A year of overachievement is in the rear view mirror for the Jets, who exceeded nearly every expectation at 8-8. But a pivotal offseason awaits this team. They should have over $30 million in cap space and nine draft picks to potentially take the next step and be a playoff team.
With a lot of youth on the two-deep, the Jets need to pick and choose the right type of veterans to come in. But it can’t be a feeding frenzy as there are a number of high-profile young players on this roster the team will need to keep cap space for down the road, such as Second-Team All Pro Muhammad Wilkerson.
Three free agents the Jets should consider …
Walter Thurmond, cornerback, Seahawks – A four-game suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy likely won’t scare off general manager John Idzik, who hasn’t been afraid to roll the dice on players. Idzik knows Thurmond from his time in Seattle and he knows the nickel corner could be a versatile replacement for Kyle Wilson. He would be a nice, low-profile addition to a backend that struggled this year.
T.J. Ward, safety, Browns – The backend was bad news this season for the Jets, but a player like Ward could be a nice fit in the Jets defense. Set to enter his fifth year in the league, he should be a natural lock for the Browns to re-sign but he was squarely in the corner of recently fired head coach Rob Chudzinski and he might look elsewhere. If so, he is a mobile safety with a nose for the ball.
Eric Decker, wide receiver, Broncos – Decker has improved his reception numbers and yardage each season and seems primed to take that next step in his career. He has 87 receptions this year, more than the Jets’ top two receivers in 2013 combined. At 6-foot-3, he is a nice big frame for Geno Smith to find downfield.
Three free agents the Jets need to retain …
Jeff Cumberland, tight end – This season was a step forward for Cumberland, who emerged as a steady threat down the field with reliable hands. His blocking has improved as well. He is a good value and needs to be retained, especially given the lack of talent at tight end on the Jets’ roster.
Willie Colon, right guard – The Jets could use some stability on the offensive line after losing two starters last offseason. Colon wasn’t perfect but was effective. Would be wise to re-up the veteran and perhaps draft his replacement this season.
Austin Howard, right tackle – The tackle was beyond impressive in his second year as a starter. He has improved in his pass protection and continues to reshape his body. He could be a very solid part of the team moving forward.
Three free agents to let walk …
Vladimir Ducasse, guard – It’s time to give up on the former second-rounder once and for all. He may have had great physical tools, but they just didn’t translate to the next level. This should be an easy choice for the new administration, with Idzik having no reason to save face on the pick.
Kellen Winslow, tight end – Along with keeping Cumberland, Winslow should be out the door. He stayed relatively healthy in 2013, when he wasn’t out for a performance-enhancing drug suspension. The team doesn’t need his headaches when it’s trying to build around young talent.
Ellis Lankster, cornerback – The solid special teams player just has translated to a reserve role in the secondary. It will depend on the contract he’s looking for, but the Jets can find better value in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft.
Three sleepers in the draft …
Phillip Gaines, cornerback, Rice – You probably haven’t heard of the cornerback from Rice who was so good in Conference USA play that he could lock down half of the field. He may not be ready to start but could be in the sub packages and a special teams contributor. He has good instincts, but is slightly undersized which will drop him to the later rounds.
C.J. Fiedorowicz, tight end, Iowa – While someone like North Carolina’s Eric Ebron will wow at the combine with his flashy numbers, the Iowa tight end might be the more solid professional player. He can block and catch and has good speed with the ball in his hand. The Jets would do well to grab him in the second round.
Boseko Lokombo, linebacker, Oregon – The Jets still need to upgrade at linebacker and this Oregon product could be a great fit. He has good speed and length and since he played behind Dion Jordan much of his career, he is still developing. He has good instincts and nose for the ball. He could be had in the middle rounds.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.