After finishing the 2013 season with a surprisingly solid 8-8 record and deciding to retain head coach Rex Ryan, the New York Jets can now look forward to the personnel decisions they are facing this offseason. The Jets have an excellent front seven on defense and a solid offensive line, but they badly need help in the secondary and at the skill positions on offseason. Most projections point to the Jets having approximately $30-$40 million of cap room (assuming they make expected cuts like Santonio Holmes and Mark Sanchez), and they currently own 8 draft picks (and could add a few compensatory picks to that).
All of this means that general manager John Idzik will have plenty of options this offseason, and the bulk of the responsibility for improving this roster falls on him. The Jets have a solid amount of returning talent, and they were one of the youngest teams in the NFL this season. It is up to Idzik to carefully build the roster around the existing core, without making irresponsible financial decisions that could leave the Jets in trouble in the future.
Most observers will talk about the need for the Jets to improve at wide receiver, but their first priority should undoubtedly be re-signing Austin Howard. Howard has become one of the better right tackles in football in his fourth season, and the Jets expect him to continue to grow. Maintaining a strong offensive line is crucial for the development of Geno Smith, and Howard is equally strong in the pass and run games. The Jets would like to sign him to a long term contract, but I suspect they won’t hesitate to slap him with the franchise tag if necessary.
After that business is done, Idzik must focus on improving at wide receiver and tight end. Smith needs weapons around him if he and the Jets are going to take the next step, so look for the Jets to aggressively target playmakers in both free agency and the draft. Eric Decker and Hakeem Nicks are two of the big names available, and the Jets will be watching Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee, Mike Evans and Eric Ebron for April’s draft.
The Jets will also need to look for help in the secondary, particularly at safety. If they decide to release Antonio Cromartie, cornerback becomes a concern as well. Idzik will probably be carefully looking at the guard market, and he will surely add a veteran quarterback. That is a long shopping list, and the Jets have to be careful to make the right decisions with their money and draft picks.
Idzik is a cap conscious general manager, so there shouldn’t be too many concerns about his ability to make smart decisions and not overspend on players. Just because you have a ton of cap space doesn’t mean you have to use it right now, and the Jets need to set money aside for the impending contract extensions of players like Muhammad Wilkerson, Demario Davis and Damon Harrison. Idzik is facing an offseason that is absolutely vital to the development of this team and the future of the franchise, and it is up to him to build a roster that can take the Jets to the playoffs next season.