5 biggest roster needs for Jets in upcoming offseason
A 10-6 record in head coach Todd Bowles’ first season gave New York Jets’ fans Super Bowl aspirations heading into 2016, especially after QB Ryan Fitzpatrick ended his offseason contract negotiations. The season started well with a one-point loss followed by an offensive shootout in a 37-31 victory over the division-rival Buffalo Bills. That’s when the wheels fell off, however, as Fitzpatrick threw a ridiculous six interceptions in Week 3, earning the worst game grade ever in the Pro Football Focus era (since 2006).
With the Jets now officially eliminated from 2016 postseason contention, we look towards the offseason and what the team will need to get back into playoff contention in 2017 and beyond. Unfortunately, the current outlook isn’t great. GM Mike Maccagnan entered a situation and tried to “win now” by signing veterans such as CB Darrelle Revis and trading for WR Brandon Marshall and Fitzpatrick. It worked—for a short time.
With practically no cap space (almost negative by $1 million) and underperforming veterans eating up most of it, the Jets will have some difficult decisions to make in January and February. Whatever cuts and moves the team decides to make, the roster has several needs, starting at the most important position.
Kudos to Todd Bowles for announcing that Bryce Petty will start the remaining four games of the season. With Fitzpatrick grading as the fourth-worst QB this season, earning a 43.5 grade, and Petty playing just 91 snaps thus far, the Jets need to see what they have in the former Baylor Bear. Early signs, though, are not promising, and the team likely needs to find a franchise quarterback soon.
Unfortunately for the Jets—and other QB-needy teams—the upcoming NFL draft class doesn’t have a sure-fire top flight quarterback. While Clemson QB Deshaun Watson is currently slated at No. 15 overall on PFF’s most recent draft board, the jury is still out on his pro potential, as he came into the season at No. 1. Sometimes a draft won’t have a QB worthy of a first-round pick, and the last thing the Jets—or any team—should do is force the pick (think E.J. Manuel in 2013). It’s still unclear at this point who the top QB prospects are, as we don’t know even know for certain yet who all will be declaring for the draft.
The next route to a quarterback is through free agency, and that list isn’t very inspiring, either. The top name is Kirk Cousins—who would be an excellent addition, grading very well at 81.5—but he will, in all likelihood, sign a major deal with the Redskins. After Cousins are names such as Case Keenum, Brian Hoyer, E.J. Manuel, and Blaine Gabbert—all players not many teams would want leading their franchise. Of course, trading for someone like Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo is always on the table, but the asking price will be extremely high.
I’ve encompassed the entire offensive line into one section, as the Jets own one of the worst units in the NFL. While many experts will tell you the upcoming 2017 draft is bereft of talent on the offensive line, four big men rank in the top 32 in our most recent draft board, with Wisconsin LT Ryan Ramczyk at No. 23.
The issues with the Jets’ O-line are two-fold: age and underperforming expectations. C Nick Mangold is a shell of himself, and missed games this season for the first time in his career. After grading as one of the best, if not the best, centers in the NFL from 2006–2012, his play has taken a steep decline since 2014. RG Brian Winters may have turned a corner after grading very poorly in his first three seasons, but there is no guarantee there. LG James Carpenter has never lived up to his first-round billing, grading positively just once in his career. Frankly, New York needs to draft a couple of offensive lineman and sign some cheap talent after the initial wave of free agency and retool the unit.
This is where the 2017 NFL draft has a plethora of talent. “Revis Island” is no longer a feared destination, as Darrelle Revis has earned just the 84th-best grade among CBs this season, at 61.5, and role players such as Buster Skrine (49.9) and Marcus Williams (74.2) are not performing at a top-tier level. It’s clear that the position will need to be addressed in the offseason.
Regardless of whether the Jets decide to take a cornerback in the first round or not, they would be wise to draft more than one with the amount of depth this class has. With four players in the top 11 and six in the top 32 of our draft board, the Jets have a lot of choices—be it Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersley, Florida’s Jalen Tabor, or Iowa’s Desmond King—that fit the team’s mold.
Free-agency options are plenty, with Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne and Rams CB Trumaine Johnson topping the list. Bargain free-agent options can be had with players such as Philadelphia’s Nolan Carroll, Cleveland’s Jamar Taylor, and Baltimore’s Jerraud Powers currently slated to become free agents.
With David Harris (76.2 overall grade this season) over the age of 30, Julian Stanford (30.8) not playing anywhere close to what would be considered “replacement level,” and rookie Darron Lee (41.0) disappointing as a first-round pick, the great play of the Jets’ stout defensive line is going to waste. While Harris is playing well in coverage, Lee and Stanford have been liabilities. None of the LBs are playing the run well, nor do they provide much in terms of pass-rushing ability.
Running back is another position that is considered to be deep in the upcoming draft class. The Jets currently roster Matt Forte (73.8), another player beyond 30 years old, and spell-back Bilal Powell (70.0). Forte plays at a “good enough” level, but rarely creates plays beyond what the offensive line blocks for him, recording an elusive rating of 23.9 that ranks 36th out of 44 eligible halfbacks. Powell hasn’t shown anything beyond being a decent third-down back in his career, but seemed to peak in 2015, forcing 17 missed tackles on 47 catches—but just 21 total over the rest of his career.
With just six picks currently in the 2017 draft, the Jets would be wise to trade what looks to be a top-five pick for more selections and perhaps players. With a draft that is shaping up to be deep, having more bullets in the magazine is needed. The team doesn’t necessarily look like a serious contender in 2017, but if they can make the right moves and hit on their picks, the upcoming offseason could set them up for contention in 2018.