This offseason could have gone in two completely different directions for the Jets. It could have gone very badly. David Harris, Shaun Ellis, Brodney Pool, Antonio Cromartie, Braylon Edwards, Brad Smith, and Santonio Holmes were all free agents heading into this offseason. That’s 4 defensive starters and their top 2 receivers and their kick returner. On the opposite end of the spectrum, they had a lot of cap space and almost were able to sign Nnamdi Asomugha to play opposite Darrelle Revis, which would have easily been the best cornerback tandem in the league.
All in all, this offseason was roughly neutral for the Jets. They weren’t able to get Asomugha, but they were able to resign Antonio Cromartie to play opposite Revis, not exactly a bad cornerback tandem. They also resigned Santonio Holmes, David Harris, and Brodney Pool. They had to cut Jerricho Cotchery, but they were able to sign veteran Derrick Mason to replace him in the slot.
However, they did lose 3 significant players. Braylon Edwards is gone. The Jets think they can replace him with Plaxico Burress, but they will be disappointed. Burress is 34, 5 years older than Vick was when he was released from jail, and even Vick struggled in his first year back. They also lost Brad Smith and they don’t have anyone else on the team that does what he could do as a return man, a depth receiver, a running back, and a wildcat quarterback.
Possibly their biggest loss of the offseason was Shaun Ellis. Ellis was the longest tenured Jet, 11 seasons, but the Jets low balled him with a veteran’s minimum contract. He promptly jumped ship and took 4 times more money in New England with the Patriots. Ellis is not the player he once was, but he’s far from washed up. He’s still got plenty left in the tank. Just ask Matt Light, who he terrorized in the Jets/Patriots playoff game last year. Ellis brought Brady down twice in that game and wrecked havoc on almost every play. Now he’s on the other side. That has to hurt and it can’t be good for team morale.
Muhammad Wilkerson, their first round pick, will attempt to replace Ellis on the defensive line. However, he is still a rookie coming off a lockout shortened offseason so I have some doubts with him. They also lost Jason Taylor, a talented 3rd rush linebacker and 3rd down pass rusher from last season. Taylor is not what he used to be, but he did have 5 sacks last season. Where is that going to come from this season? They’ll really rely on Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas, two decent starters, to lead their pass rush. That’s not a good thing.
While their pass rush won’t be as good as it was last year, their secondary should be better. They return all 4 starters, including Jim Leonhard, who broke his leg late last season. His return will be much appreciated. Also, Darrelle Revis will be better this season. He was very good last year, but he wasn’t the elite corner who took the world by storm in 2009. A lot of that can be blamed on various injuries. He held out before the season and was never in 100% perfect shape all season because of that. That won’t be the case this year.
They should also once again be very good against the run. Rookie 3rd round pick Kendrick Ellis will team with Sione Pouha at nose tackle to give them what they were expecting out of Kris Jenkins last year before he got hurt. Behind the nose tackle slot will be two talented middle linebackers, Bart Scott and David Harris. This team had the league’s #1 defense in 2009 and one of the best in 2010. They should be in that same category again this year.
Offensively, more pressure will be put on Mark Sanchez than in either of his first 2 years. The Jets downgraded both their #2 and #3 receiver slots in the offseason. Burress is far from reliable and Mason, once the picture of reliability, is now 37 years old so it’s impossible to call him reliable. That means that Santonio Holmes is their only reliable wide receiver. He also has Dustin Keller, a solid starting tight end, to work with, but his receiving corps are far from what they were last year.
His running game also won’t be as reliable as it’s been in his first 2 years in the league. LaDainian Tomlinson started the season well, but he really showed his age down the stretch last year. He’s 33 which means that Shonn Greene will be counted on to be the lead back, something he’s never proven he could do, and the 2009 3rd round pick has had chances. The good news for their running backs, however, is that they have one of the best offensive fronts in the league, but the question marks are still there.
Speaking of that offensive line, they return four starters from last year. Only Damien Woody, an aging player who struggled at times last season, did not return. He will be replaced by Wayne Hunter, who didn’t play well in relief of Woody last season. Playing only 531 snaps, he allowed 4 sacks and committed 8 penalties. He could be beaten out by 2010 2nd round pick Vladimir Ducasse, a talented, but inexperienced player.
At the left side, however, things are much better. Former 4th overall pick D’Brickashaw Ferguson has blossomed into one of the best left tackles in the league. He surrendered a mere 3 sacks last season. Left guard Matt Slauson surrendered 7, but made up for it as a strong run blocker. He should be better in his 2nd season as a starter. Center Nick Mangold might be the best at his position in the league. There certainly isn’t a better run blocking center. Right guard Brandon Moore is also a fantastic player who allowed a mere 1 sack last season.
So, basically, the question is, can Mark Sanchez make that next step? Is he a game manager or a legitimate franchise quarterback? He’s game managed them to two AFC championship games, but if they’re going to win a Super Bowl, he’ll have to become a legitimate franchise quarterback like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. In fact, only one quarterback has won the Super Bowl without first making the Pro Bowl in the past 20 years. That was Eli Manning, who made it the very next year. I don’t know if Sanchez has that in him.
Running backs: B-
Receiving corps: C+
Offensive line: A
Run defense: A
Pass rush: C+
Pass coverage: A-
Projection: 10-6 2nd in the AFC East