We are on the cusp of the second most insane day of the NFL off-season calendar, the first day of free agency. Rumors fly and money flies faster. People get excited about which big name they can bring to their team, who will be "overpaid", and how awesome it will be with XYZ player on the team because he'd be an idiot not to sign with us. Most NFL teams will have their GM's abilities dissed by fans. It's all quite awesome.
With the right GM, however, free agency is a very effective tool to strengthen the personnel on the roster. Most teams will leap out of their minds to bid on the big stars, the top names on the market, in an attempt for the quick fix. Sometimes to great effect, and sometimes to their disadvantage. However, the true sign of a great general manager who knows how to play the free agency game is the one who can get quality vets at mid-level, fringe market value contracts who seamlessly fit in with the team and the system to turn weak spots into steady spots. We saw examples of this last year with the Jets when they signed James Carpenter, who was a first round disappointment in Seattle, to a moderate contract. Carpenter played very well last year, probably the most consistent player on the offensive line last year, and more importantly was a rock steady player at a position which caused the Jets all sorts of issues in 2014. Carpenter cost 2.375 million against the cap last year and will not exceed 5.75 million in any year, with no cost if the Jets want to release him. To a lesser extent, Marcus Gilchrist was another one as he cost 3.25 million against the cap this season to turn a rotating spot into a steady consistent starter, albeit a mid-level one.
With a Jets team that is tight against the cap (according to overthecap.com, the Jets have the least amount of cap space in the NFL, though they have not yet taken any measures to free up cap space unlike the Dolphins), the bargain bin may be the only way for the Jets to go. There are still plenty of holes on this roster, from QB to RB to TE to ILB to CB to nose tackle to offensive line. Shopping for cheaper vets will be critical. Who are some mid, lower level guys the Jets should target? Here's my list:
Ladarius Green, TE, Chargers
Green has long since been tabbed to be the next guy to take over for Gates when he was drafted in the 4th round in 2012, but it's now 4 years later and Gates is still going strong. Gates, who is also a free agent, doesn't appear to be going anywhere and it might be time for Green to branch out. I don't know what Green will command on the market. He's been a backup for 4 years, and had just 429 yards as a career high this past season. Still, at 6-6, 240 pounds, with long arms (34.5 inches), 4.53 speed and a 35 inch vertical leap, the guy screams matchup nightmare. For a team that didn't have much to throw to beyond Marshall and Decker (Bilal Powell was the #3 receiver!!!), he might be a worthwhile deal for a reasonable price.
Nick Perry, OLB, Packers
The perennial tease. Nick Perry was a first round pick back in 2012 who, due to injuries, never really got on track. As such, his cost might be pretty low. However, when he's been cut loose, he's shown some ability to get to the QB. He certainly carries some momentum into the offseason, having posted 3.5 sacks in Green Bay's 2 playoff games in 2015. The Jets should be looking into anyone who might be able to give the pass rush a boost and Perry could be a cost effective selection with upside if he's healthy.
Stephen Tulloch, ILB, Lions
Tulloch is getting long in the tooth and hasn't been the same since he tore his ACL in 2014 doing the discount double check in celebrating of sacking Aaron Rodgers, but he's still a smart and fundamentally sound player who could eat some snaps inside next to David Harris on some downs. Having two heady players at inside linebacker may help stem the flow of mistakes that we saw with a guy like Demario Davis. Had over 100 tackles last year.
Nigel Bradham, ILB, Bills
Bradham is the type of free agent that might be right down our alley. In 2014 he stepped in for the celebrated Kiko Alonso and the team didn't miss a beat defensively, as Bradham proved to be a sideline to sideline 3 down backer. Fast forward a year, and he has depressed value because he wasn't a good fit for Rex's defense, his playing time waned, and he missed 5 games. He's a speedy, athletic player who is a little undersized, however, we've seen Bowles work with undersized linebackers with success (Deone Bucannon is an example). The Jets could get a bargain here on a player that looked like he was worth much more after 2014.
Jerraud Powers, CB, Cardinals
Far from a world beater, but Powers is still only 28, should come fairly cheap, and has managed to stick as a starter on some pretty good football teams in Arizona and Indy before that. The Jets are clearly in the market for cornerback help, as they have been checking out Pac Man and Prince Amukamara.
Who are some bargain bin players you would target?