The New York Jets have a ton of needs to address this offseason and no cap space to speak of. Regardless, they should still target these five free agents.
The allure of the bright lights and playing in New York has made the dysfunctional New York Jets a free agent’s paradise for an absurdly long time. Do they have a good head coach in Todd Bowles and some interesting pieces on their roster? Yes, but Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan has no salary cap space to work with this offseason.
New York is one of two teams in football, the other being the Dallas Cowboys, that is over the cap. The Jets need to cut some players to sign any of their draft picks or land a marquee free agent or two.
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The deficit of -$6,673,462 isn’t a hopeless abyss of a hole, but Maccagnan has some work to do. In all likelihood, he will land a big-time free agent because that’s what the Jets do. Here are five players that should be atop of the Jets’ free agency wish list.
Running Back, Oakland Raiders
Why did the Jets sign an aging Matt Forte this past offseason? Didn’t they know that he couldn’t possibly have much left in the tank after the Chicago Bears drove him into the ground for close to a decade?
Regardless, Forte isn’t terrible, but could be rapidly decaying in the New York backfield. Thankfully, the Jets have found something good in Bilal Powell, but even he can’t do it alone. The Jets do have a tertiary need at running back and could pursue a solid runner in Latavius Murray of the Oakland Raiders.
Murray is a consistently inconsistent running back for the Raiders in his three years out of Central Florida. He was a Pro Bowler and a 1,000-yard rusher in 2015, but failed to reach either of those feats last season when the Raiders were finally good for once.
Nevertheless, he and Powell could be a great running back duo for Bowles in New York. A superior running game is a great offensive complement to the stout defense that Bowles will hopefully hang his hat on this upcoming season.
Murray could have a Pro Bowl caliber year in 2017. He could theoretically get slapped with the franchise tag worth a projected $12.2 million by the Raiders, but that doesn’t seem likely. At a lesser price, he could very well play for Gang Green in New York.
Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon (8) waits in the tunnel before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Glennon hasn’t played much at all in the last two seasons as the backup quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That is because head coach Dirk Koetter seems to have a sure thing in franchise quarterback Jameis Winston.
Glennon started in 18 games in his first two years in the league and should be poised to get his next shot at a starting gig here pretty soon. While the Jets have four quarterbacks on their roster, they are likely to let both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith walk in free agency. Though Bryce Petty has shown some signs of promise, what does the quarterback future hold for the Jets: Christian Hackenberg?
If the Jets don’t love a quarterback in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, there is a good chance that they will give Glennon a whirl for a year or two. Though he isn’t completing 60 percent of his passes in the NFL, the ball looks better coming out of his hands than any passer playing for the Jets since Chad Pennington.
Tampa Bay may want to keep one of the better backups in the league in tote for next season, but the free agency market will dictate that. If the Jets want a cheaper option than a third year with Fitzpatrick, Glennon might be the way to go.
Glennon isn’t the top-tier passer the Jets could land in free agency, but he could be the bang for the buck purchase they never seem to have the patience to land. He can play, but is Glennon a future NFL starter or essentially the third McCown Brother?
Sep 25, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Cornerback, Dallas Cowboys
Given that Bowles specializes in coaching defensive backs, he may want Maccagnan to go out and find him a suitable shutdown cornerback. Let’s be real. Darrelle Revis is rapidly decaying before our eyes out on an island. Unless he is willing to kick inside and play some free agency, New York will have to cut him.
If they do and the Jets somehow find a way to get around eating all that salary, one guy they could try to see if he can replace Revis is Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne. Before getting hurt midseason, Claiborne was finally having a breakout year for the Cowboys.
He was a former first-round pick by Dallas in the 2012 NFL Draft out of LSU. While many of his LSU Tigers brethren have found success in NFL defensive backfields, that had evaded Claiborne until September 2016.
Dallas isn’t likely to use the $14.3 million franchise tag on Claiborne, as he has only had half of one good season with the Cowboys. The Cowboys are the only team in a worse situation with the salary cap than the Jets: -$10,657,885.
The likelihood that Claiborne leaves Dallas is somewhat decent, but if he does, don’t be surprised if he is tabbed the heir apparent to Revis Island in New York. This potential signing reeks of boom or bust to the nth degree. Let’s see if this signing actually goes down.
Oct 2, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) looks on before their game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Cornerback, Buffalo Bills
This is not a deep free agency class, but one of the 10 guys that is absolutely about to get paid is Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore. He expects to get paid like a top-five cornerback. While he’s close to that realm as a defensive back, he’s about to reap the benefits of being the premier player at his position financially this offseason.
Gilmore has spent the last five seasons playing for the Jets’ AFC East rival in Buffalo. Should he be slapped with the franchise tag or get a bigger pay day than the $14.3 million he could receive from that from the Bills, he’d be playing for his fourth true head coach in six seasons.
Gilmore may be down in seeing what it could be like playing for new Bills head coach Sean McDermott or new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. He may also be tired of the dysfunction emanating from Orchard Park and leave Western New York entirely…for the East Coast.
With the Jets, Gilmore has seen first-hand that Bowles is a great defensive backs coach and New York has come closer to be playoff viable than any season he has played for the Bills. New York will have to give Gilmore Revis money to get him to leave Buffalo for a bitter rival, but it could happen.
The secondary for the Jets last year mostly resembled burnt toast. By signing a Pro Bowl level cornerback in Gilmore, the Jets could have their new shutdown corner once they decide to get off Revis Island.
Dec 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) acknowledges the crowd as he leaves the field after the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The Redskins won 41-21. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Quarterback, Washington Redskins
If Glennon is the mid-level free agent quarterback the Jets should target, then the star level quarterback it should go after this spring is Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins. Washington slapped him with the franchise tag last season and could do so again, costing Washington a projected $21.5 million in 2017.
While he didn’t lead the Redskins back to the NFC Playoffs, Cousins has proven to everybody in football that he is a Pro Bowl level starting quarterback. Though he did make the game in Orlando as an alternate, Cousins did complete 67 percent of his passes for 4,917 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
With Cousins under center, most teams in the NFL could be playoff viable annually now that the 28-year-old signal caller is firmly in his prime as a passer. Washington would be foolish to let him walk this spring, but the Redskins is known to zag in the strangest of circumstances.
New York knows first hand that if a team doesn’t have a strong starting quarterback then it has nothing. Cousins will be better for the Jets than any of the four currently on it have been the last two years. We’re looking at a guy that would be at worst Pennington or Vinny Testaverde level for Gang Green.
Does New York have the necessary capital to land a player the caliber of Cousins? No, but that doesn’t mean that Bowles and Maccagnan shouldn’t try to sign him. If they can’t get better at quarterback here soon, they’ll be out of town very quickly.