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Jets Offseason Moves: Some Suggestions

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the season PFF contributor and GGN Podcast co-host Andrew provides the site with advanced stats from Pro Football Focus’ database to help provide some insight into what you may have missed during Sunday’s game. Here he lays out his offseason plan for his beloved New York Jets.

Cap Situation- 14M in space before cuts

Key Free Agents-
Muhammad Wilkerson
Damon Harrison
Ryan Fitzpatrick
Chris Ivory
Bilal Powell

Easy Moves-

Cut Antonio Cromartie - Quarterbacks had a 112.0 rating when throwing in Cromartie’s direction this year. While Cro historically offset his mistakes with big plays from time to time, those plays were few and far between in 2015. Cutting him would save 8 million against the cap and would leave no dead money in future years. In addition, the Jets have a ready-made replacement in Marcus Williams who flashed playmaking ability outside when given a chance.

Note: Listen to this week’s GGN Podcast where Andrew and Co-Host sp0rtsfan86 discuss the impact of Cromartie’s release. his legacy as a Jet and much more.

Cut Breno Giacomini- One of the more underrated aspects of the Jets season was Ryan Fitzpatrick’s ability to avoid sacks while under constant duress from a below average offensive line. The Jets line was only charged for 12 sacks according to PFF but that was more a product of Fitzpatricks’ elusiveness than solid pass protection. The Jets line allowed the 4th most hurries in the league with 154 and was in the top 10 in hits allowed with 35. Giacomini was an obvious culprit both when watching film and looking at the numbers. He was tied for 5th in total pressures allowed with 54. Cutting Breno would save 3 million against the cap. Doing so and looking for an upgrade will be one of Mike Maccagnan’s foremost priorities this offseason

Restructure D’Brickashaw Ferguson- While Giacomini was a liability, longtime fan favorite Ferguson wasn’t much better. Brick accounted for the 2nd most pressures allowed in the league with 59. While Ferguson is undoubtedly a team leader, his 14M cap number this year is untenable. Converting 8M of his 14M base salary into a signing bonus would open up an additional 5M in cap space and wouldn’t hamstring the Jets cap in the future. Look for this to get done rather quickly as Brick is still a viable starter in this league and everyone involved wants to see him retire a Jet.

Cut Jeff Cumberland and Brian Winters- Cumberland’s inability to get open was a key factor in the Jets targeting the Tight End the least of any team in the league last year. Meanwhile, Brian Winters was inserted into the starting Right Guard position after Willie Colon was lost for the year. Winters was a negative in both pass protection and run blocking so the Jets can stand to make an upgrade.  Every ounce of cap space is going to be imperative this offseason and the 3 Million saved by cutting these two underachievers could be used to upgrade the roster elsewhere.

After all these moves, the Jets will have 32M in Cap Space.

Decisions, Decisions

How do you structure Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract?- Both the Jets and Fitzpatrick are smart enough to realize that they are better staying together than going their separate ways. The Jets would be hard pressed to find a better QB on the street and Fitzpatrick won’t find the combination of pass catchers and familiarity with the coaching staff anywhere else on the open market.  The question however, is how will the contract be structured? If Fitzpatrick is willing to take less money in year 1 to help bring back the multitude of free agents the Jets have on the docket this offseason, do the Jets oblige? The easy answer is yes but I would lean towards no. If Fitzpatrick regresses next year and the Jets want to make an upgrade at QB, it’s possible that Fitzpatrick’s cap hit in year 2 would restrict the Jets from making such a move. A deal in the 3 year 24M range with half of it guaranteed seems like the likeliest solution.

