The second of a five part series on what the Jets might do in the 2011 offseason (once it begins officially that is).
What we have:
LaDainian Tomlinson- cap value: $3.5m, $ saved if cut: $2.625m
Shonn Green- cap value: $713k, $ saved if cut: $261k
Joe McKnight- cap value: $530k, $ saved if cut: $155k
Chris Jennings- cap value: $405k, $ saved if cut: $405k
Carlos Brown- cap value: $330k, $ saved if cut: $330k
John Connor- cap value: $454k, $ saved if cut: $305k
Bilal Powell- unknown, but I will assume his contract is similar to Joe McKnights who was also a 4th round pick.
Tomlinson and Green form one of the better 1-2 punches in the NFL offering battering ram inside moves in Greene with finesse/catching capabilities in Tomlinson. Issues are that Greene fumbles a lot and LT is getting pretty long in the tooth to be an every down runner meaning that I think it will be dangerous to assume LT can replicate his 2010 production. McKnight will have to step it up this year and improve his hands if he is to be a long term solution as a rotation running back. In retrospect, I love the Powell pick to light a fire under Mcknight and hedge against any injuries. John Connor showed a lot last year and is entrenched as the starting FB. I don't know a ton about Chris Jennings other than the computer thought I was typing “Kris Jenkins” into the google search bar when I started researching him. My understanding is that he’s an all heart guy that walked onto his college team and was a UDFA in the CFL before getting a chance in the NFL with the Browns. Most likely a training camp body at this point but he has good size (5’10” 218) and is only 25yrs old. Carlos Brown is an interesting prospect. He was a Rivals 5 star recruit coming out of HS and was ranked as the #39 overall prospect in the nation when he signed with Michigan. His college career was unspectacular as he struggled with injuries and terrible coaching but showed a ton of ability. He’s still young (23) and has some athleticism so he is one to watch.
There are a lot of available FA RBs and FBs this year and a handful on interesting UDFAs from the draft. I’ll address the FB free agents first. The Jets prefer battering-ram type fullbacks who knock linebackers on their asses and don't like pussyfoot pass catching FBs which will eliminate guys like Brian Leonard from the fold. I think potentially interesting targets to push Connor at FB could be Ahmard Hall from the Titans, Lex Hilliard from the Dolphins, or former Pitt Panther UDFA Henry Hynoski. I like Hilliard a lot and he has some solid speed so he can be a useful special teams player in addition to pushing for the FB job but his blocking isn’t nearly at the same level as Hall or even Hynoski. Hynoski would be an interesting addition given his youth and size (nearly 260). Whatever the Jets do, this is not an area of major concern so FB should not be a place they spend a lot of money.
The RB list is interesting and there are names that could push for roster spots on the Jets. Kentucky speedster Derrick Locke was drafted by the UFL and could have a shot as a Leon Washington type for the Jets, Noel Devine was a dynamic college playmaker with video game like agility and excellent hands but is massively undersized, and our own Leon Washington is a free agent again though he will not be a low price acquisition. I think guys like Locke and Devine would be interesting pickups to compete for playing time in the return game but they offer little competition for the RBs on the current roster for carries.
Carlos Brown and Chris Jennings are training camp bodies and have little or no chance of making the opening day roster with the Jets taking 3 running backs in the last 3 drafts. Cutting the two of them saves a grand total of $735k though this number will be made up for when they sign Powell for ~$550k (going rate for a 4th rounder). The balance can go towards getting a practice squad guy (I like Devine) so net-net it will be about $200- $250k in savings to the cap figure.
RB1: Shonn Greene- a young thumper that can run over linebackers and get to the second level. He’ll need to work on his hands and fumbling issues this year to cement himself as an every down back.
RB2: Ladainian Tomlinson- a dynamic multi threat on the wrong side of 30 but with some gas left in the tank. I think he should be good for 150-200 touches this season and will help develop some of the young guys on this roster while spelling Greene for long stretches.
RB3: Joe McKnight- A bit of a disappointment as a rookie, but hopefully the Powell pick lights a fire underneath since he has the talent of a first round pick. He can be a dynamic runner when he wants to be and has solid run after the catch potential and could even be a return specialist.
RB4: Bilal Powell- Should push for limited playing time initially but will likely see the field more given Greene’s injury issues and Tomlinson’s age later on in the season. He was good value in the 4th round and has a lot of upside but might be a bit too small to be an every down back in the long term.
FB1: John Connor- The Terminator will get the bulk of the time at FB this year and will help open up holes for the backs. He was impressive as a rookie and learned under one of the position’s great masters in Tony Richardson last season. He’s ready for the big time.
Practice squad: Noel Devine- Great little scatback with a ton of potential in the return game. His agility is second to none though his timed 40 time underwhelmed in the draft process. If the Jets can’t resign Brad Smith, he has a real chance to push for playing time on special teams and is a solid practice squad body at worst.
2011 cap implications (assuming 2009 rules):
Total RB cap hit: $5.2m
RBs as a % of total cap (using $128m, the cap figure in 2009, as a benchmark): 4%
The Jets seem to be punching far above their weight in the RB department and seem to have one of the most cost effective backfields in the NFL. They’ve done well to find RB talent in the middle rounds- Greene 3rd, Powell/McKnight 4th Connor in the 5th- and signed Tomlinson to a below market contract last offseason. Well played Mike and Rex, well played.