This New York Jets team gave every fan more excitement and reason to tune in on Sundays than anyone could have imagined. Josh McCown was superb behind an inconsistent offensive line, demonstrating incredible leadership under center while putting together one of the best seasons of his career. The rookie safety tandem of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye did not disappoint. And despite what everyone thought prior to Week 1, the Jets were a competitive football team nearly every week. This will only set up the Jets for a wild offseason.
With over $100 million in cap space and the 6th pick in in their pocket, the Jets have the chance to improve their team drastically this offseason. As long as you aren’t the Cleveland Browns, NFL franchises can turn around in 2-3 years. Here are the most intriguing storylines as the Jets head into a crucial offseason.
Is there a sadder story of wasted talent in the NFL right now than Muhammad Wilkerson? A Linden, New Jersey native, Wilkerson was drafted by the Jets in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He flashed his potential in 2015, tallying 12.5 sacks and earning himself a monster contract. Flash forward two years later and Wilkerson just finished his 7th season as a healthy scratch for the third straight week. Wilkerson should have been one of the leaders of this team, but leaders don’t get disciplined four times in three years for tardiness. Wilkerson’s benching for the final three games was purely a financial decision, as his contract for 2018 is guaranteed for injury only.
Wilkerson will undoubtedly be cut before the new league year in March and the Jets will recoup $11 million in cap space. Give Bowles credit for taking a stand and benching the veteran, as he tries to create a culture of accountability for his young team.
Yes, for the third time in four years the Jets will own the sixth pick in the NFL draft. That’s five spots where quarterbacks could land before the Jets even get their pick. Luckily for the Jets, there are only three teams with a quarterback need ahead of them–the Browns (#1 and #4), the Giants (#2), and the Broncos (#5). If the Browns take their quarterback with the first pick then their fourth pick becomes increasingly valuable for a team looking to trade up and ahead of the Broncos.
The Jets will have interest in drafting a quarterback, but which ones are worthy of the sixth overall pick? If Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, and Josh Allen are all off the board, does Mike Maccagnan risk his job on a prospect like Baker Mayfield? Maybe they like Mayfield better than some or all of those other quarterbacks? It’s anyone’s guess at this point. There will certainly be some tough decisions Maccagnan, especially if prospects like North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, or Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick are still on the board.
Which begs the question…
QB or not QB?
This seems like a perennial question for the Jets as their season comes to a close but it’s a necessary one to ask: how will the they solve their quarterback issue? Josh McCown, 38 years old, put together a fantastic season before suffering a season-ending hand injury. He is not the long-term answer, but could be back next year for the right price if he decides to forgo retirement.
Bryce Petty, a 2015 4th round pick, was unspectacular in his four game audition this season. His leadership is admirable, but coming from Baylor’s spread system and adjusting to an NFL offense has proven too difficult a task thus far. Christian Hackenberg, a 2016 2nd round pick, has yet to take a regular snap in his short career. The Jets will clearly look elsewhere for their franchise signal caller, either taking one in the draft or signing one in free agency.
There are a few ways this can shake out. If the Jets have a strong conviction about one of the top quarterbacks in the draft don’t expect them to pursue anyone on the free agent market. If they choose this route, a smart move would be to try to re-sign McCown to another one-year deal, and have him play until the rookie is ready.
The Jets could also go all in on a proven veteran via free agency. The player to watch here is Kirk Cousins. The Jets will have tons of cap space to work with and will be able to offer Cousins the contract he desires. If the Jets can land Cousins they can shift their focus in the draft to surrounding Cousins with more playmakers on offense.
Or, the Jets can do what they have been doing the past few years. Sign a middle-of-the-pack free agent and draft a quarterback in one of the middle rounds of the draft. Tyrod Taylor could be an option, as he has had an up and down relationship with the new regime in Buffalo. Perhaps they take a chance on Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph.
Whatever the Jets decide to do this offseason one thing is certain.
They are going to look vastly different in 2018.
Here’s what I think the Jets should aim to do:
Resign both Demario Davis, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Josh McCown
Go after defensive ends Ziggy Ansah or Demarcus Lawrence
Go after offensive linemen Andrew Norwell or Justin Pugh
Draft a top-tier quarterback
Acquire an edge rusher, corner, and/or wide receiver