With the NFL scouting combine next week, here are five observations of what the Jets have done so far, or what they might do this offseason.
1. Signing a quarterback is a must
The Jets have two options here. With the No. 6 pick, they could draft a quarterback in a class where five might go in the opening round. Finding the right fit is the key. If that quarterback won’t start until 2019, then they most likely sign Josh McCown to another one-year deal as a bridge. However, the Jets have options in free agency and are very interested in Kirk Cousins. Is Cousins worth the price? Cousins will demand an average salary of $25 million, which is similar to what Matthew Stafford ($27 million) and Derek Carr ($25 million) got from their respective teams. The price might increase for Cousins given the number of NFL teams seeking a quarterback. It’s unknown if the Jets want to go into a bidding war.
2. The new OC
Of the annual offseason coaching moves for the Jets, promoting Jeremy Bates to offensive coordinator is the biggest. Bates is a strong quarterbacks coach but his lone season as an offensive coordinator, 2010 in Seattle, left muddled results. Bates had Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback for 14 starts and used Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett at running back. His leading receiver that season was Mike Williams with 751 yards. Seattle finished 28th in yards, 23rd in points and 28th in first downs. The interesting thing about Seattle’s offense that season was it scored 41 points in the NFC wild-card win over New Orleans. But, those Seahawks also scored just seven points on 162 yards in a 41-7 loss to the Giants earlier that season. It’s unfair to judge Bates on this one season, yet, the expectations are high.
3. Big money to spend, big holes to fill
The Jets have a projected $80 million in salary cap space that only increases with expected cuts of Matt Forte and Muhammad Wilkerson. GM Mike Maccagnan said the team will be active in free agency, but there’s something CEO Christopher Johnson said when the season ended that shouldn’t be ignored: He didn’t want to sign someone only to see that player released a year or two later.
The reality is outside of Cousins, is there anyone out there in free agency that can help the Jets long term? They could sign a veteran center and 26-year old Ryan Jensen fits what Maccagnan wants: A good player who is young. The Jets need to find another pass rusher to pair with Leonard Williams. Demarcus Lawrence is on the Jets’ radar, but the Cowboys are expected to place to franchise tag on him. The draft might be the best place to do that. Getting another corner is vital with Morris Claiborne hitting the open market. Malcolm Butler is the best free agent available, and while the Patriots tainted his skillset by not playing him in Super Bowl LII, he can play in Todd Bowles’ scheme. Yet, is Butler worth a projected average salary of $13 million?
Signing a No. 1 wide receiver is important, too, because the Jets’ currently don’t have an elite receiver. The market place has three receivers that fit the Jets’ mode of going younger in Sammy Watkins, 24, Marqise Lee, 26, and Allen Robinson, 24.
4. Demario Davis
Inside linebacker Demario Davis is coming off a career year with a team-leading 135 tackles. He also had five sacks. Davis also emerged as one of the locker room leaders and became an influence with the NFL office for his work with the Players Coalition. The business side of the NFL is taking over now and there is some concern about Davis’ return. The Jets want to get younger and faster at inside linebacker. Davis, 29, is still relatively young for that position. What concerned the Jets’ coaches was his struggles in pass coverage. While they would like for him to return, a projected average salary of $3 million to $4 million might not be to his liking.
5. Ben Ijalana
When the Jets declined to pick up the $500,000 option bonus of swing tackle Ben Ijalana, it saved $4.7 million. Ijalana was supposed to get a base salary of $4.5 million, now he’s a free agent. The Jets could bring Ijalana back at reduced salary and give him a chance to win a job in 2018. The emergence of Brandon Shell at right tackle made Ijalana expendable but given another opportunity maybe he can make the 53-man roster again.