Wilkerson or Harrison?- There is still a slim chance that the Jets are able to bring both of their elite free agent lineman back into the fold but the team has to be prepared to lose one of them. Unless the Jets can come to terms with Wilkerson before the franchise tag deadline, tagging him at the 14M dollar number is the most prudent route to take. What they do from there is where it gets interesting. Harrison has come out and said that he may be willing to take less money to stay in green but I have a hard time believing that. It will probably cost about 8M a year to sign Snacks and as much as I would love to have the elite run stuffer back, there is no way the Jets can justify bringing him back while letting Mo go for nothing. Wilkerson provides something that Harrison just does not and that is a pass rush. We all saw how important that was in Denver’s run to the Super Bowl. Wilkerson was 2nd among all 3-4 DE’s in total pressures with 78 total sacks, hits and hurries. However, there is one solution that has been mentioned that I would be in favor of and that would be tagging and trading Wilkerson. If the Jets can get a 1st rounder from somebody to take Mo, the Jets should pounce. However, as good as Wilkerson is, I have a hard time seeing anyone giving up the value of a low salaried 1st round player in addition to  giving Wilkerson the money he wants. The prediction here is the Jets tag Wilkerson and eventually come to a long term deal at about 13M a year but not before Snacks Harrison has already put pen to paper with another organization.

What to do at Running Back?- Both Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell are free agents this offseason and with all the other holes on the roster, there’s no chance the Jets pay both. Ivory is one of those players who you would love to have on your team as he goes all out on every play. However, as has been covered to death, you just can’t rely on him to be on the field due to his style of play. With the market likely to give him 4-5M a year, I just don’t see any way the Jets can justify giving him that type of money. Who knows though? Maybe the rest of the league has the same rationale which would lower Ivory’s demands back to a more reasonable salary of 2-3M a year. That’s unlikely though. As for Powell, he should be cheaper to keep. The Jets best stretch of the season came with Powell playing his best ball. He emerged as the Jets #3 option in the pass game garnering more Receiving yards than any running back from his return in Week 11 to Week 16. His absence in Week 17 was felt immensely as the Jets were forced to ride Stevan Ridley on passing downs which may have compelled Fitzpatrick to take those ill-advised shots down the field. Those shots eventually ended the Jets season. The Jets would also be wise to look at the draft for an upgrade at RB. Perhaps even as high as the 1st round if Ezekiel Elliot is available at 20th overall.

Other Positions of Need

Right Guard- Mike Maccagnan did a good job in signing James Carpenter last offseason to help fill a gaping hole at Left Guard. However, the combination of Willie Colon and Brian Winters just didn’t cut it on the other side in 2015. The Jets do have some prospects in Jarvis Harrison, Dakota Dozier and Brent Qvale but none of them have shown enough to go into next season as the unquestioned starter.

Inside Linebacker- It’s been years since the Jets have had an Inside Linebacker who could hold up in coverage. The Demario Davis experiment is mercifully coming to an end as he never lived up to the lofty expectations Rex Ryan bestowed upon him when he was drafted in the 3rd round out of Arkansas State.  Erin Henderson showed pretty well when he was given a chance but he is also a free agent. He will likely be brought back on a cheap contract but with his shaky history off the field, he cannot be relied upon. One option would be to insert Rontez Miles or Dion Bailey on obvious passing downs which is how Todd Bowles utilized his safeties when he was the Defensive Coordinator in Arizona. One intriguing possibility would be selecting Notre Dame ILB Jaylon Smith in Round 1. It’s unlikely Smith even plays a snap next year as he is coming off a torn ACL in Notre Dame’s bowl game. However, Smith was a top 5 type of talent before the injury and it would be eerily reminiscent of last year’s draft for Maccagnan to select such a talent so far down in the draft.

Rush Linebacker- The immortal Calvin Pace has been an absolute pro in his time with the Jets but it’s way past time for an upgrade. Lorenzo Mauldin had a real promising year delivering some much needed pressure off the edge to complement the interior disruption caused by Leo and the Sons of Anarchy. With the possible loss of Wilkerson, it’s imperative that M2 finally fills the need that has been a glaring hole on this roster for far too long.

