5 New York Jets Storylines To Follow Leading Up To Free Agency
What will John Idzik and Rex Ryan do?
The New York Jets are in a great position entering this offseason. As of right now, they have $26.7 million in cap space and figure to be major players after spending general manager John Idzik's first season getting the finances in order. Idzik added quarterback Geno Smith, NFL defensive rookie of the year Sheldon Richardson, cornerback Dee Milliner, running back Chris Ivory and tight end Zach Sudfeld as young centerpieces of the Jets going forward. Idzik also added inexpensive veterans like Willie Colon, Dawan Landry and Kellen Winslow. The Jets have begun the transition from Rex Ryan's early tenure to the second phase of his time leading the team, and there are some decisions that need to be made. However, some have already been decided upon.
With Ryan, offensive coordinator Marty Morningwheg, defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman and Ryan's staff returning almost entirely intact, the Jets opted for continuity instead of a complete revamp of the coaching staff. After an 8-8 season, however, mediocrity will not be tolerated. With the retirement of linebacker Bart Scott and the trade of cornerback Darrelle Revis, the only player left on defense from Ryan's first season in 2009 is linebacker David Harris. On offense, center Nick Mangold, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and quarterback Mark Sanchez remain. Idzik and Ryan have turned over the roster and now have the opportunity to rebuild the team for the now and the future.
Here are the storylines that you should follow leading up to free agency as well as through the early days of it.
5. Will QB Mark Sanchez Be on the Roster Through Free Agency?
It seemed like a foregone conclusion at the end of the season that Sanchez, the former franchise QB, would be jettisoned in order to save $8.7M in cap space. However, the Jets may choose to restructure Sanchez's contract in order to keep the former first-round pick and have him compete with Geno Smith. Sanchez is due a roster bonus on Mar. 25, so a decision has to be made really soon. It's an almost $9 million decision.
4. When Will WR Santonio Holmes Be Released?
Whereas a decision as to if Sanchez will be released should be monitored, it's a matter of when Holmes will be released. $8M in savings will come to the Jets once the former Super Bowl MVP is let go, and then the question becomes who signs the mercurial wide receiver. Holmes' days in green and white are numbered.
3. Will the Jets Use Some of Their Ample Cap Space on a Safety?
The Buffalo Bills seem like they will not franchise tag free safety Jairus Byrd. The Jets rolled out a safety trio of graybeards Ed Reed, the aforementioned Landry and promising player Antonio Allen. While continuing to ignore the safety position during the first five seasons of Rex's tenure, this might be the year we see the Jets fill the hole with a marquee player. There's a need and a legitimate player to fill the need. Will the Jets make Byrd a priority early on in hopes of stealing him from one of their division rivals?
2. Who Starts at WR for the Jets?
Part of the reason Holmes will be released is because he was arguably one of the most unproductive wide receivers in the NFL. If the Jets want QB Geno Smith to improve, he's going to need some weapons on the outside. This is one of the deeper draft classes in regards to wide receivers in years, with as many as 7-8 possible first-round wideouts. The Jets cannot envision their QB being productive with wide receivers signed off the street. The question is, will Idzik choose to eschew free agency in favor of utilizing the team's 12 draft picks to address the hole at wide receiver repeatedly? This will be something to watch going forward, because there is talent in free agency at wide receiver as well.
1. Will There be Money Left for DE Mo Wilkerson?
The new face of the franchise, Mo Wilkerson, is entering his fourth season as a member of the Jets. Wilkerson has notched 18.5 sacks in 48 games and is coming off his first All-Pro appearance. He's slated to earn $1.2 million this coming season, and then the Jets can exercise their fifth year option to keep him under their control through the 2015 season. Part of Idzik's mandate needs to ensure that there is enough money after this offseason to pay Wilkerson, who is arguably the second best defensive end in football after JJ Watt. Wilkerson has already stated that he will not hold out, so it remains to be seen if a deal gets done this coming offseason or if the Jets wait until 2016. Either way, this offseason is essential to ensuring that Wilkerson (and soon enough Richardson) is retained.