Going into the 2017 season there was nothing to look forward to as a Jets fan. They were coming off a terrible 5-11 season, had released all of their aging veterans that were once stars and still had no answer at quarterback. All seemed lost, and everyone thought the Jets were in “tank mode” and destined for the top pick in the 2018 draft.
Then the season started and they quieted all of the critics in the first 5 weeks, starting off 3-2. They fought tough in most games and were not the easy out that everyone thought. Throughout the season they beat three playoff teams, lost by one possession in 6 of their 11 losses and surprisingly got blown out only three times. This is not to say they should throw a parade but it’s something to actually build off of.
This upcoming offseason will have huge implications on how this team is built for the next few years. They currently have about 80 million dollars in available cap space without some expected cuts. In addition, they have the benefit of owning 3 of the first 49 picks in the draft, which will allow them to get some difference makers into the starting lineup. Let’s take a look into how they SHOULD speed up this rebuild.
Players to Release
Matt Forte, HB
Bryce Petty, QB
Christian Hackenberg, QB
Wilkerson is as good as gone, he can’t be counted on anymore and became the kind of player you don’t want around your younger players. Forte and Petty, on the other hand, are good locker room guys, but Forte’s play has fallen off and there is no need to give touches to a 32 year old running back and keep touches away from better/younger options. Petty’s had his chance to prove he could at least be a backup in the league, but never showed he could perform at that level. Now Christian Hackenberg is probably the worst second round pick to be drafted. The fact that he could not get on the field on during his first two seasons is astounding. They need to admit to their mistake and just let him go.
Players to Re-Sign
Morris Claiborne, CB
Demario Davis, LB
Mike Pennel, DL
Kony Ealy, DE
Luckily none of these players will cost too much. Demario Davis is coming off a career year and is a very important piece for the defense and the locker room, so I would be shocked if the Jets let him walk. As for the others, they have to make sure it’s at a reasonable price, otherwise they could easily find their replacements elsewhere.
Players to Let Walk
Josh McCown, QB
Bruce Carter, LB
David Bass, EDGE
Julian Stanford, LB
Chris Gragg, TE
Ben Ijalana, OT
The players they should let walk are nothing to go crazy about, however I would love to see them bring back McCown as a coach if possible.
Kirk Cousins, QB
Austin Davis, QB
Ryan Jensen, C
Alex Okafor, EDGE
Jared Crick, DE
Trumaine Johnson, CB
Maccagnan and Bowles know their contract extension was really just for next year so they really need to show improvement and start winning. Kirk Cousins is the biggest fish in free agency and the Jets must do whatever they can to get a deal done with him. He has already spoken very highly of offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, so there will definitely be some mutual interest between the two. I would like to see them bring in another veteran who is capable of playing if needed, someone like Austin Davis. They could also look to Day 3 of the draft for another backup. Now, you can’t give a QB about 30 million dollars a year without having the necessary protection. Wesley Johnson was horrible last year at center so they bring in Ryan Jensen from Baltimore as his replacement. Prior to last year the Ravens ran a zone running scheme so he should fit in nicely as the Jets bring in Rick Dennison as their run game coordinator.
On defense they bring in Alex Okafor, Jared Crick and Trumaine Johnson. Okafor was injured for the second half of the year but played very well leading up to his injury. Keep in mind, he had the best season of his career in 2014 under Todd Bowles in Arizona, so he can come in right away and have familiarity with their defense. After releasing Wilkerson they could use another big body on the line. They bring in Crick from Denver who is also coming off a season ending injury. They can bring these two in on relatively cheap prove it deals and, if both are healthy, they can be two moves that really pay off. Trumaine Johnson is the other big acquisition. Bowles needs legit cornerbacks on the outside to play the type of defense he wants. Johnson is a big, physical corner who fits the mold that Bowles is looking for.
This was done using the Draft Simulator found on fanspeak.com and applying the big board provided from Bleacher Report’s Lead Draft Writer Matt Miller.
