Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pre-Free Agency Roster Analysis

With free agency set to begin on Friday, it's time to review the current roster and see where the Jets need to improve this offseason and where they're set heading into 2010-2011.

Don't expect a splash like the past two years where the Jets splurged to sign top free agents such as Alan Faneca, Calvin Pace, and Bart Scott. That's because the Jets' success actually works against them in the last year of the collective bargaining agreement in the Final Eight rule.

The basics are that the Jets and the other seven teams who advanced to the divisional playoffs can't sign free agents until their own free agents leave to go elsewhere. Unfortunately for the Jets, their biggest free agents are K Jay Feely, TE Ben Hartsock, and DE Marques Douglas, a group that won't get big contracts.

The Jets will also be hamstrung with a lack of draft picks due to the Sheppard and Braylon Edwards trades. As of now, the Jets have draft picks in the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 7th rounds.

That means the two areas in which the Jets will be most aggressive to improve the team in are in trades and waiver wire pickups. Tannenbaum has been aggressive in the past, and with restrictions on what he can do, he will have to get creative.

But the Jets will surely go after some players released by other teams, as Tannenbaum can ink these players with impunity. Adalius Thomas is one possibility, as he could be released from New England by Friday. Keep an eye on who other teams release, as those are the players the Jets are most likely to pursue.

Where will the Jets attempt to improve their roster? Let's go position-by-position and analyze the team's needs.

Quarterback: Mark Sanchez, Kellen Clemens, Erik Ainge, Kevin O'Connell
Need: Possibly a veteran backup
Analysis: Sanchez is the present and future. It would be nice to have a backup with experience, but the curious trade for O'Connell before last season means that a new quarterback would force the Jets to carry a fourth quarterback again, not an enviable position. If there is a veteran upgrade out there, the Jets will look, but these three could very well be your only opening day quarterbacks. Clemens doesn't appear to be the answer, but the Jets don't want to lose him for nothing.

Runningback: Shonn Greene, Leon Washington, Danny Woodhead, Chauncey Washington
Need: A third back who can play if one or both of the top two backs get hurt.
Analysis: Greene and L. Washington is potentially a dynamic combination, with each back bringing a different element to the table. However, Washington is coming off a broken leg and Greene suffered several nagging injuries last season. If both stay healthy, the Jets will be fine. But it would be foolish for the Jets to put all their eggs in this basket, particularly as often as they run the ball. Leon's return could make Woodhead redundant. Chauncey Washington could be the third back as Tannenbaum has spoken highly of him. However, he is completely unproven, so such a move would be risky. Fullback Tony Richardson is a free agent. He's still effective, but the Jets could look to replace him with someone younger, like Jason Davis who spent last season on the practice squad. Ideally, the Jets would also bring in a versatile third back who could play both runningback positions and some special teams as well. The wildcard with this unit is Leon, as the Jets only tendered him with a 2nd round pick. It's possible though unlikely that a team could try to sign Washington. A 2nd round pick is prohibitive for a 28 year old runningback coming off a broken leg, but if a team were willing to bite, the Jets would probably let him go.

Wide Receiver: Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards, Brad Smith
Need: Slot receive, Depth
Analysis: Cotchery and Edwards are entrenched, at least for this coming year, as the starting receivers, but after that, it's slim pickings. Clowney showed flashes in preseason, but that seems to be all he'll ever be. Smith is useful lining up out wide, behind center, and on special teams, but he's a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. The Jets need to give Sanchez another weapon in the slot to take pressure off him. The Jets simply don't have a quick slot receiver. Neither Clowney nor Smith fits that role at all, and it hurts the Jets passing game. Cotchery and Edwards deserve a chance to show they can be a top tandem. But finding a third wheel in the passing game will be an underrated theme this offseason.