- While Jeremy Kerley finally overcame his addiction to fair catches this season, he lacks the dynamic qualities one wants from an ideal punt returner. The Jets may also cut him as he no longer fits what they do on offense and would free up 2M in cap space with his departure. The bigger issue is Kick Returner. The Jets were sending the likes of Zac Stacy out to return kicks this year and for a team that is so reliant on field position, that setup is indefensible. It really shouldn’t be too hard to find a guy to spark the return game and it seems like Maccagnan is already trying with his acquisition of the speedy Dri Archer.

Punter- I can pinpoint at least 2 games where shaky punting cost the Jets a victory in the 2015 season. Steve Weatherford’s horrendous performance in the first Patriots game was likely the difference between winning and losing. The Jets cut him the next week and reinserted Ryan Quigley into the lineup. Quigley was his usual inconsistent self, mixing in the occasional boomer with his typical shanks. Those shanks came back to bite the Jets in the ass during the fateful week 17 loss in Buffalo. The Special Teams as a whole needs to be upgraded and hopefully the firing of Bobby April and the subsequent hiring of new Special Teams Coordinator Brant Boyer will bring the Jets back to the "glory days" of Mike Westhoff’s best units.

Free Agency

If the goal of last offseason was to litter a barren roster with talent, the goal of this offseason is to retain that talent so don’t look for the Jets to make a big splash in Free Agency. However, every year there are players who get signed for relatively cheap and subsequently produce in a new scheme. It is Mike Maccagnan’s job to find those players but I’ll do him a solid and lay out a few possible targets that will help the Jets on the cheap next year.

Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis Colts
- I was a big fan of Allen’s coming out of Clemson. He had both the size to hold up as a blocker, as well as the speed to outrun linebackers up the seam. Allen’s best year came in his rookie campaign as he graded out as PFF’s top rated Tight End in run blocking. He also produced in the passing game, amassing 45 catches for over 500 yards. For context, Jets Tight Ends had 8 catches as a whole last year. Unfortunately, Allen has struggled to get on the field since then due to injuries and the decline of 2 Tight End sets in the Colts Offense. With fellow teammate Coby Fleener also a free agent, look for Allen to hit the open market. A contract for 2-3 million a year would be worth it for a guy who can play all 3 downs and represent a major upgrade from what the Jets had on the field this year.

Alex Boone, OG, San Francisco 49ers – Since he was inserted into the starting lineup in 2011, Alex Boone has been among the most complete guards in football. He has held up well in pass protection (20 total pressures in 2015) and dominates in the run game when put in the right position. However, Boone earned his first negative grade in run blocking during the 2015 season. Not coincidentally, 2015 was Boone’s first year at Left Guard as he was asked to replace the departing Mike Iupati. The Jets have a big hole at Right Guard so it would behoove Mike Maccagnan to see what Boone would want financially to come to New York and move back to his more natural position.

Joe Barksdale, OT, San Diego Chargers- Barksdale sat on the open market all the way into May last year before the Chargers finally gave him a one year contract. Barksdale had a decent year, allowing 46 total pressures with a statue of a Quarterback in Phillip Rivers playing behind him. Ryan Fitzpatrick, while not in the same league as Rivers as a player, is a more mobile guy who can help cover up an Offensive Lineman’s mistakes. Just ask Breno Giacomini. Barksdale should be relatively cheap to sign and would be a nice addition to come in and compete with Brent Qvale for the starting Right Tackle spot.

Daryl Washington, ILB, Arizona Cardinals- When on the field, Washington is one of the most dynamic players playing the Inside Linebacker position today. He is a force against the run, shows good technique in coverage and can also get after the passer with the best of them. However, he’s also one of the most troubled players in the league as he hasn’t played a snap since the 2013 season due to a multitude of personal demons including issues with marijuana and the much more malicious crime of aggravated assault to which he pleaded guilty to in 2014. It’s possible Mike Maccagnan won’t find Washington worth the trouble but giving him an invite to training camp to show his former coordinator Todd Bowles that he finally has his head on straight may be worth the risk as he presents a massive upgrade in the middle of the defense.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter @ClocksHersh and listen to him on the Gang Green Nation Podcast as well as the NextFanUp Podcast with PodVader.