Note from John B: Please join me in welcoming Arun Krishnan to the writing staff. Arun has been a long-time regular in the comments section. He has also been part of the GGN moderating team and a staff writer at SB Nation's Pinstripe Alley for some time. Over the next few weeks, you will see a number of new additions to the GGN writing family. Arun is the first.
Coming off an active off-season, there is a lot of optimism around the 2015 New York Jets. The team may be coming off a 4-12 season and four straight seasons without postseason football, however this roster appears far more talented than Jets squads of recent years. The one caveat, a lot of the more talented players on this team are veterans.
General Manager Mike Maccagnan inherited a team that hasn't had the best success rate with recent drafts, meaning he had to go out and spend heavily to acquire impact talent. This of course means the team has needed to pay the full market rate, but perhaps more importantly has led to a squad that relies heavily on older players. Even key players drafted and extended by the Jets, such as Nick Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and David Harris are arguably now on the decline phases of their career. 18 of the players on the current Jets roster are 30 or older, the majority of those are almost certain to make the final 53, and play meaningful snaps.
Consider David Wyatt's recent article discussing the players this franchise can least afford to lose to injury. These are naturally the most important players to the Jets' 2015 chances, and with the exception of one position every player mentioned is in the over-30 group. That one exception is of course the defensive line, the deepest unit on the team, built almost completely on young talent. As the Jets showed last season though, having just a dominant defensive line doesn't win a lot of games, it will need the support of the rest of the team. Below are some of the positional groups where the Jets will look to rely on veteran production towards hopefully securing a playoff berth.
Key Veterans: Darrelle Revis (30), Antonio Cromartie (31)
The return of surefire Hall-of-Famer Revis has arguably caused more offseason excitement than any other move Maccagnan has made, and with good reason. Almost certainly still one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, he was rated fourth in Pro Football Focus positional rankings for those that use this as a benchmark. Even if PFF rankings aren't your cup of tea though, Revis is still widely respected around the league, and by opposing quarterbacks. Now that he is entering his 30's though, the discussion of his impending decline has naturally begun. While it is true that he may have lost a step, the hope here is that the cerebral ability he brings to the position will make any decline a slow one.
Cromartie, though, may not carry the same confidence. Ranked 45th by PFF last year, and 102nd in his injury limited 2013 that Jets fans probably remember all too well, he doesn't carry quite the same expectations for a slow decline. His game probably relies more on his incredible physical ability than Revis' does, and 31 his best days are almost certainly behind him. Hopefully he has at least one good year left playing opposite his old secondary partner.
Key Veterans: Nick Mangold (31), D'Brickashaw Ferguson (32)
No team will devote more of its 2015 salary cap space to the offensive line than the Jets, and yet for all that spending it would seem this unit causes Jets fans more worry than any other on the squad. Furthermore, arguably the only stabilising forces on the line in Mangold and Ferguson are both getting older.
Mangold is a case where I personally don't put a lot of faith in PFF myself. It has him rated as the 19th best center of last season, but to my - perhaps highly biased - mind he remains significantly better than that. He doesn't have a lot of support either side of him, but he is undoubtedly the anchor of the line and as David pointed out in his article arguably the most important player to the Jets' hopes. Ferguson, on the other hand, has seemed to be much more inconsistent in recent seasons. He is perhaps no less important than Mangold though, this team simply has no tackle depth behind him. Both these veterans, perhaps more than any others, maintaining a high level of play into their 30's is an absolute must for this franchise.
Key Veterans: David Harris (31), Calvin Pace (35)
Not the most glamorous unit on the roster, certainly overshadowed by the line in front of them and the secondary behind. However, both these long-time Jets will play significant snaps on this team. Harris, particularly, having been brought back this offseason for the 8th highest inside linebacker contract, is clearly seen as a vital part of the defense under the new regime. He is being paid largely for his contribution against the run, and was rated by PFF as a liability in coverage last year. This is a case where the eye test seems to mesh up with performance, so hopefully as he continues his age-related athletic decline, Todd Bowles has a plan to use him in a way that makes him a net asset on the field.
Pace, on the other hand, is probably at the point where he needs to start transitioning into a part-time player, but this is predicated on younger outside linebackers like Quinton Coples and new draftee Lorenzo Mauldin holding down starting spots. It is very likely that instead Pace will remain a starter at least initially, so hopefully he can take advantage of the matchups created by the talented line in front of him.
Key Veteran: Brandon Marshall (31)
For all the positivity from the offseason, it is entirely possible that the only impact addition to the offense for 2015 will end up being Brandon Marshall. As impact additions go, though, this is a big one. Coming off an injury driven down-year in 2014, the hope is that Marshall can return to being his Pro Bowl calibre, 1000 yard receiver while also drawing enough attention to open up opportunities for the rest of the receiving core. Of course, he is getting older, but there has been some research into the decline curve of wide receivers to suggest Marshall is still very much in the middle of a period of his career where we should expect more of a slow decline and less of him falling off a cliff.
Considering the heights where he is declining from, this is still a very significant upgrade from what the Jets had starting opposite Eric Decker last year.
The team may not necessarily need every single veteran to have a solid season, however, it is worth remembering that this team looks like a marginal candidate for the playoffs to begin with, especially since it cannot look for great quarterback play to paper over any other cracks in the roster. If the Jets are to have a positive 2015, the majority of the older players on the roster will need to have at least one more good season in them.
Personally, I'm optimistic that the veteran talent on the roster will edge out Father Time for at least this year, and help drive this franchise back into playoff contention. What do you think? Is this team talented enough to be playing deep into January, or is it simply too old to compete?