Tight End: Dustin Keller, Matthew Mulligan
Need: #2 blocking tight end
Analysis: The Jets go into this offseason just like last offseason: looking for a blocking tight end to complement Keller. Last year the team waited until final cuts to sign Ben Hartsock, who will likely leave as a free agent. This year, they probably won't wait so long. Bringing in a number two tight end who can help Rex Ryan's ground and pound offense by blocking, especially in short yardage, would be great. Last season, the Jets used their tackles eligible as tight ends far too often. It would be nice to actually have a tight end who could fill that role and be somewhat of a threat in the passing game.

Offensive Line: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Alan Faneca, Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore, Damien Woody, Wayne Hunter, Robert Turner, Matt Slauson
Need: Someone to groom at right tackle and/or left guard.
Analysis: The Jets probably had the best offensive line in football last season, so there's no need to fix the starters. However, the backups are largely unproven, so if something happened to a starter, it's questionable how the Jets would respond. Woody and Faneca are the two most veteran members of the line, so if the Jets can draft a young replacement to play behind them, it would be ideal.

Defensive Line: Kris Jenkins, Shaun Ellis, Mike DeVito, Ropati Pitoitua, Sione Pouha
Need: Starting defensive end to rotate with DeVito. Youth.
Analysis: Marques Douglas did a yeoman's job starting at defensive end last year, but he's a free agent and the Jets could look to upgrade with more of a playmaker. DeVito is a very good rotational player, but he might not hold up playing every down, so it's vital the Jets bring in someone to keep the pressure off him. Jenkins and Ellis are both very good players when healthy, but both are on the wrong side of 30, so infusing some youth sooner rather than later would be prudent.

Linebacker: Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, David Harris, Bart Scott, Kenwyn Cummings, Vernon Gholston, Jamaal Westerman
Need: Pure pass rushing outside linebacker
Analysis: This is one of the premier linebacker groups in the NFL. All that is missing is an elite edge rusher that the elite 3-4 teams have. Gholston was supposed to be that guy, but he's been a colossal disappointment. The Jets will probably look to get a pass rusher in the draft who can play on third downs and take Thomas's job down the line. An elite pass rusher whom teams have to account for when they go back to pass is the biggest need for this defense to go from very good to outstanding.

Secondary: Darrelle Revis, Kerry Rhodes, Jim Leonhard, Dwight Lowery, Eric Smith, James Ihedigbo, Drew Coleman, Marquice Cole
Need: Starting cornerback opposite Darrelle Revis. Probably another for depth as well.
Analysis: Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL. Praise be to Revis Christ. But with Revis on one side of the field, that means quarterbacks tend to pick on the other side. The Jets deemed Lito Sheppard's play unsatisfactory, and while Lowery has his moments, he's not a quality starting cornerback. Sheppard will be gone. Donald Strickland probably will be as well. The Jets must address this position in the offseason and bring in a player or two who can help Revis out. We saw what Peyton Manning did to what's left of the secondary. Rhodes had his troubles last season, and the Jets could shop him around and try to get a draft pick or help elsewhere. He's a talented player, but if someone is willing to give up a 3rd round pick, Rhodes could be gone.

Special teams: Nick Folk, Steve Weatherford
Need: Competition for Folk and Weatherford. Possibly a new return man.
Analysis: Folk was a very surprising free agent signing. He had two great years to start his career, but an injury and shattered confidence led to an awful 2009 season. Mike Tannenbaum saw Folk as a bargain and signed him to a one-year deal. It's possible Jay Feely comes back, but it's more likely that Folk is the opening day kicker. Weatherford had an okay season and will probably be back, but if the Jets can find an upgrade, Weatherford is replaceable. As far as the return game is concerned, the Jets could look to find someone new. Brad Smith had the biggest play of the regular season with his 106-yard kick return against Indianapolis, but the Jets would rather put someone else back there presumably. Leon Washington will probably be brought along slowly from a broken leg and not be thrown back on kickoffs. Jim Leonhard had sure hands as a punt returner when he was healthy, but he's also replaceable.