Round 1, Pick 6: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
With Cousins now under contract, quarterback is no longer a need, so they go with the best player available, to me. Denzel Ward would be icing on the cake for this defense. He shows to be glue-like in man coverage, always being on the receiver and in a spot to make a play. I think he would slide in to play nickel in this scenario, which I think could be a great fit for him and the team. He shows the quick hips and amazing footwork to be able to change directions and mirror the receiver. If he doesn’t mirror initially, he possesses blazing speed to recover. This could turn into one of the better secondaries in a hurry.
Round 2, Pick 5: Sony Michel, HB, Georgia
Michel became a household name for every football fan during the College Football Playoffs. He can break off big runs, which is something the Jets haven’t had out of a running back in a long time. He has acceleration, vision, balance and knows how to set up his blocks. He does have a little trouble with ball security and wasn’t used as a pass catcher at Georgia but he was very solid as a blocker so he doesn’t have to be taken off the field on 3rd downs. However, they do have Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire, who are also reliable 3rd down backs.
Round 2, Pick 17: Will Hernandez, G, UTEP
They already signed a center in Ryan Jensen and they still have James Carpenter and Brian Winters under contract. Carpenter only has one year left on his deal and Brian Winters can never seem to stay healthy. There were other players available but this seemed too good to pass up. Hernandez can challenge to start right away at either guard spot. He stood out in Mobile, seeming to win every 1v1 drill. He has power but also has good athleticism to go along with it.
Round 3, Pick 8: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, EDGE, Oklahoma
The Jets are still looking for their first threat off the edge since John Abraham, which seems like a lifetime ago. One of the biggest negatives with Okoronkwo is his size, as he’s listed at just over 6’1”, so he lacks the ideal height you’d want off the edge. Okoronkwo has a motor that never stops running though, and he has a knack of getting to the QB. I expect him to be used primarily on 3rd downs to start his career as he has some leverage issues and can get taken out of running plays.
Round 4, Pick 7: Dante Pettis, WR, Washington
They continue to fill needs. Their WRs played much better than expected last year but they have serious question marks. While Robby Anderson had a breakout season he can’t stay out of his own way, Quincy Enunwa is coming back from a serious neck injury, Jermaine Kearse is in his final year, and the rookies ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen didn’t show much in their limited playing time. Pettis is a solid route runner who moves well in and out of cuts with great short area quickness and does a good job faking out the defensive back. The way he’ll make an impact right away is his return ability. He had 9 career punt return TDs and the Jets averaged 4.5 yds per return, which was the worst in the league by a full yard.
Round 5, Pick 20: Dorian O’Daniel, LB, Clemson
They have Davis and Lee manning the inside linebacker positions so they bring in some much needed depth. O’Daniel has some sideline-to-sideline speed and can pack some power behind his hits. He may be a little slow instinctually, which is one of the reasons he falls this far, but I think he can fill a role as a backup on defense and be a nice special teams player.
Round 6, Pick 5: Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan
This is honestly a surprise, I didn’t realize he was available until this pick popped up. Phillips is a sleeper to me. In man coverage he sticks to his man and doesn’t get fooled all too often, he also possesses good ball skills. He seems to get a bit lazy at times in zone and react late to plays in front of him. In a system like NY, where they like to play man coverage, I think this would be a great scenario and an absolute steal in the 6th.
Round 7, Pick 17: Cole Madison, OG/OT, Washington State
Madison is an athletic big man who can play tackle or get kicked inside. Having that versatility is very important to make a roster nowadays. He has quick feet and moves well in space, but struggles with leverage and has average strength. I don’t expect he’ll ever be a starter but could be a valuable piece to replace Dozier/Ijalana.
This may be the most important offseason Jets fans have had to look forward to in a long time. They go into it with three major holes at quarterback, cornerback and edge rusher. In this scenario they acquire at least one starter at each position. Not only that but they are able to get starters at other holes on the offensive line, running back and special teams. With the amount of money available to them and good draft capital, this is exactly what they should hope for. This team played above their talent level to get 5 wins this past season. They retain all of their key players and you would expect the younger players to continue to develop and get better. If all goes according to plan, expect to see this team compete for the playoffs as soon as the 2018 season.