The Jets exceeded expectations this season, as the media’s punching bag won 8 games. That being said, they weren’t nearly as good as their record would suggest. That was buoyed by a 5-1 record in games decided by a touchdown or less. Their 8 wins came by a combined 53 points, while their 8 losses came by a combined 150 points, a point differential of -97 that was worse than every team in the NFL with the exception of 6. They finished the season ranked 24th in DVOA and 25th in rate of moving the chains differential.
It wasn’t all bad though. While their offense was horrifically stagnant, moving the chains at a 65.69% rate, 29th in the NFL, their defense was pretty solid, ranking 12th, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 69.64% rate. The linchpin of this defense was their defensive line, which was arguably the best in the NFL, especially among 3-4 defenses. The 3 man defensive line of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Damon Harrison was a huge part of the reason why the Jets were by far #1 in the NFL in yards per carry allowed. They ranked 8th, 5th, and 5th at their respective positions on Pro Football Focus.
Their secondary definitely had some issues and their pass rush could have been better and they have an obvious lack of playmakers on the offensive side of the football, but the good news is the Jets have a solid amount of cap room with a solid upcoming free agency class. They can have even more cap space if they make the fairly easy decision to cut guys like Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes, Mike Goodson, and Antonio Cromartie. There’s a very good chance they go into free agency with among the most cap space in the NFL and willing to spend to build their team.
That being said, ultimately, their long-term potential will depend on Geno Smith’s long-term development at the quarterback position. He had a rough rookie year, completing 55.8% of his passes for an average of 6.88 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions and the history of quarterbacks who fall out of the first round over the past 10-15 years is not pretty. However, he had nothing to work with in terms of receivers and it’s too early to write him off, especially considering he ended last season pretty decently. In his final 4 games, he completed 68 of 116 (58.6%) for 790 yards (6.81 YPA), 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. We’ll see what year two has in store for him.
The Jets need to get Geno Smith a real #1 receiver. Guys like Santonio Holmes, Jeremy Kerley, and Stephen Hill aren’t getting it done. Holmes is the best of the bunch, but he won’t be back in 2014, owed 9.25 million. Look for the Jets to try to add at least one, if not two new wide receivers to the mix this off-season. They have plenty of cap space and this is a strong wide receiver market in free agency. The draft is also an option.
Wide receivers aren’t the only kind of pass catchers that the Jets need. They need to surround Geno Smith with as many playmakers as possible to aid in his development. The cupboard was really bare last season and it’ll get even barer at tight end this off-season if both Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Winslow leave via free agency. Right now, their top tight end is Konrad Reuland. Cumberland and Winslow could definitely be upgraded though as the former isn’t a starting caliber player, while the latter is aging, declining, and coming off of a serious off-season arrest. No Jets pass catcher had more than 43 catches for 523 yards last season.
The Jets have done a great job adding young talent to their defensive front 7, with guys like Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Quinton Coples, but they need another edge rusher opposite Coples. Calvin Pace is a declining player going into his age 34 season in 2014. He wasn’t terrible this season, but he was cut last off-season after a weak 2012 seasons and he can’t be counted on going forward. He’s a free agent this off-season anyway.
Right guard Willie Colon is a free agent this off-season, while left guard Brian Winters struggled mightily as a 3rd round rookie in 2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th worst ranked guard last season. He’ll probably get another shot to start in his 2nd year in the league in 2014, but he’s no guarantee to ever develop into a starter going forward. Meanwhile, they’ll obviously need to replace Colon if he can’t be retained.
The Jets were so desperate for safety help that they signed Ed Reed mid-season. He won’t be a starting option for them in 2014, as a free agent going into his age 36 season. Dawan Landry was probably their best safety last season, but he wasn’t that great and now he’s going into his age 32 season. Meanwhile, youngsters Antonio Allen, Josh Bush, and Jaiquawn Jarrett have yet to develop into starting caliber players.
Geno Smith had a rough rookie year, completing 55.8% of his passes for an average of 6.88 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions and the history of quarterbacks who fall out of the first round over the past 10-15 years is not pretty. He had nothing to work with in terms of receivers and it’s too early to write him off, but the Jets should at least add a better veteran backup quarterback in case he continues to struggle in 2014. They should have someone better to turn to than Matt Simms.
Austin Howard has developed into a solid right tackle, but he’s a free agent this off-season. If he’s not retained, they’ll need to find a new right tackle.
Antonio Cromartie could easily be a cap casualty this off-season, which would leave the Jets thin at cornerback. Kyle Wilson and Dee Milliner would be the starters going forward in that situation, but they’d need some more depth.
Both of the Jets’ middle linebackers are pretty overrated. David Harris is only an average starter who isn’t worth his salary and they can save 5 million on the cap by cutting him, but they probably won’t. Demario Davis, meanwhile, was Pro Football Focus’ 6th worst ranked middle linebacker last season. I don’t expect them to overhaul the position, but they should really bring in another middle linebacker this off-season.
Nick Folk was one of the best kickers in the NFL last season, nailing 33 of 36 field goals, but he’s a free agent this off-season. If they are unable to retain him, he’ll need to be replaced.
Key Free Agents
OT Austin Howard
Austin Howard took over as the Jets starting right tackle before the 2012 season and he’s been a pretty solid starter in those 2 years. The Jets should make re-signing him a priority. There’s been talk of him getting a deal similar to what right tackles Sebastian Vollmer (4 years, 17 million), Andre Smith (3 years, 18 million), and Phil Loadholt (4 years, 25 million) got last off-season, which seems reasonable.
