In this post, we rank (from highest to lowest) the priorities for the Jets in bringing in outside free agents at the following positions on defense:[sny-hr]
Reasoning: The 2012 Jets lost Darrelle Revis for the season, but LaRon Landry's work as a coverage safety helped cover a multitude of sins. Without Revis in 2013, an injured Antonio Cromartie and a rookie starter, the Jets suffered without that rock-solid back-end presence in coverage. Signing Ed Reed was meant to help stabilize the play of the cornerbacks, but the results weren't clearly evident until the last few weeks of the season. Reed is a free agent again and the team's top three safeties are Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett; none of which excel in coverage at this point in their career. Since arriving in New York, Rex Ryan has predominantly played with one-high safety but maybe more than any previous year, the Jets employed cover-two often enough to raise the red flag that this secondary (and these safeties in particular) are not strong and have enough range in coverage. With or without Cromartie in 2014, the Jets need to boost their personnel in the secondary and one of the easiest ways to effectively do that this year will be through targeting one of the many coverage safeties in free agency.
Potential Targets: Coverage safeties have been in short supply in the last two to three years in both the draft and free agency, but this year the free agent class looks to be more promising. In addition with names floating as potential cuts like Troy Polamalu and Antrel Rolle the supply might push price down. Jairus Byrd and Donte Whitner are the two biggest names that could be available in free agency but Browns safety TJ Ward should see a nice payday. Beyond those three, if the Jets want to get economical, Bernard Pollard, Chris Clemons and Quintin Mikell might fit the bill ... as they are good coverage players with varying degress os success against the run. As far as the wizened oldies? Don't write off players like Charles Woodson and (yes really) Ed Reed, who might be among the biggest short-term bargains at the position.
NO. 2: CORNERBACK
Reasoning: With Milliner being drafted last spring, one of the starting spots is secure. For the next three years the Jets seem to have the slot corner position taken care of between Wilson, Walls and maybe even Aaron Berry. They will coach up future fourth and fifth corners by building depth. What remains in question is that second starter spot and potentially, if they are feeling frisky, that first spot off the bench. Whatever happens with Cromartie in the coming weeks, the Jets must consider their long-term prospects through free agency. The Jets could use the money that they save from Cromartie to ostensibly upgrade the second starter position. Or if they feel confident in Cro, they could bring him back on a deal that doesn't plan too far down the road and use the savings to find another borderline starter for insurance.
Potential Targets: If the Jets are looking to get the best of the best in replacement of Cromartie, then they might be in the Brent Grimes or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie sweepstakes. They might also be interested in Alterraun Verner, if they feel he can more consistently play the physical brand of football Rex Ryan likes. If they are looking to find a player at more of a bargain? Drayton Florence, Corey Graham and Walter Thurmond are players worth consideration while across town the Giants seem to have stumbled almost too late onto the promising Trumaine McBride ... would the Jets be able to lure McBride away to help cover speedsters?
NO. 3: EDGE LINEBACKERReasoning: Calvin Pace demonstrated how much success a player with a relentless motor could have when paired with the Sons of Anarchy. While both sides might want to bring Pace back in 2014, there is a lack of 3-4 OLBs in the free agent pool that might drive the price up. What seems to make more sense for the Jets is to invest a mid-round pick in an edge-setter / outside rusher who could shine working with such a stellar defensive line. That said, some big names might be cut in the coming weeks ... so don't count out a Jets wine-and-dine like they did with Jason Taylor a few years back.
Potential Targets: If the Jets want to go big? Anthony Spencer might be looking for a one year prove-it deal and his agent would be wise in seeing how he could pad his stats playing with the likes of Wilkerson and Richardson. Regardless, expect the Cowboys to get the first crack at Spencer. Brian Orakpo is already talking contract with Washington so don't expect Snyder to let him get away. OLBs Parys Haralson from the Saints and Jason Worilds might be more reasonable, but again due to the lack of supply in 2014 the price might rise too high and keep the Jets from overpaying and thus force them to add through the draft or on the eve of camp by picking through the litter.
NO. 4: INTERIOR LINEBACKERReasoning: The Jets seem pretty set at this spot for 2014 between David Harris and Demario Davis. The Jets don't often play backups at ILB, but the team lacks depth at inside linebacker and with the resources available this might be a year to consider finding a player who could come in as a veteran and backup D&D.
Potential Targets: Paris Lenon of the Broncos, Daryl Sharpton of the Texans and Pat Angerer of the Colts are some players who might fit the need and not cost too much in the process. The Jets will need to consider special teams contributions at this spot if they do add veteran talent here.
NO. 5: DEFENSIVE LINEReasoning: The Jets might need to bolster some depth at the spot, but for starters, this group is set between Wilkerson, Coples, Richardson, Harrison and Ellis. Leger Douzable fit in nicely in 2013 as a rotational player and the team could consider bringing him back as he seemed to fit right into the group, but we imagine both sides want to see what the market will bear for Douzable first.
Potential Targets: Aside from bringing back a player like Douzable at the right price, there's a lot of free agents who could fit the Jets needs, look here and here for massive lists that make my head hurt. Douzable was great against the pass and run, but was it Douzable or the work of the group? The point here is that a player need not be great but needs to be competent in their rotational work. For example, DT Antonio Johnson of the Titans would be an interesting choice for the Jets. He's clearly an interior player and he's played solid football in limited work with a mediocre unit in Tennessee. A player like Johnson should be easily able to parlay those 2013 results to even more success as a rotational player alongside the Jets monsters.