team that’s looking to tank.
There’s a very real chance that Gang Green will go in to 2017 with an improved offensive and defensive lines with a chance to vastly improve the quarterback play.
This isn’t to say that tanking isn’t in the works, but it’s far to early to say for sure that it is.