The byproduct of the Jets success over the past two seasons is set to become their biggest challenge of the offseason. With a “buy now, pay later” philosophy, the general manager Mike Tannenbaum is forced into the precarious position of how to best keep his veteran core in place.
In Rex Ryan’s first two years as head coach, the Jets pieced together a star-laden team, with top talent scattered all over the field. There was former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes at wide receiver, lined up alongside a former first round pick and Pro Bowler in Braylon Edwards. The backfield featured a future Hall of Famer in LaDainian Tomlinson, the quarterback is two years removed from being the No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft and the offensive line has perennial Pro Bowl talents in D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold.
Then there is the defensive side of the ball where the top cornerback in the game, Darrelle Revis, plays alongside the likes of Antonio Cromartie, David Harris and Bart Scott. It’s an embarrassment of riches and now many of those pieces are looking for their payday.
As free agency is set to begin, the Jets are left trying to turn much of their leases into permanent buys as Cromartie, Edwards and Holmes, not to mention Drew Coleman, Wayne Hunter, Brad Smith, Eric Smith and Steve Weatherford, get set to test the open market of free agency. A look at who the Jets should keep, who they can let walk, and who might fit in well to their team.
Antonio Cromartie – The cornerback was brought in to be the lockdown opposite “Revis Island” and overall, Cromartie’s play was solid. Given his checkered past, the market for the physical freak that is Cromartie might be limited, but he fits the Jets defense perfectly. “Alcrotraz” must be a priority signing.
Braylon Edwards – This past year, Edwards had his down moments — the September DUI comes to mind — but on the field, the wide receiver has progressed. His penchant for ball-dropping all but disappeared and he’s still a big target for Mark Sanchez to hit down the field. Keeping Edwards is a key for the offense if it is to continue to develop.
Santonio Holmes – He was the biggest game-breaker on the Jets roster and his clutch performances earned him the fourth quarter being renamed “Tone Time.” But Holmes is a top talent and he knows it and a team like the free-spending Redskins will make a push for him. Given their many other needs and stars to sign, the Jets can’t break the bank on Holmes. They have to hope he loves the team chemistry of Ryan’s locker room enough to stay at a slightly-reduced rate.
It’d Be Nice
Brodney Pool – After a rough start to the season, Pool settled down relatively well in the Jets secondary. He’d be a good value re-signing if his demands aren’t too high.
Verdict: Likely to Pursue
Drew Coleman – The cornerback out of TCU probably isn’t starting caliber for a team with Super Bowl ambitions, but he did show a knack for making plays last year. Another good signing if the value is right.
Verdict: Likely to Pursue
Eric Smith – The cerebral safety will have some value on the open market and is a good player, but Smith’s sometimes overaggressive play led to costly penalties at inopportune times. Smith is a good signing if his demands aren’t too high.
Verdict: Likely to pursue
Wayne Hunter – The versatile offensive lineman played well after Damien Woody’s two injuries late last year. Hunter is also valued on special teams and out of their jumbo package as a blocking tight end.
Verdict: Likely to Pursue
Don’t Go There
Shaun Ellis – The time has come for Ellis, once feared off the edge, to either accept the veteran’s minimum or be prepared to go elsewhere. The pep isn’t in his veteran legs and he’s not an every down player anymore.
Verdict: Only on the Cheap
Lance Laury – Laury, touted as a special teams maven, barely got a sniff of the two-deep and didn’t produce anything lasting on special teams. He’s not worth the money he’d be looking for.
Tony Richardson – The much respected and loved fullback is one of the league’s good guys. But Richardson is set to give way to second-year fullback John Connor and his days playing with the Jets are done.
Brad Smith – You have to love Brad Smith — an athlete in the truest sense of the word. He played receiver, returned punts and ran the Jets’ Wildcat package. But Smith is likely to look for $5 million per year, too high a price for a player who won’t be on the field more than a dozen times per game.
Free Agents to Pursue
Chad Ochocinco – We know, we know, but think about it. The Jets are unlikely to keep both Edwards and Holmes and Ochocinco is still a big name player. He’s a goofball, but teammates never complain about his work ethic. Plus, given his endorsement deals, he might be willing to forego some cash in exchange for playing for a winner.
Randy Moss – Rex Ryan raves about the former Titans’ wide receiver, calling him the best downfield threat in the league. Moss can be a terror when motivated — always a big if — but he’d love to play for Ryan.
Chansi Stuckey– If Holmes leaves, then this former Jets receiver could be a cheaper option in the slot. The speedy and elusive Stuckey would love to escape Cleveland for a chance to win.
Jason Trusnick – Trusnick, another former Jet in Cleveland, could add great linebacker depth to the team and is accustomed to their 3-4 defense. Might be a nice value addition
Cullen Jenkins – The free-spirit defensive end — and brother of recently retired Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins — brings Super Bowl experience and a nasty streak on defense. This Jenkins would be a nice fit at end for the Jets.