Where Do The Jets Go From Here?
For the second consecutive season, the Jets were ousted from the playoffs in the AFC Championship game. For a franchise mired in mediocrity and disappointment for so long, their current two year run has been whole-heartedly rewarding for fans, but ultimately still somewhat disappointing.
With labor issues still at hand between players and owners and a lot of pending free agents, the Jets have a lot of work to do this offseason. But for once, they’ve got an excellent foundation to build on. Say what you will about Rex Ryan’s antics and motivation methods, but the man is an excellent football coach. He’s won four road playoff games in his first two seasons as a head coach, and has done it with a rookie and subsequently second-year quarterback in Mark Sanchez. There are not many coaches I’d rather have right now than Rex Ryan.
The Jets are also set long-term at quarterback, the league’s most important position. Sanchez has had some struggles in his first two seasons, but in six playoff games (all on the road) he has a 9:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He’s a good quarterback that has continued to develop throughout his time in the league.
As good as the defense was the past two years, I think it is clear that needs to be the path the Jets take in the draft. The desperately need a pass rusher, and they should take the best one available when their first round draft selection comes along. They need to find a guy who will be what they thought Vernon Gholston would be. The Jets needed pass rush help in 2008 and Gholston was the best available in a class very weak on pass rush. The 2011 draft should be deeper in pass rushers, so the Jets may see a player they value fall to them at 28.
But before I get into the Jets draft needs, here’s a recap of their key impending free agents.
Antonio Cromartie, CB
Cromartie ultimately cost the Jets their second round pick, but solidified the Jets secondary as expected. Playing across from a healthy Darrelle Revis, the Jets defensive backs were beyond solid all year and their frustration of MVP Tom Brady in the divisional round of the playoffs was perhaps their brightest moment. The Jets should definitely look into keeping Cromartie, but only if the price is reasonable. He’ll probably be looking for big money coming off a very impressive year, and another team may very well give it to him. But if the price is right, Cromartie absolutely has a place in New York next season.
Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, WR
The Jets’ top two wide receivers hit the market this year and the Jets should look to bring back both but there may only be room in the budget for one. If that’s the case, then Holmes is the clear choice to return. Edwards really cleaned up his act in New York and will be rewarded accordingly, but if the Jets can only keep one of them, Holmes is the superior talent.
David Harris, LB
Harris will definitely be back. The Jets have made it very clear that they will pay Harris, and they’d be foolish not to. He’s developed into a very good linebacker and is a clubhouse leader. They wanted to extend him last year along with Revis, Mangold and Ferguson, but didn’t have the money. They’ll have it this year.
Jason Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson
Both veterans played an integral role in winning 13 games this season, but both are aging and expensive. Taylor might be back, but at a lower salary. Tomlinson also may return, but if he does it should be in a more limited capacity. Shonn Greene is a better option at this point and should collect a lion’s share of the carries next season for the Jets run game.
Shaun Ellis, DE
Ellis has been with the Jets for as long as I can remember and is still a very productive player. The Jets defensive line is questionable going into next season with Kris Jenkins a complete unknown and Trevor Pryce mulling retirement. Ellis would help solidify the line and deserves a new deal.
Brad Smith, WR/QB/KR
Smith has been indispensable for the Jets as an everything man the past four years and keeping him would enable the Jets to continue the use of their very effective Wildcat formation as well as solidify their kick return unit. But I would think that the Jets chances of keeping Smith decrease dramatically under two circumstances – a team is willing to guarantee starter-level money to Smith that would be hard for the Jets to match, or if a team is willing to take a chance on Smith as a QB.