Idzik cleaned house prior to last season, ridding the Jets of many high-priced contracts. The team currently has approximately $20 million in cap space, but as ESPN’s Rich Cimini notes – that number can easily double. Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes are certain to get cut, which will free up an additional $16.5 million. Another cap casualty will be Antonio Cromartie, whose cap number is $9.5 million. Many sources indicate that even if cut, the door would be left open for Cromartie’s return at a lower price (the Jets did something very similar with Calvin Pace last offseason). After the presumptive cuts are made, the Jets would have $35 - $45 million in cap space - though not all of that money could be spent on the open market. They would have to allocate enough to sign their draft selections and resign some of their own unrestricted free agents (noteworthy free agents include Austin Howard, Jeff Cumberland, Willie Colon, Calvin Pace, Ed Reed, and Nick Folk).
After finishing in the bottom four in the league in scoring and second to last in passing offense, the number one priority of the offseason is obtaining playmakers on offense. Although the Jets do have a solid 1-2 punch at running back with Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory, there are some free agents at the position that are eyebrow raising, although not jaw dropping: Ben Tate, Knowshon Moreno, Joique Bell, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Andre Brown. The Jets figure to stick with Powell and Ivory, but could make a splash with one of the aforementioned names.
The Jets should focus more attention on pass catchers for Geno Smith, who had the worst receiving corps in the league last year. The prominent tight end free agents include Jimmy Graham, Dennis Pitta, and Jermichael Finley. Jimmy Graham is a pipe dream - he will likely be franchised if not locked up long term by New Orleans. Pitta and Finley are fascinating because they are both coming off injuries that could lead them to sign incentive laden contracts, something the ever-fiscally minded Idzik may capitalize on. Without question, the Jets’ biggest offseason need is at wide receiver and it will be the position that every Jet fan monitors with close attention.
Major free agent wide outs this year include: Hakeem Nicks, Jeremy Maclin, Eric Decker, Julian Edelman, Anquan Boldin, Golden Tate, and Emmanuel Sanders. Recent reports link the Jets closest to Maclin and Sanders, who do make the most sense. Decker will likely look for a long term deal for more than he is worth (smart money says he needs Manning more than Manning needs him). There is also concern that he is looking to build his “brand” more than catching footballs – a reality show starring him and his (bombshell) wife debuted last fall. Maclin is coming off a knee injury, so his appeal is similar to that of Pitta and Finley. Sanders offers a speedy vertical threat that the Jet offense sorely lacks. Tate offers much of the same verticality as Sanders, but comes with a spotty history of disciplinary problems (although he improved his reputation last season). There is no doubt wide out and tight end are the greatest areas of weakness, but the Jets can also use the draft to shore up the position they miss out on in free agency.
The Jets own the 18th selection in the 2014 NFL draft, but Idzik has them set up much better than meets the eye. As per the terms of the Darrelle Revis trade, the Jets will receive Tampa Bay’s third rounder (69th overall) if Revis is still on Tampa’s roster on the official start of the league year in March. If Revis is cut, the Jets will receive Tampa’s fourth rounder (100th overall). Moreover, ESPN's Adam Shefter has reported that the Jets are expecting four compensatory draft picks for their losses in free agency last season. That would give the Jets a whopping 12 picks in total. All eyes will be on the first round, and there is little doubt that the Jets should pick a pass catcher to complement whomever they can acquire in free agency. Top targets that could be available include:
- Mike Evans – WR - Texas A&M - 6’ 5” – 225 lbs. Evans was Johnny Manziel’s favorite target and a former basketball player. He has great size, is extremely physical, and possesses and NFL-ready body. He is also a very good red zone target, something Geno Smith sorely needs. Scouts have criticized his lack of burst off the line of scrimmage and his overreliance on his size to get separation from defenders. He might be off the board when the Jets pick at 18.
- Marquis Lee – WR - USC – 6’ – 195 lbs. Lee is an excellent route runner with good field vision who is explosive. He has very reliable hands and makes tough catches in traffic. He also has the ability to return kicks effectively. There is a concern with Lee’s lack of size and in addition, he was projected to be a top 5 talent in 2012 but his season was derailed by injuries.
- Eric Ebron – TE - North Carolina – 6’ 4” – 245 lbs. Ebron is the best catching tight end in the draft, and again, might not fall to the Jets. He is often referred to as a “new breed” tight end in the mold of Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, and Rob Gronkowski. He has great speed and is dangerous after the catch. He lines up mostly in the slot. He has solid blocking skills, but his technique needs development.
- Jace Amaro – TE - Texas Tech – 6’ 5” – 260 lbs. Like Ebron, Amaro is referred to as a “new breed” tight end. He runs solid routes and lines up mostly out of the slot. He is very dangerous in the open field, but needs to improve his blocking to stay on the field in the NFL.
Obviously the combine, private workouts, and player interviews will cause fluctuations in every player’s draft stock. However, out of this bunch, Evans would be the best pick if available. His size and red zone ability could do wonders for the development of Geno Smith.
With lots of cash to spend and many draft picks to play with, the task ahead of Idzik is an enviable one among NFL GMs. He does have holes to fill on defense (most notably at cornerback and safety), but his focus will undoubtedly be on building around Geno Smith. Unlike last season, the pressure will be on. The honeymoon is over – it’s time to see what kind of football architect Idzik really is.