Thursday, February 20, 2014

Jets & free agency: Who goes, stays, signs?


Former general manager Mike Tannenbaum left the New York Jets and John Idzik with a humble amount of salary cap space last year, which forced the organization to make smart, frugal decisions in free agency. This year, they enter the offseason with more than $20 million in cap room and could have close to $50 million depending how they proceed with quarterback Mark Sanchez, receiver Santonio Holmes and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

Free agents:

T Austin Howard, TE Jeff Cumberland, G Willie Colon, LB Calvin Pace, QB David Garrard, S Ed Reed, TE Kellen Winslow, KR Josh Cribbs, K Nick Folk, OL Vladimir Ducasse, LB Josh Mauga, FB Lex Hilliard, RB Darius Reynaud, DT Leger Douzable, CB Ellis Lankster, CB Aaron Berry, CB Isaiah Trufant (R), CB Darrin Walls (R), LB Garrett McIntyre (R), LB Nick Bellore (R), TE Konrad Reuland (E), WR Vidal Hazelton (E), RB John Griffin (E).

Who goes?

For the Jets, it's not so much about pending free agents, but rather players under contract who may as well already be free agents.

There's absolutely no reason for the Jets to keep Sanchez around. With a cap number upwards of $8 million and the team's inevitable commitment to second-year signal-caller Geno Smith, Sanchez will be cut prior to his bonus payout, given Gang Green doesn't find a trade partner.

The Jets also consider Holmes' cap number ($8.25 million) to already be off the books, as they will acquire a much cheaper option (or options) in the draft and/or could nab one of the top wideouts in free agency -- in which case the Jets would be getting much more bang for their buck. Cromartie knows he's in a similar situation, though he seems to be willing to re-sign at a much more reasonable price, assuming another team doesn't offer him something better on the free market.

The handful of defensive backs and linebackers on the Jets' free agent list are guys they could take or leave with minimal impact, and while Cumberland would be useful in rotation with an up-and-coming tight end, Winslow is of no use to the Jets.

Who stays?

Austin Howard is reportedly already working on a new deal to stay with the Jets, which would provide some much-needed stability to the right side of the offensive line. Howard has made big strides since taking over the for the much-maligned Wayne Hunter two offseasons ago, and New York knows it has a good thing there.

The Jets would also be well-served to keep Folk around, even if that means slapping him with the franchise tag. Folk was one of the best kickers in the league last year, which is saying a lot considering 2014 was one of the historically-best years the NFL has had at the position.

Pace and Colon were also productive veterans last year who could come at a reasonable price. Both make a lot of sense, as Pace would still serve in a prominent role while the team grooms its next young outside linebacker (probably acquired early in this year's draft), and Colon proved to be a viable cog on the inside of an offensive line that had previously been on the decline.

Who signs?

Jairus Byrd, WR, Buffalo Bills
Bills fans don't want to hear this, but Byrd has to be on the Jets' radar. If he isn't re-signed or franchise-tagged by Buffalo, he'll be looking for big money elsewhere. The Jets can afford it. They need an upgrade at safety, and Byrd would bolster a secondary that is lacking in takeaways while allowing Antonio Allen to work from the strong safety spot, where he's best suited.

Brian Orakpo, OLB, Washington Redskins
The Jets would be well-served drafting an outside linebacker to grow with their stellar and youthful defensive front and alongside the up-and-coming Demario Davis. However, they could use a proven, veteran pass-rusher to round out a front seven that needs an attention-getter on the outside while said youngster develops. That said, Orakpo is supposedly trying to work out a new deal with his current team and could get tagged, and he also might be a little steep price-wise.

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
There's little doubt Gang Green will target receiver in the draft. Maybe twice. Maybe three times. But like at linebacker, they'll need to bolster the position via free agency with the intention of bringing in a vet who can line up on the perimeter Day 1. Maclin's name has been linked to the Jets more often than not amid the ever-evolving pool of speculation, in part because of his familiarity with Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who held that same post with Philly just a couple years ago. Maclin would take a lot of heat off of slot receiver Jeremy Kerley, and at worst, David Nelson could hold down the fort on the other side until their draft pick is ready to go full-time.

Follow Nick @NickStDenis
Follow AFC East Daily @AFCEastDaily