How Far Away Are New York Jets From Contending?

By Greg Sulik
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2013 NFL season winds down, we are reminded that only two of the league’s 32 franchises get a chance to play for the ultimate prize of winning the Super Bowl. That means that every other team in the NFL has work to do to get better, some more so than others. The New York Jets are one of those teams that has quite a bit of work to do, but they may not be as far away from contending for the playoffs and the AFC East as you think.

Let’s start by looking at what the Jets do have. They have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, where Muhammad Wilkerson is already a star and Sheldon Richardson is well on his way to becoming one. They have promising young players like Demario Davis, Dee Milliner and Quinton Coples, as well as reliable veterans like David Harris and Dawan Landry. Offensively, Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Austin Howard anchor a solid offensive line, while Chris Ivory gives the Jets a legitimate No. 1 running back.

What the Jets need, of course, is receivers. They have one of the worst groups of pass catchers in the NFL, and that is something that must be fixed. The Jets also need another starting corner, as well as a right guard and a pass rushing outside linebacker. However, the Jets are projected to have close to $40 million of cap space this season, and they have eight draft picks (and that number could go up depending on compensatory picks).

All told, the Jets are in better shape than a lot of teams, but they must be able to make the right additions this offseason. If they can bring in two or three players at receiver and tight end that upgrade their passing attack, then the Jets will immediately become a legitimate playoff contender. Their defense is playoff caliber, and a few additions there could make it elite.

Of course, everything comes down to the development of Geno Smith. Smith had a rough rookie season, but he finished strong and showed some promise as an effective dual threat quarterback. There is reason to believe that he will be able to take a big step forward in his second season if the Jets can give him some weapons in the passing game. Doing exactly that is John Idzik’s highest priority this offseason, because the team’s playoff hopes are riding on Smith.

The Jets are capable of contending for the playoffs next season if they make the right additions in free agency and the draft, and if Smith develops they should be able to push the New England Patriots for the AFC East crown within the next two or three seasons. However, the Jets are still a long way from contending for a Super Bowl, and they will not get close unless Smith develops into a star. Time will tell if that will happen, but what we do know is that this offseason is crucial for the future of the franchise, and the right moves could get them back in the playoffs as soon as next season.

Greg Sulik is a New York Jets writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @GregSulik or add him to your network on Google

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