This is the fourth in a series of posts ranking the New York Jets' 23 free agents. Today we will look at players ranked between 1 and 5.
The ranking is simple. If money was not an issue, what would the order of priority be in keeping the free agents the team has?
5. Bilal Powell (Unrestricted)
For the first four and a half years of his career, Powell was unspectacular. He was never a great liability, but there also was not a whole lot he brought to the table. Over the last month and a half of the season, he seemed to find his niche. Powell became a big part of the passing game, the third option behind Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. He showed burst and wiggle that he had never shown in the NFL before. Was it a case of a player finding the right role in the right system? I cannot rate Powell higher than this because four and a half seasons is usually more indicative of a player's talent than a six game stretch. I still would like to see whether Powell can build upon his great late season work. Fortunately, since he only had one big stretch, his pricetag is unlikely to be much higher. He should remain affordable.
4. Chris Ivory (Unrestricted)
I think we saw once and for all this season that Ivory is best suited for a change of pace role. You limit his carries early occasionally tossing him in to give your main guy a break and defenses different look. You bring him in to pound on tired defenses in the fourth quarter. If Ivory has to be the top guy, is he capable? You can live with it if you have no other choice. He did break 1,000 yards for the first time this season. His path to getting there was wildly inconsistent, though. Part of this is because he struggles to stay healthy. Even in a lot of the games he did play this season, he was clearly less than 100%. What makes him so tough to tackle is what limits him. Ivory dishes out a pounding with his physical running style, but he also absorbs a lot of punishment himself. I would like to see Ivory back. There is no guarantee the Jets will be able to draft a starting caliber back. The Jets do need to keep in mind how much tread is on those tires, though.
3. Damon Harrison (Unrestricted)
Harrison is a wonderful run stopper. Say what you will about Mike Tannenbaum. The old general manager certainly did not do a good job at the end of his tenure, but Harrison was a nice parting gift. An undrafted free agent who becomes a really good starter is like found gold. I do not think he will be back with the team. The Jets have ample talent along the defensive line. Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson are also really good run stuffers, but unlike Harrison, they are also good pass rushers. These guys will get more snaps on the interior where they might be more effective. Harrison's presence pushed them outside. Because of this, the Jets will not pay Snacks top dollar. All of the talent up front also means it really does not make much sense to stretch financially to keep him. Still in an ideal world, the Jets could keep him. He is one of the most talented run defenders in the league.
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick (Unrestricted)
Yes, I know. Noodle arm, aging, ceiling, regression, never made the Playoffs. In the NFL a solid quarterback is more valuable than a very good almost anything else. Fitzpatrick is a solid quarterback. Is there a good chance he will regress? Sure, he just had a career year. Even if he falls back to his Buffalo and Tennessee production, that still might be good enough to win games with a strong defense and receiving corps. It is difficult to envision a better quarterback on the market than even the Buffalo/Tennessee vintage Fitzpatrick. That is the key question. If the Jets do not bring back Fitzpatrick, who is the upgrade they can get? There probably is not one. I will end by asking this question. Is it at least remotely possible that Fitzpatrick is a late bloomer? Maybe could somebody after bouncing around the league find the right team, system, and supporting cast? I'd like to find out. I don't see any better options.
1. Muhammad Wilkerson (Unrestricted)
Wilkerson reminded everybody this season that he is one of the best defensive linemen in football. You can stick him anywhere on the line. You can ask him to play the run or the pass. He will succeed. A year ago after Sheldon Richardson's breakout season, there was a bit of a debate as to which of the two the team should prioritize. When looking at Wilkerson's season combined with Richardson's troubles, the debate appears to be over for the time being. The top priority of the offseason should be to keep Mo in green and white for a long time.