Ahhh, silly season. Where every player in the NFL is seemingly linked to most, if not all of the 32 teams in the league. And for the New York Jets, it is no different.
“We’re getting a Pro Bowl left tackle!”
“Let’s sign this future Hall of Fame tight end!”
Reality flash here folks: It ain’t happening.
And in this mindset, perhaps it is worth taking a look at exactly who on the Jets roster might be ready to take a step forward. After all, these are players who have been groomed and developed in the team’s system and who might provide better value and longevity than someone currently set to enter free agency.
These are the players who understand the coaching staff, the locker room and the scheme.
Cornerback – There was plenty of angst throughout the season about the play of Antonio Cromartie, who the Jets signed as a free agent last offseason. Cromartie is beginning to see his physical skillset diminish, a concern that could lead to him to being cut or forced to sign a new, cap-friendly deal.
But it isn’t bad news here as the Jets can replace the former Pro Bowl cornerback with Marcus Williams. Over the past two years with the Jets, the former North Dakota State product (who went undrafted) has the look and feel of being someone ready to shine. He’s comfortable in press coverage, has above-average footwork and good hips.
We learned this year that safety is not a good position for him, but cornerback might be a great spot for Williams. He can easily step in with the first team and free-up money that would have gone to Cromartie.
Tight End – The production at the tight end position was negligible this year, a handful of catches to show for a position that once was one of strength for the Jets. When Jace Amaro went down in training camp with a torn labrum, the Jets lost their only true downfield threat at the position. Jeff Cumberland is a fine tight end and Kellen Davis is a good blocker but neither was dynamic this past year for the Jets.
The good news is that Quincy Enunwa emerged in the middle part of the season as a possible tight end option moving forward. He remains raw in terms of his blocking but he did a nice job getting open down field and becoming a bit of a threat in the passing game.
And then there is Amaro, who is just a season removed from 38 catches in his rookie year as well as Zach Sudfeld, another long and lean tight end target who missed last year with his own injury. Amaro has his flaws, notably small hands that have led to some bad drops and there is his blocking which simply isn’t good. But he is entering his third year and second offseason in the league. There is no reason to believe that he can’t learn from his lumps.
Sudfeld has sure hands and is an improving blocker as well, who also has a knack for getting yards after the catch. The return of both of these tight ends in 2016 dramatically changes the dynamic of the position.
Middle Linebacker – Fans expecting a bit more from the middle linebacker position have a very capable player in Erin Henderson, who can step in and start.
After missing last year following two DUI arrests, Henderson settled back into football with the Jets in a reserve role. Despite limited snaps, Henderson still compiled a relatively healthy 45 tackles.
He has the most mobility of any of the Jets current middle linebackers and in 2013, he had 112 tackles - a career high. There is also good news in terms of his durability: 2015 was the first time in his NFL career that he played all 16 games. Set to turn 30-years-old this summer, Henderson is a free agent himself but he could offer the Jets some value on the open market if they choose to retain him.