G Willie Colon
There was a time when Willie Colon was one of the best right tackles in the game, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked offensive tackle in 2008 and 3rd ranked offensive tackle in 2009, but he missed every game but one in 2010 and 2011 combined. He returned as a guard in 2012 and played solid in 11 games and then signed a one-year deal with the Jets for the 2013 season. He played all 16 games for the first time since 2009 and he was a decent starter at right guard. He’s definitely not the player he once was and he’s going into his age 31 season, with an extensive injury history, missing 36 games from 2010-2012, but he’s still a starting caliber player and would be a solid investment on a short-term deal for a guard needy team.
OLB Calvin Pace
Calvin Pace looked pretty done after the 2012 season, after recording 8 sacks in 2011 and 2012 combined and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd worst ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2012. The Jets cut Pace going into his age 33 season last off-season, but brought him back on a cheap one year deal. That paid off as Calvin Pace had a career high 11 sacks. Some people mistake that for having the best year of his career, which isn’t true as you can’t just look at sack numbers. He graded out slightly below average on Pro Football Focus, thanks to just 3 quarterback hits and 21 quarterback hurries. That being said, it was clearly a better year than 2012. Now going into his age 34 season, he’s probably going to have to settle for one year deals, but he wouldn’t be a bad investment for a pass rush needy team as a cheap stopgap. The Jets may try to bring him back.
TE Jeff Cumberland
Jeff Cumberland has essentially been the Jets’ starting tight end over the past two seasons. Dustin Keller was there in 2012, but he missed 8 games and in 2013, Cumberland essentially split snaps with Kellen Winslow. He’s led them in snaps played by a tight end over the past 2 seasons. Cumberland is an inline tight end at 6-4 260, but he’s not much of a pass catcher, combining for 55 catches for 757 yards and 7 touchdowns over the past 2 seasons. He’s not a starting caliber tight end and with a strong tight end class coming up and a lot of cap space, the Jets will almost definitely upgrade him.
S Ed Reed
Ed Reed is a declining player, last grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in 2011 and grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 59th ranked safety out of 88 eligible in 2012. The Texans didn’t seem to care, biting on name value by giving him a 3-year, 15 million dollar deal last off-season. Things only got worse from there. Reed had a hip problem that the Texans didn’t know about. He missed time with injury and ended up getting benched and then cut upon his return, getting paid a total of 6 million guaranteed for 275 snaps. He ended up with the Jets, where he played another 375 snaps for one of the league’s neediest teams at safety. Now going into his age 36 season, he might be done. The next call he gets from the NFL might be a Hall of Fame call.
TE Kellen Winslow
After essentially being out of the league in 2012 with chronic injury problems, Kellen Winslow caught on as a pass catching tight end with the Jets and caught 31 passes for 388 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, now he’s going into his age 31 season with an extensive injury history and a recent arrest for synthetic marijuana and public masturbation. His phone might not ring.
K Nick Folk
Nick Folk was one of the best kickers in the NFL last season, nailing 33 of 36 field goals. He’s had his ups and downs, but he’s hit 80.3% of his field goals in his career. The Jets will definitely try to re-sign him.
Cap Casualty Candidates
QB Mark Sanchez
The Jets pursued Peyton Manning before the 2012 season because they were disappointed with Mark Sanchez’s performance. When they didn’t land Manning, they essentially guaranteed the next two years of Sanchez’s salary as an apology. Those two years went about as bad as they could have. In 2012, Sanchez was arguably the worst starting quarterback in the NFL, completing 54.3% of his passes for an average of 6.36 YPA, 13 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, and one butt fumble. In 2013, he didn’t play a snap because of a shoulder injury. Fortunately for the Jets, the guaranteed money on Sanchez’s deal is done and they can save 8.3 million on the cap by cutting him. He’s no longer the starting quarterback and he’s not a starting caliber quarterback anyway so this is a no brainer.
WR Santonio Holmes
The Jets re-signed Santonio Holmes to a 5-year, 45.25 million dollar deal before the 2011 season, but the results were not as they expected. In 2011, he caught just 51 passes for 654 yards and 8 touchdowns. Unfortunately that was the best season he’s had while on this contract. He played just 15 games combined over the next two seasons, combining for 43 catches for 728 yards and 2 touchdowns, while causing several problems in the locker room. Now going into his age 30 season with the guaranteed money up on his deal, there’s no reason for the Jets not to cut him, a move that would save 8.25 million on the cap.
RB Mike Goodson
Mike Goodson played just 30 snaps last season, after getting arrested in the off-season and suspended to start the season. He fell to the bottom of the depth chart upon his return. The Jets can save about 1.3 million on the cap by cutting him and there’s really no reason to keep him around.
CB Antonio Cromartie
Antonio Cromartie had a dominant 2012 season in the absence of the injured Darrelle Revis, a big part of the reason why the Jets made the decision to move on from Revis. However, Cromartie was terrible in 2013, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked cornerback in terms of coverage grade. He was torched with regularity, allowing 19.1 yards per completion, 2nd highest in the NFL. He’s way too inconsistent to command the 9.5 million dollar salary he’s due for his age 30 season in 2014 and the Jets can save all that money on the cap by cutting him.
MLB David Harris
There hasn’t been any talk of the Jets cutting David Harris, but he’s overrated and overpaid so they should at least consider it. They can save 5 million on the cap and in cash by cutting him. He was only a league average starter last season and he’s been worse in the past. He hasn’t graded out positively on Pro Football Focus since 2010 and he graded out as their 6th worst ranked middle linebacker in 2012. Now he’s going into his age 30 contract year.