Three years ago, the Jets seemed to have the makings of the best defensive line in football. They added Leonard Williams to a line that already featured Mo Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Damon Harrison. The potential seemed to be huge.
Now Wilkerson, Richardson, and Harrison are all gone, and Williams is coming off a disappointing, two-sack season. So, it makes sense that the Jets will spend a bunch of their $90 million or so of salary cap space in upgrading their defensive line.
"I don't necessarily view it as a position of need per se for us right now," said Jets GM Mike Maccagnan.
"I think we feel pretty good about the players we have," the Jets GM said. "There are other positions we're probably more focused on going into the offseason. There's always players in pro free agency. There's players in the college draft at that position. Whether we add one at some level, I wouldn't necessarily rule it out but I don't think it's a high priority for us right now."
That sure sounds like a smokescreen, but Maccagnan did talk up Steve McClendon, Mike Pennel, and Kony Ealy, and they obviously are still high on Williams despite his down year. The Jets were expected to be big players in the edge-rusher market, but the Lions already used the franchise tag on Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, and the Cowboys just did the same Monday with DeMarcus Lawrence. The market gets pretty thin after that.
One interesting option: If there's a run on quarterbacks in the Top 5, or if guard Quenton Nelson sneaks into that group, it could drop N.C. State DE Bradley Chubb into their laps. The 6-4, 275-pounder is considered one of the top three players in the draft, so it's highly unlikely he'll be available at No. 6. Then again, no one expected Williams to No. 6 in 2015, either.
One way or another, though, expect the Jets to find a way to strengthen their defensive line - despite what Maccagnan said.
Cornerbacks a top priority in free agency
Cornerback figures to be high on the Jets' list of free-agent priorities, too. They would like to bring back Morris Claiborne, but only at the right price, and at the moment, he seems to think he'll have a lot of suitors on the open market.
If the Jets are going to spend big money on a free agent corner, it will be on someone new. Two players that NFL sources have tied them to are Trumaine Johnson and Malcolm Butler. Johnson could get a deal worth $12 million per season, and the Jets are apparently OK with that price, but so are the San Francisco 49ers, and many think that's his preferred destination.
As for Butler, he struggled last season, and was famously benched in the Super Bowl, so his cost could be less. And the Jets are expected to be interested in him as a fallback option on a relatively thin market.
Will Hackenberg be the odd-man-out?
With the Jets preparing for a big free-agent push at quarterback, what does that mean for Christian Hackenberg, their 2016 second-round pick who has yet to take a single NFL snap? Nothing good. In fact, the Jets aren't even trying to hide their feelings about the former Penn State quarterback anymore. Jets coach Todd Bowles made it clear Hackenberg doesn't really have a role anymore, and hasn't earned it.
"I look at Christian every day in practice. I don't need to see somebody on game day that I see in practice every day," Bowles said at the combine. "If the other guys are playing better we've got to play the other guys.
"He's got to correct a lot of things, obviously. The more he plays, the more he'll correct. He's a young guy. The more time he plays or gets to play - but you've got to earn that playing time so it's a tricky situation there."
Hackenberg's not likely to get that playing time, whether the Jets end up with Kirk Cousins, Teddy Bridgewater, Josh McCown, or someone else. His future with the organization appears to be as a third-stringer, though he might have to beat out Bryce Petty for that job.
Plans A, B, and C at QB
So Plan A at quarterback is Cousins. Plan B could be a Bridgewater/McCown tandem, as SNY reported on Sunday. It does not appear that the Jets have much interest (yet) in Case Keenum or Sam Bradford, which means Plan C is probably a pairing of McCown, and whoever they can get with the sixth pick in the draft.
It does not sound like they are initially in love with any of the top four quarterbacks, though. That could change, but none of them figure to be the Jets' starter on Opening Day next season.
Looking for bargains with own free agents
With all that cap space to spend, the Jets know they can be in the mix for the top players at any position, which is why they are looking for bargains on their own free agents. They would still like to re-sign LB Demario Davis, TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, C Wes Johnson, and Claiborne, but only at their price.
And at the moment, each player seems to be seeking more.
Davis, for example, is reportedly seeking $8-10 million per year - or about double what the Jets want to pay him. Davis, though, called that "Fake news all the way around" on Twitter. The Jets seem to have valued Seferian-Jenkins in the $4-5 million per year range, but he may test the market too to see if he can get more than that.
As for other free agents on the market, several NFL people believe the Jets will make a play for Giants C Weston Richburg if they don't re-sign Johnson. They reportedly have an interest in Giants RB Orleans Darwka too. They do still have (and like) Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire, but want to add a brusing, inside runner who might be better in short-yardage situations. Darkwa's preference, though, seems to be a return to the Giants, which could happen before the market opens.