As we continue to preview the New York Jets’ offseason by position group, we reach the weak link of the defense. The secondary was awful this season, and the Jets finished just 22nd in pass defense. Antonio Cromartie didn’t live up to his contract and Dee Milliner didn’t live up to his draft status, and this team badly missed Darrelle Revis. There are major changes coming in the secondary, so let’s look at who could be on their way out.
Cromartie and Milliner were joined at corner by Kyle Wilson, Darrin Walls, Ellis Lankster, Isaiah Trufant and Aaron Berry, while Dawan Landry, Ed Reed, Antonio Allen, Josh Bush and Jaiquawn Jarrett were the safeties. Walls, Lankster, Trufant and Berry are all free agents, leaving the Jets with some concerns about their cornerback depth.
First, let’s look at safety, where Reed is also a free agent. He was a midseason pickup who the Jets thought could still make an impact, but the future Hall of Famer simply can’t play anymore. He should retire, but if he doesn’t, the Jets should not even consider making him an offer. Next to him was strong safety Dawan Landry, and it is frightening to think how bad this secondary would have been without him. Landry was the only consistent performer in the secondary, finishing with 100 tackles, 1 INT and 1 sack. Landry is on the books for a bargain of $1.5 million next season, and he should continue to be a solid strong safety.
Allen was the player pushed out by Reed, which proved to be a mistake. Allen was solid all season, but there is definitely room for improvement. He is better as a strong safety, but he will certainly be back and competing for the free safety spot next year, though the Jets need to bring in some serious competition there. Jarrett and Bush both had their moments as backups, but it is unlikely both will be back. Bush is the only free safety on the roster, so the Jets should choose him over Jarrett.
As far as the array of free agent corners go, I expect the Jets to keep Lankster and Walls and release Trufant and Berry. Berry was hurt and never made an impact. Trufant is a good special teams player, but at 31 it is time for the Jets to look for a younger option. Walls and Lankster are solid as the fourth and fifth corners, and they are young enough to have room for improvement.
Wilson was the nickel corner again, and he has one year left on his rookie contract. Wilson is often criticized because he is a former first round pick who doesn’t start, but he is a solid nickel corner, which is frankly a more important position than most of the starters. The Jets might try to trade him or find a replacement, but I believe that Wilson should hold that role for at least one more season.
Milliner was the 9th overall pick in the draft, but he got off to a disastrous start. Between injuries, benchings and general poor play, Milliner looked like a bust for the first 11 or 12 weeks. However, he made huge improvements over the last month, even winning AFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 17 and AFC Defensive Rookie of the Month in December. He looks like he will turn out just fine, and the Jets will be expecting him to make huge strides. His improvement will have a big impact on the Antonio Cromartie decision.
Cromartie’s performance fell off a cliff following his 2012 Pro Bowl season, and he is due $15 million next season. The prevailing theory right now is that the Jets will cut Cromartie, allow him to test the market and possibly re-sign him at lower price. I agree with this line of thinking, though a deep free agent cornerback class means the Jets could go in a different direction. The Jets will have to see what the prices are, but don’t be surprised to see them make a big addition at corner.
The secondary was a disaster this season, and it is vital that the Jets improve. This is a high priority area for them this offseason, and there will be some key changes.