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With free agency about to kick off and the "legal tampering" period well underway, speculation is rife as to which players the Jets will pursue. With their league-leading war chest of cap space, the Jets are going to be extremely active this offseason and should also look to make a series of lower-profile moves to bolster their depth.
When general manager Mike Maccagnan last had a chance to spend in the free agency market, his offseason haul was highlighted by some big names: Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Brandon Marshall (with the latter being acquired via trade).
However, he also filled some holes with some lower-profile moves for the likes of James Carpenter, Marcus Gilchrist and Buster Skrine. The trio combined to start 122 games for the Jets over the past three seasons. In all three cases, the players had initially failed to live up to the spot at which they were drafted, but showed progress towards the end of their rookie contract.
Carpenter and Skrine in particular, played the most consistent stretch of their careers during their contract year. Carpenter had played really well at the beginning of the 2014 season, only to then suffer an injury that led to him struggling in the second half. Skrine's comfort level improved over the course of the 2014 season with a tremendous run of performances in the middle part of the year. Although he struggled down the stretch, that potential was what piqued the Jets interest.
For the Jets, it's about trying to identify a player who is about to hit his prime, but hasn't put together a strong enough body of work to warrant a huge contract at this stage. Looking at this year's free-agent class, are there any equivalent players who might not have done much in their first three or four seasons before starting to live up to their potential in their contract year?
Take former Cardinals wide receiver Jaron Brown. The 28-year old was coming off an ACL surgery as he entered the 2017 season. He entered the year with just four career starts and his career numbers over his first four years were 54 catches for 700 yards and five scores. In 2017, he started eight games and posted career-best numbers for receptions (31), receiving yards (477) and touchdowns (four).
Brown is 6-foot-2 and ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine five years ago. He could be good value as a complementary starter with room to continue developing.
Edge rusher Barkevious Mingo is considered a draft bust, as the sixth overall pick from 2013 has racked up just nine sacks in five years. However, with expectations lowered, he quietly put together the most consistent season of his career with the Colts in 2017. Although he only had two sacks, Mingo registered pressure at a higher rate than in any other season and also showed an ability to contribute against the run and dropping into coverage, as he set a career-high with 47 tackles.
The Jets don't have much depth at outside linebacker, and Mingo's low sack totals should probably keep his deal reasonable enough to make him an option who could provide an upgrade as a situational rusher or even compete for time in a more expansive role.
Giants running back Orleans Darkwa is a player who has already been linked with a possible move to the Jets this offseason. Darkwa broke out with a 154-yard rushing performance in an upset win over the Broncos last October and ended the season with 751 rushing yards, 19 catches and five touchdowns -- not bad for a player who totaled fewer than 300 yards rushing in his first four years.
Finally, cornerback Rashaan Melvin had been a journeyman over his first five years, spending time with six different teams. Melvin, like Darkwa and Brown, was undrafted back in 2013. He made nine starts in 2016 but really started to play at a high level in 2017, starting the first 10 games and intercepting three passes. However, he finished the season on injured reserve.
There are a few bigger names than Melvin in the cornerback market, but there should be plenty of competition for his services.
In addition to these players, there are some obvious late bloomers such as Case Keenum, Avery Williamson and Ryan Jensen. However, these are higher-profile players than the ones identified above, and, as such, could command bigger deals. It has been suggested that the Jets could target each of these players, though, and they fit the profile of the kind of players Maccagnan has previously pursued.