Will the Jets be better a year from now than they are today?
There is no reason for them to not be.
Going into the last quarter of the season, Sheldson Richardson was the exception to the rule of the Jets five rookie starters. Then something happened. Geno Smith loosened up, his in-game decisions and familiarity with the receivers over the last four games paid huge dividends to this team's weekly competitiveness. Dee Milliner's best games were his last, while his play improved since late November, he capped his last two games with three picks and 10 passes defensed. And Brian Winters? He was thrown into the fire and only looked singed yesterday, getting his first "green" grade from Pro Football Focus in his last game of the season.
Beyond that? The offensive line will be better with more continuity between seasons. The team's best unit (including Coples) average age today is 24.6. That's hella young. The Jets will also have upwards of 12 draft picks, four of which will come in the top 80 (assuming Revis is kept in Tampa Bay) in what looks to be a much richer skill position draft than we saw in 2013.
One thing we do need to be explicit about is the cap space. In the last two days, we've seen writers and analysts throwing around $48 million in cap space waaay too loosely -- there's contingencies to that figure. The Jets will only have that high a cap space value if they cut Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes AND (here's the kicker) Antonio Cromartie. Of that cap space, they then will need to reward their own. Since Mo Wilkerson falls under the new CBA rules, the team's best player deserves a new contract this offseason to cut off contract ugliness later on. There's also players like Austin Howard who should get new deals. So, a high water mark of $48 million will quickly come down to around $35 million and the team will still be rid of Antonio Cromartie. If Cro is willing to take a paycut any sort of renegotiation with Cro will could further tamp down that number.
Regardless, the Jets will have so much more flexibility in 2014 than they had during their 2013 austerity. All this to say, with a stable and secure head coach and tons more talent from one to fifty three on the roster this team has every reason to be better in 2014.
What are the areas of priority going to be for this team in the 2014 offseason?
As we just said, first and foremost this team needs to be vastly more talented top to bottom -- that goes on both sides of the ball. Right now, no one on earth is more qualified than Mike Westhoff to practically evaluate on-field talent of the Jets from roster spots from 23-53. Yesterday, on SNY's Jets Postgame Live, Westhoff gave his frank assessment of the Jets roster since 2011.
"It was the least talented group I had in thirty years," he said. "I thought we lost [significant talent] in the last two years."
That from a man whose main part of his job with the Jets was to independently evaluate skill of the largest swath of the roster and find an on-field fit for it on special teams.
It's nothing we don't know ... but the klaxon alarms should be going off when a former coach says something like that ... but hey this is New York! Where's the Tebow angle?
But looking at free agency and draft acquisitions in areas of importance as of today? In a loose ranking, I'd say receiver, tight end, safety, running back, outside linebacker and then corner are the areas where they must make upgrades. Not all necessarily be at the starter level, but all those units mentioned need some degree of shoring up. The Jets ought to find quality starters at the wide receiver, tight end, safety and outside linebacker spots at a minimum. Everything else must be made to build depth. Of course, every roster action has an equal and opposite reaction. This means that many of the backups and undrafted players that we have come to know and love are going to have a very hard time making this roster next year. Upgrading a roster should contain no sentimentality.
Will Geno be the starter again in 2014?
I don't think the Jets would be so blind as to pass over someone they consider a game-changing talent at the quarterback spot in free agency (at the right price) or the first- or second-round, but as the last four games have demonstrated, Geno seems to be getting the hang of the NFL.
That, of course, is a function of Geno adjusting to the NFL game, getting his passing targets healthy and taking initiative himself to run the ball when the play breaks down. Coming out of the Bills/Ravens/Dolphins stretch, I would not have blissfully handed Geno the keys for 2014, but I could be persuaded to do so after what I saw in December. As the contrast in the Dolphins games showed, cutting down the flagrant turnovers makes a massive difference.
After the way the season ended, Geno is definitely a fair baseline for moving forward. Many analysts believed Geno was the best quarterback in the 2013 draft class, but that he needed the time to mature into an NFL quarterback. Did we see that struggle realized all season with the breakthrough progress in December?
Will Ryan get a contract extensions?
That might be up to Rex Ryan himself. As we discussed not long ago today he might have to accept some changes to his coaching staff as part of any such extension. I'm not going to re-write everything so just look at this post for more on what might be the holdup for now on any extension.
What will the Jets do with Mark Sanchez?
Cutting Mark Sanchez represents a $8.3 million dollar savings to the team. There is almost no likelihood that Sanchez will come back in 2014, but don't expect that Sanchez will be cut tomorrow. If we learned anything from John Idzik's negotiation process with the Buccaneers, and his slow-playing of the Tebow situation, it is that he's not above dragging out the release of Sanchez if he believes there's any profit in it. That profit might come in either third day draft pick
or salary cap off-sets (Bent notes no offsets are likely in Sanchez's contract) that might arise from such a trade. Idzik could be openly shopping Mark Sanchez around the time of the NFL Combine in late February ... or beyond.
What other high-priced veterans might not return?
The Jets are currently projected to have around $22 million in cap room for 2014 before any cuts. If they really want to tighten their belt, just a few well-placed moves could put them at upwards of $48 million in space. Cutting Santonio Holmes ($8.2 million) would save a large chunk and seems an inevitability. Holmes did make some contributions, but ending the season with a putrid 38 percent catch rate is unconscionable for a top receiver. The Jets would be wiser to re-invest the savings into a younger more dynamic receiver that might also be willing to play nice with the press.
Antonio Cromartie has been a holdover contributor to this defense as they have moved on from Darrelle Revis. We're putting words in his mouth, but we think if you asked OTC's Jason Fitzgerald he would tell you that he's surprised Cro stayed healthy up until this year. From some earlier Q&As with Fitzgerald, he sees the health issues and cap savings as enough of a pretext to move on from Cromartie. This could come down to the veteran corner's willingness to re-work his deal. Cromartie is supposedly willing to do so, so it might come down to Cromartie's agent and Idzik agreeing on a number. Our hunch is that Cromartie could probably get more on the open market than the Jets would be willing to spend ... which would indicate he will be cut.
Calvin Pace has stated that he'd like to keep playing and retire as a Jet. After posting double digit sacks in 2013 at a cap-friendly contract it might come down to Pace's willingness to forego more money elsewhere in order to stay in New York.
Ed Reed's play got better as his time with the Jets went on. Of course, few will remember how the season ended over the earlier gaffes. We wouldn't mind seeing Reed back in 2014 in the reduced role we hoped he would have been in already for 2013. Reed might have to compete for the "wily veteran" spot against Dawan Landry in camp if he were to come back on a veteran minimum deal, but the Jets might want to look at safety in the draft first before agreeing to any future deals with Reed. We don't imagine there will be a huge demand for his services in a decent class of free agents and Day Two draftees.