The recent injuries to Dee Milliner and Dexter McDougle have left the New York Jets in a very tough spot at cornerback, and the team has major concerns about how they are going to fix the mess they find themselves in. Cornerback is the most important position in Rex Ryan’s defense, and the Jets have failed to address their needs sufficiently. There is little that can be done this close to the start of the season in terms of bringing in free agents, so it looks like the Jets are stuck with what they have.
This situation is exactly what Jets fans feared as general manager John Idzik took a glacial approach to free agency, passing on all of the top cornerbacks. The Jets were heavily linked to Darrelle Revis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Vontae Davis, with the first two having expressed at least some interest in joining the team. However, Idzik passed on all of them, as well as Antonio Cromartie, settling instead on journeyman Dimitri Patterson, who played poorly in the team’s preseason opener and is dealing with minor injuries of his own.
Making matters worse, Idzik passed on Darqueze Dennard, a man-to-man corner widely regarded as a perfect fit for the Jets, in the first round of the draft. He then didn’t take a corner until the third round, reaching for McDougle. Injuries are part of the game, and Idzik can’t be blamed for them happening. What Idzik can be blamed for however, is relying on three players with questionable injury histories as his top options at a position as vital as cornerback. Despite having over $40 million in cap space at the start of the offseason, the Jets are now left relying on role players (Darrin Walls and Ellis Lankster), reclamation projections (Ras-I Dowling and Johnny Patrick), and converted safeties (Antonio Allen).
Patterson should be fine health wise before the season, and the Jets still have veteran Kyle Wilson in the slot. Milliner could return for the season opener as well, but high ankle sprains can take a long time to heal. The Jets play six of the NFL’s top 10 passing offenses from last season from Week 2 through Week 7, and any deficiencies they have at corner will be badly exposed in that stretch. Pairing Milliner with a top free agent would have given the Jets a much better cornerback tandem as well as insurance in case of injury. Instead, Milliner’s injury and Patterson’s uninspiring start are cause for major concern.
Idzik believes in building patiently through the draft and player development, but his approach could become a major problem for this season. The Jets ranked 22nd in the NFL pass defense last season, by far their lowest ranking under Ryan, and the poor play in the secondary cost the Jets several winnable games that could have gotten them into the playoffs. With expectations higher this season, it seems as if Idzik has set Ryan up to fail, however unintentional that may have been.
The injuries to Milliner and McDougle have served to magnify this ongoing problem, and the Jets may not to be able overcome the situation their general manager has placed them in. If the pass defense struggles this season and the team starts losing games because of it, the only person to blame will be Idzik.