In this post I would once again like to highlight 2 players who may possibly be able to be had at a bargain. In these 2 cases, as opposed to those of Jeremy Maclin and Anthony Spencer, the players may be coming at a bargain not due to the fact that they're recovering from a major injury, but rather because they happen to have had a somewhat down year. The 2 players highlighted in this post are DE/OLB Michael Johnson of the Bengals and RB Maurice Jones Drew of the Jaguars.
Bio: A personal favorite of our very own John B, Johnson was picked in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft by the Bengals and played OLB through the 2011 season after which the Bengals switched him over to DE. While he didn't produce all that much his first 3 seasons, he really came into his own and became a force in 2012, when he notched 11.5 sacks and had the Bengals place the franchise tag on him after the season. While his counting stats are somewhat down this year, I'm not entirely sure he can be considered to have a "down" year. Yes, he only has 3.5 sacks (bad), but according to the bengals website, he has accumulated 32 pressures over the course of 15 games played. That's just a huge number. Furthermore, he's so good at run defense that PFF considered him as a backup DE for their Pro Bowl Team despite his low sack total saying "the run defense of Michael Johnson has been phenominal".
Jets needs: As has been mentioned ad nauseum, the Jets pass rush stinks. Even though Calvin Pace has 10 sacks this year, as Scott Salmon points out, Pace hasn't exactly been good. The Jets, simply put, have a putrid pass rush. Considering that Rex Ryan;s defense is predicated on the CB's being placed on an island a bunch, it is imperative that the Front 7 generate some pressure. Sadly, they have been unable to do so (despite decent sack totals) and the pass defense has suffered immensely.
Will he be re-signed: Unfortunately, it appears there is a very good chance he will be. Per overthecap.com, the Bengals have almost $26 million available in cap space this upcoming offseason, and they don't have really have any big free agents of their own to re-sign, aside from Johnson. That being said, they didn't re-sign him following last offseason and instead only placed the Franchise Tag on him, so maybe they just don't view him in their long term plans or just will be unable to come to an agreement with him.
How would he fit the Jets: Quite excellently. Johnson is a monster of a physical specimen at 6'7" 270 and even though he's currently a DE, switching him to OLB won't be the disaster it has been with Quinton Coples, as Johnson has played OLB extensively in the past, so there should be no learning curve. Johnson provides the pass rush boost the Jets would need, as his 11.5 sacks in 2012 would be more already then any single Jets player has totaled under Rex Ryan. Heck, even though he only had 3.5 sacks this year, his 29 pressures would have been very very much appreciated by this defense. Furthermore, Johnson would make an already outstanding run defense even more prolific. In the words of my good friend who is a diehard Ravens fan "he is amazing at everything". Johnson would be a great fit for the Jets.
Why this would be a good move: As stated above, Johnson would likely be a vast improvement to the Jets anemic pass rush. Furthermore, it is decently possible that he will be viewed as having had a down year and thus maybe not rake in the type of enormous FA contract that the likes of Brian Orakpo will likely receive. Even if you consider that he's been great against the run, most teams won't lay out huge dollars for a run stuffing DE/OLB.
Why this would not be a good move: Even though he hasn't had the best season, Johnson still may very well get a huge deal. Pass rushing OLB's often get huge contracts and teams may view this season as an aberration and look at the fact that he had 32 pressures as proof he can still be an excellent pass rusher. Additionally, they may look at his very well-rounded game and decide he is worth top dollar. Should the Jets pay top dollar for a player who may really be more the 3.5 sack dud of this year and not the 11.5 sack artist of last season?
Verdict: I think the Jets should definitely go after him if he can be had for only a decent amount. If his price jumps into the upper category, I still think he may very well be worth paying top dollar to.
