The Jets will have a high pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and more than $100 million in salary cap room to spend in free agency, so they have plenty of ammunition to fill the many holes in their lineup. GM Mike Maccagnan has never been shy about trying to improve the team by making trades, either.
So it should be a busy offseason for the Jets, and a critical one for Maccagnan. There is a real chance for this team to get better, to push itself into the ranks of playoff contenders. But they'll need to find a pass rusher, a running back, a No. 1 receiver, and help along the offensive line, too.
What is the best way for Maccagnan to fill each of the Jets' needs -- through the draft, via free agency, or with a trade? Here's a look at each gaping hole and the best way for the Jets to plug it:
Need: Pass rusher
Best approach: Draft AND Free agency
This is the area where the Jets can see the most dramatic improvement in the offseason, because the draft and free agency are loaded with outstanding pass rushers. Their needs will be determined a little by whether the presumed new coach runs a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. But there are many options for pass rushers that fit in both schemes.
So why not go both routes? Obviously if they're No. 1 they'll take Ohio State's Nick Bosa, but there are many other first-round pass rushers, like Clemson's Clelin Ferrell or Boston College's Zach Allen - some they could even get by trading down. And they could put one of them on one side and then spend some of their cap room on players like Dante Fowler or Jadeveon Clowney. Just imagine what that would do to the pass rush, especially with Leonard Williams already in front.
That would immediately transform the Jets' pass rush and give their defense a chance to quickly develop into one of the best in the league.
Need: Wide receiver
Best approach: Trade
This is a huge problem and it highlights one of Maccagnan's biggest failures - finding receivers to go with his young quarterback. There are simply no top-tier receivers available in free agency, and very few available in the draft.
In free agency, the best two guys are Golden Tate, who will be 31 in August, and Randall Cobb, who has battled a string of injuries in recent years. Both would help, but neither is the No. 1 receiver the Jets so desperately need. In the draft, scouts aren't high on the group, and at this point the only lock to go in the first round is A.J. Brown of Ole Miss. There are plenty of good players who should go on Day 2, but again, they're not the instant No. 1 the Jets really need for Sam Darnold.
So what should they do? Maccagnan has had a lot of luck in recent years finding receivers on the trade market (see: Brandon Marshall, Jermaine Kearse) and over the last few years a lot of good receivers have been available (see: Jarvis Landry, Brandin Cooks, Demaryius Thomas, Amari Cooper).
It's hard to predict who'll be available, but the Bengals could be willing to part with A.J. Green now that Tyler Boyd is looking like a No. 1 receiver. And maybe if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter a rebuilding phase and want to clear some salary cap space, someone could pry Mike Evans away from them.
Best approach: Free agency
The Jets have to make a run at Le'Veon Bell in the offseason, even though he may not truly be interested in them (as SNY reported on Friday). He is the best weapon on the market, and the ideal one to help out Darnold. He's Saquon Barkley-like -- a dual threat who can take all kinds of pressure off the quarterback.
There is a drop-off in the market after Bell, but if the Jets are snubbed they could still strike gold (and a possible bargain) in Jay Ajayi, Tevin Coleman, Mark Ingram or Latavius Murray, all of whom could form a nice team with Elijah McGuire. Assuming they rebuild the offensive line (see below) any of those would be a big upgrade.
As for the draft, there doesn't seem to be a Barkley or a Todd Gurley available. Good ones can be found in later rounds, but the Jets need to do better than that since they have the money to spend.
Best approach: Free agency (center), Draft (guard), and Hope (tackle)
This is another problem area because it's a huge area of need for the Jets and there isn't a lot of help available. Teams tend to lock up the best offensive linemen, so they rarely hit free agency, and the draft just isn't producing quality, NFL-ready linemen the way it has in the past.
Another issue: The Jets' biggest need is at center and tackle, but the strength of the free-agent market is at guard. They could get a guy like Rodger Saffold or Andy Levitre to replace James Carpenter if they want, but the only real quality center is Denver's Matt Paradis, which means his cost is going to be high. The Jets will have to go after him, though, with no top center available in the draft.
So what do they do at tackle? Skip the free-agent market, unless a surprise name or two hits it. They could draft Alabama's Jonah Williams with a Top 5 pick, but that would mean passing on a top-tier pass rusher. Their better bet if they want a tackle would be trading down in the first round, or maybe somehow acquiring a second-round pick and just keeping their fingers crossed that someone like Ole Miss' Greg Little slips to them.