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5 players Jets should make their top priorities in 2016 free-agency period

As a first-year general manager, Mike Maccagnan made the right call in upgrading the Jets’ secondary, bringing in offensive lineman James Carpenter and trading for wide receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. But can he make the right roster calls in 2016?

This year’s salary cap isn’t yet set, but it’s expected to increase to $154 million. The Jets, however, will have far less money at their disposal than they did last offseason. They have a lot of holes to address, too. There are 23 pending free agents on their roster, 20 of whom are unrestricted.

Said coach Todd Bowles: “To sit up here and say is everybody coming back, no, everybody probably isn’t going to come back.”

Here are five of the Jets’ top free-agent priorities:

Ryan Fitzpatrick


2015 salary-cap number: $3.25 million

What he brings: The 33-year-old is a proven leader. He’s a calming force in the huddle and a gritty competitor on the field. Thanks to his chemistry with Marshall and Eric Decker, Fitzpatrick eclipsed Vinny Testaverde’s franchise record by throwing 31 touchdown passes this season.

Why he might not return: Fitzpatrick’s Week 17 performance can’t overshadow what he did all year. The 11-year veteran clearly has earned a big payday. Because he’s on the tail end of his career, look for his agent to get him the best deal possible.

Why he could be back: Fitzpatrick wants to be back and the Jets want him, too. Good quarterbacks are hard to find, and Fitzpatrick has proved to be a more-than-serviceable option.

Muhammad Wilkerson

Defensive end

2015 salary-cap number: $6.969 million

What he brings: Wilkerson led the Jets with a career-high 12 sacks and earned his first Pro Bowl selection before breaking his leg in the season finale.

Why he might not return: You can’t keep everyone, and Wilkerson wants to be paid like the Bills’ Marcell Dareus (six years, $108 million, including $60 million guaranteed). The Jets also have to decide what to do with nose tackle Damon Harrison and defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams down the road. Maccagnan could use Wilkerson as trade bait during the draft.

Why he could be back: The Jets can place the franchise tag, which currently projects to $15.494 million (based on a $154-million salary cap), on Wilkerson. After that, they can sign him long-term or say goodbye after the season.

Damon Harrison

Nose tackle

2015 salary-cap number: $2.35 million

What he brings: His stats may not jump off the page, but Harrison is one of the best run-stuffers in the game. It’s no surprise that teammates, including Willie Colon, have made a case to keep him.

Why he might not return: Because he believes he’s the best nose tackle, Harrison expects to get paid like it. The 27-year-old has opened the eyes of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who said, “He’s not only disruptive but he’s also been very productive. He’s a major force.”

Why he could be back: For all the aforementioned reasons. Harrison is at the top of his game and the Jets might not want to lose their best run-stuffer.

Chris Ivory

Running back

2015 salary-cap number: $2.75 million

What he brings: He’s a physical, bruising back who powered the Jets’ running game all season. For the first time in his six-year career, Ivory topped 1,000 rushing yards.

Why he might not return: Ivory wants financial security, but he was consistently nagged by injuries down the stretch. Asked about Ivory’s return, Bowles said: “I like Chris. Whether you want him back and how it works out in free agency are two different things. Obviously, money talks and situations differ.”

Why he could be back: His violent running style and toughness make him one of the hardest backs to bring down — plus the Jets like him. “He’s a great running back,” Bowles said. “He’s a good guy. He works hard and I respect everything he does.”

Bilal Powell

Running back

2015 salary-cap number: $2 million

What he brings: Powell brings explosiveness to both the rushing attack and passing game. The Jets went 1-3 when he was sidelined by a high ankle sprain and their offense again struggled without him in Week 17. Powell also is excellent in pass protection.

Why he might not return: After signing a one-year deal last offseason, Powell is looking for a long-term commitment. The Jets might not want to pony up given his recent injuries.

Why he could be back: He’s versatile and was very productive in Chan Gailey’s system. Powell proved his worth during the Jets’ five-game winning streak, running for 162 yards and a TD and catching 27 passes for 232 yards and a score.

Jets’ free agents


QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

WR Chris Ivory

RB Bilal Powell

RB Stevan Ridley

WR Chris Owusu

TE Kellen Davis

OL Ben Ijalana

OL Willie Colon

DL Muhammad Wilkerson

NT Damon Harrison

DL Leger Douzable

DL Stephen Bowen

OLB Calvin Pace

ILB Demario Davis

ILB Jamari Lattimore

ILB Erin Henderson

CB Darrin Walls

S Antonio Allen

S Jaiquawn Jarrett

K Randy Bullock


WR Kenbrell Thompkins

TE Zach Sudfeld

P Ryan Quigley

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