Bio: Jones-Drew, who will turn 29 in March, was drafted by the Jags 60th overall in the 2008 draft. For a while, Jones-Drew was absolutely one of the best RB's in the entire league, but it really appears those days are past him. He put up fantastic numbers to start the season in 2012, totaling 408 yards on a 4.86 YPC over the first 5 games of the season. However, his season came to an end when he broke his leg on his 2nd carry in the 6th game of the season. This season, he's been playing hurt a lot and his numbers have taken a major dive as he only managed 803 yards with a 3.43 YPC.
Jets Needs: In all honesty, I don't think the Jets an RB in free agency, and certainly not one sporting Jones-Drew's age and wear. That being said, the Jets could probably use an upgrade over Bilal Powell, as Chris Ivory, while good, is probably not good enough to carry the load on his own. If the Jets were to sign Jones-Drew, it would probably be in a situation similar to when the Jets sign LaDanian Tomlinson a few years back, and that worked out pretty well.
Will he be re-signed: I doubt it. I know the Jags have tons of cap space but I really think they'll be going in another direction. I also don't see why on earth Jones-Drew would ever want to stay with that franchise. The guy has to want to be on a winning squad at some point in his professional life, right?
How would he fit the Jets: Here is really the most interesting part. While I have in fact stated that I don't want the Jets to sign him (and I assume the vast majority of people agree with me), there are some rather interesting tidbits regarding Jones-Drew that made me think that maybe there is good reason for the Jets to sign him. The thing that interested me so much was Jones-Drew's pass protection skills. Simply put, the Jets RB's this season were absolutely awful in pass protection. I don't have the PFF stats to back it up (I don't have a subscription) but I distinctly remember X'es&O'es talking about it in his game reviews and mentioning how Jets backs ranked among the league's absolute worst in protecting QB's. Jones-Drew however, is elite in this regard. While I don't have a PFF subscription, so it was a little difficult to find these stats, I still was able to find some nuggets pointing out Jones-Drew's greatness in protecting the passer.
- On July 12th, 2012 (in other words - before last season started) PFF did a review of RB's in pass protection from the previous 3 seasons. PFF found that Jones-Drew was the 5th best back in football at protecting the passer over that 3 year span, as Jones-Drew allowed just 10 QB disruptions over 288 pass protection snaps (97.22% success rate).
- On Nov 13 of this season, PFF noted that Jones-Drew had not allowed a QB pressure on 158 consecutive pass protection snaps dating back to 2011.
- On Dec 4 of this season, PFF tweeted that Jones-Drew had the best pass protection mark in the entire league, having not allowed a QB disruption on any of his 93 pass protects on the season.
Besides this, Jones-Drew can very much help out Geno Smith (or whomever the Jets have at QB next season) simply by being an RB who is remotely capable at catching the ball out of the backfield. Geno needed all the help he could get this year, and he couldn't even rely on his RB's to catch easy screen passes and help him out. Jones-Drew has averaged 47 catches per 16 games for his career (he had 43 in 15 games this season) and could definitely help Geno out.
Why this would be a good move: It probably wouldn't be the best possible move, even if he's only signed to be a co-back with Ivory, similar to the arrangement Thomas Jones and Tomlinson had. Still, he definitely brings enough to the table to help the Jets out. Even if he's not a great runner anymore, and even if his best days are far behind him, he's still probably at least equal to Bilal Powell in running ability in a limited role and his pass protection and catching skills definitely make him a better option than Powell.
Why this would not be a good move: Jones-Drew is old and running backs, especially small running backs, tend to fall off a cliff when they hit a certain age. It is very possible that he has lost a step that he will never regain. For a shifty, juke-back like Jones-Drew, losing that step can be deadly to his skills. The Jets could probably get someone better using a mid-round pick in the draft. Additionally, if Jones-Drew tries commanding a decently large salary by banking on his excellent reputation, he's definitely not worth the price.
Verdict: I don't want the Jets to sign a RB in free agency at all, and even if they did, Jones-Drew wouldn't be at the top of my list. Still, if they signed him to a cheap deal I wouldn't be as upset now after doing some research as I originally thought I would have been. I know "intangibles" is sometimes very overrated, but Jones-Drew really does bring some intangibles to the job that could help the Jets.