The final area to look at in our breakdown of the New York Jets’ offseason is the specialists. This includes the kickers and the returners, and special teams was an inconsistent area for the Jets this season. The star of this unit was kicker Nick Folk, who was outstanding. Folk made 33/36 field goals with a long of 54, and he kicked three game winning field goals.
Folk was joined on the kicking unit by punter Ryan Quigley and long snapper Tanner Purdum. The Jets mostly used Jeremy Kerley as their punt returner, while the kick returns saw Clyde Gates, Josh Cribbs, Antonio Cromartie and Darius Reynaud all get opportunities. The decisions on whether these return men are brought back will be based on their play at other positions, not strictly as special teamers.
The big issue here for the Jets is Folk, who is an unrestricted free agent. There is a small fear that someone will make Folk an offer for more than the Jets want to pay, but most teams aren’t going to overpay a kicker. Folk should be back with the Jets on a multi-year deal, and the Jets will rest easy knowing they have a very reliable kicker.
As a rookie, Quigley was a slightly below average punter, ranking 17th in the NFL in average and 22nd in net average with just 21 punts downed inside the 20. At the very least the Jets need to bring in competition, and they could flat out replace him. Punter may not be the most important position, but a top notch punter can be a serious weapon, and Quigley wasn’t good enough.
No matter who is kicking, Purdum will be snapping them the ball. He just completed his fourth season as the Jets’ long snapper, and he was just about flawless. Long snapper is something no one thinks about until something goes wrong, but the Jets have a good one in Purdum and there is no reason to think about changing anything.
As far as returners go, Kerley and his 8.8 yard average were just about league average. The Jets will be looking for an upgrade at kickoff returner, and if that player is a good punt returner he could take Kerley’s job as well. If not, then the Jets will be comfortable with Kerley handling the responsibilities. However, they are not comfortable with their kick return situation. As a team, the Jets ranked 18th in kickoff return average, and they didn’t have single touchdown.
Equally important, it is unlikely that Cribbs or Reynaud will be back, and Gates and Cromartie are fighting uphill battles. If Gates is back then he will probably get the job, but the Jets need to look for an explosive return man in free agency or the draft. Improving their starting field position would be a big boost to their subpar offense, so this is an area the Jets have to address this offseason.
Special teams are so often forgotten, but they are also frequently the difference between winning and losing games. Outside of Folk, the Jets’ unit was very average this season, and they need to invest some money into improving in the third phase of the game.