Five questions for the Jets heading into the offseason
ARE THE JETS REALLY A TEAM ON THE RISE?
Preseason expectations were set pretty low for Rex Ryan's team, but the Jets surprised the NFL by being in playoff contention late in the season. Despite starting a rookie quarterback, not having enough talented weapons on offense and having their third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, the Jets fared far better than anyone would have imagined. First-year general manager John Idzik has set the foundation with a young crop of players in key positions on both sides of the ball, and the expectation is that Geno Smith, Dee Milliner, Brian Winters and Sheldon Richardson will play even better after a full offseason together. Unlike in years past, the Jets will have significant cap money to spend and a bunch of draft selections. Now it's up to Idzik to put his plan into action.
WILL GENO SMITH BE THE STARTING QUARTERBACK IN 2014?
The rookie certainly has made a case for himself. He helped lead the Jets to a 5-4 record to start the season and finished the year well. Smith showed flashes of brilliance, but he also struggled much of the time. He held on to the ball too long, had issues staring down receivers and had difficulty reading defenses. Not to mention, he developed a reputation as a turnover machine. Still, despite having fewer weapons, he was able to guide the Jets to a better season record (8-8) than Mark Sanchez had in 2012 (6-10). Nevertheless, the Jets owe it to themselves to seek out other QB options, whether it be via the draft, free agency or both. The team went 16 games without publicly declaring Smith their season starter, so don't expect them to quickly commit to him as the starting QB in 2014.
WHAT IS MARK SANCHEZ'S FUTURE?
Simply put: not with the Jets. Despite being put in a bad situation by the team in its preseason game against the Giants, in which he was injured and lost for the season, Sanchez has said all the right things. Had Ryan & Co. not played Sanchez in garbage time, who knows how the season would have played out. But while Sanchez, 27, has said he expects to be a Jet next season, Idzik made it clear that he wasn't sold on Sanchez the moment he drafted Smith in the second round. Sanchez's hefty contract is the biggest deal-breaker. He is due a $2-million roster bonus in March and carries a $13.1-million cap hit in 2014. Trading or releasing Sanchez would result in a $4.8-million charge of "dead money" and a savings of $8.3 million.
WHAT ABOUT SANTONIO HOLMES?
The Jets desperately need a big-time playmaker -- and it isn't Holmes. The veteran wide receiver recently said he's willing to "sacrifice" a portion of his salary to remain with the team, but his act has worn thin in Florham Park, and his injury history further weakens his case to stick around. Holmes, 30, agreed to restructure his contract this past offseason, lowering his base salary from $11 million to $7.5 million, according to NFLPA records. He signed a five-year, $45.25-million contract in 2011.
WILL THE JETS HAVE TO FIND ANOTHER NEW NO. 1 CORNERBACK?
Antonio Cromartie ably filled in for Darrelle Revis when the Jets' former shutdown cornerback tore an ACL in Week 3 of the 2012 season, but this year, Cromartie didn't resemble a No. 1 corner at all. Hobbled all season by a nagging hip injury, he'll see specialists in the offseason to determine whether he needs surgery. Cromartie -- who carries a $14.98-million salary-cap charge in 2014 -- is in the third year of a four-year, $32-million deal. The Jets could save $9.5 million by releasing the two-time Pro Bowler, who is due to earn a $5-million roster bonus in March. But Cromartie, who agreed to lower his base salary to $840,000 this past offseason, recently said he's willing to restructure his contract to stay.