Below are our non-scientific rankings of players we think can come to the Jets and most impact the team per dollar spent. Consider them a "bang for the buck" type ranking system.
1) Donte Whitner (SF) -- "Hitner" has been one of the most violent safeties in the game with some massive hits, most recently playing clean up with one of the best defenses in the league. Whitner has plus run-stuffing skills but his ballhawking and coverage is some of the best in the league. At age 28, Whitner will still be looking for a good pay day ($6-8 million APY), but his skillset looks like the right type for what the Jets need most in their secondary. We're sure playing in San Francisco might set the bar high for Whitner in terms of getting a contract and playing for a contender, but a player of his skill could be the missing piece for a team like the Jets.
2) Ed Reed (NYJ) -- I know that some will hate that he's ranked here, but on a "bang for your buck" it's hard to beat league minimum for a slowing down but still future Hall of Famer. Reed had a few botched plays that might have soured fans on his ability to contribute, but Reed was getting better over the final few weeks and might be a reasonable, cheap and known commodity for Rex Ryan and John Idzik to bring back. Even if it might not be a popular move, Reed still has some football left in him before he hangs up his cleats. If Reed were to return to New York, expect a very light or even minimum level deal.
3) Jairus Byrd (BUF) -- Byrd is my favorite player in this free agent class at any position, but he is going to ride his status to one helluva payday. Byrd is an instinctual playmaker with some of the best coverage skills in the league. The former Bill has great ballhawking skills and it is extremely rare to see players this good reach free agency. While he holds up against the run, he is at his best in coverage. Byrd is rumored to be looking for $10 million annually. Rex Ryan has historically devalued safeties since joining the Jets so adding a player like Byrd would be like getting in a Gallardo after driving a minivan for five years. Expect many teams to make inquiries and compete for his services.
4) T.J. Ward (CLE) -- Ward is at his absolute best as an extra run-stuffer but he has enough versatility to drop in coverage. Ryan covets safeties with the ability to do both well and Ward would be a fine fit for a Ryan scheme. Ward won't garner the same type of contract as Byrd, but it might not be far ($7-9 million APY) off.
5) Chris Clemons (MIA) -- Clemons has been a solid journeyman and seems unable to get the long-term deal he'd prefer. While he's not a long-term fit for the Jets, he's much better suited in coverage than in against the run ... not a problem for a Jets team that has Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett already under contract.
6) Louis Delmas (DET) -- Delmas might have injury and durability issues that will cause teams to balk at large or long-term deals, but he would be in the same mold as Clemons in that he's best suited in a coverage role. It's not an optimal fit for Rex Ryan in that he lacks the desired versatility, but he better rounds out the group.
7) Michael Mitchell (CAR) -- Mitchell fit well in Ron Rivera's Carolina defense and while he wasn't a playmaker, he certainly was a competent fit to the Panthers system. Mitchell is a well rounded safety who can hold up fairly in coverage. Mitchell wouldn't be expensive and could plug a hole for the Jets while they work out a long-term solution.
8) Kendrick Lewis (KC) -- Lewis is only 25 and he's already started 56 games. He also would be familiar with some of the Ryan system seeing that he just played for Jets former linebackers coach Bob Sutton in 2013. While Lewis has been buried on a historically bad Chiefs team for much of his career, he hasn't shone as the complementary piece to Eric Berry. Lewis wouldn't cost a lot, but any interest in Lewis by the Jets would be the result of some serious film work and a projection to his fit in the Jets system.
9) Malcolm Jenkins (NO) -- Jenkins is a liability and even at a miminum level deal wouldn't be the fit the Jets need or be worth the investment.
10) Nate Allen (PHI) -- Allen might have drowned in a bad Eagles secondary but even his individual play didn't stand out in any way that would make me want the Jets to pursue him. Allen seems like a bad fit for the Jets, even if was at a reasonable price.
11) Antoine Bethea (IND) -- Bethea will likely earn more based on his name than on his play in recent years. While he's known as a coverage safety, he's been wildly inconsistent and would be a poor investment on the Jets part.