NFL

The Jets Lost Offensive Talent in Free Agency, and Got Older. What Are They Doing?

After two unlikely trips to the AFC Title game, the Jets appear to have regressed this summer. That’s extremely disappointing. What happened?

Draft
They went into the draft needing to bolster a meek front seven that could only get pressure on QBs when they blitzed. The Jets addressed that need with their first and second picks – hulking defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson from Temple (30th overall), and problem-ridden defensive lineman Kenrick Ellis from Hampton (94th overall). They’re typical draft picks: tremendous upside, but also risky. Wilkerson played in the lowly MAC (but had a great game against Penn State!) and Ellis is a 6-foot-5, 340-pound beast who originally went to South Carolina (but is now facing felony charges for defending a woman; the other guy had a baseball bat and Wilkerson allegedly kicked his ass). Both need to play significantly since Kris Jenkins has retired and Shaun Ellis probably won’t be retained.

Bilal Powell, a running back from Louisville, looks really fast on tape. With Greene and LT and McKnight ahead of him, I’m not sure how much of an impact he can have. If the Jets are looking for a change-of-pace back from Greene, isn’t McKnight that guy? Perhaps he’s insurance if LT breaks down (he looked a step slower in the second half of last season). Everyone raves about Jeremy Kerley, a slot WR from TCU who also excels at returning kicks. His addition made Brad Smith expendable in free agency, but a rookie returning kicks? Come on. That’s not what teams that went to 2-straight AFC title games do. Antonio Cromartie is a sure-handed veteran on kickoffs. Kyle Wilson was shaky on punt returns last year, but hopefully he’ll have more confidence in year two. Joe McKnight is also an option. I’d feel much better about any of those being back there in a playoff game against Baltimore or Pittsburgh or New England. Greg McElroy will be the No. 3 QB, and wasn’t a bad 7th-round pick (he’ll be an NFL coach in 15 years); Scotty McKnight, a WR from Colorado will make the team because he’s the BFF of Mark Sanchez.

Free Agency
All along, their top two priorities were Santonio Holmes (check) and Antonio Cromartie (check). They inked LB David Harris to a long-term deal, but everyone knew that was coming. I like retaining Brodney Pool as the No. 3 safety, re-signing Eric Smith to be the No. 2 safety, and Donald Strickland was brought back to be the No. 3 or 4 cornerback. As expected, they lost bit players like defensive backs Drew Coleman (finished the season strong and signed with Jacksonville) and the aforementioned Brad Smith and last year’s No. 2 receiver, Braylon Edwards, won’t be back.

The big loss is Edwards. I don’t care how optimistic folks are about Plaxico Burress, there’s zero chance he’ll be as effective as Edwards was. He’s not as fast. He’s older. Scroll down on this link and you’ll see that history says Plax likely won’t be a factor. At all. I’d argue Edwards is tougher (though Plax did just come out of jail). Both have personality quirks/issues. I thought Edwards was a solid No. 2 WR, and when Holmes was gone early last season, Edwards delivered. He also had the clutch factor – he scored twice in three games against the Pats last year; he also caught a memorable TD against the Colts in the 2010 playoffs.

Here’s where his real value lies – if Holmes got suspended again or was injured, Edwards could fill in as a No. 1 receiver. He was the Jets’ No. 1 receiver in 2010 when they made the AFC title game. Plax? No way.

It gets worse: Today comes news the Jets are going to release last year’s No. 3 receiver, Jerricho Cotchery. A class act on and off the field, and a solid possession receiver, Cotchery is being released to make room for 37 (!) year old Derrick Mason. He’s had a productive career, avoided injury, and has good hands. But he’s 37.

Consensus
The consensus among Jets fans (and haters) has been that QB Mark Sanchez has been the weak link on the team in his first two years. His playoff numbers say otherwise, and two horrible halves by Rex’s defense in the AFC title game (2nd half vs. Indy; 1st half vs. Pittsburgh) are the real reason the Jets haven’t reached the Super Bowl. Sanchez staked them a lead against Indy, and rallied them against Pittsburgh. The defense in both of those games (pass D vs. Indy, run D vs. Pittsburgh) has been the culprit.

But there’s no question that in each of the last two years the team has exceeded expectations. I’m not sure what the thought process is with the receivers, and I think the silly moves will hinder the growth of Sanchez. He’ll lose his No. 2, 3 and 4 targets from last season – Cotchery is the only guy he’s had each of the last two years – and bring on a dude fresh out of jail who historically has been lazy (but was talented), and a 37-year-old who played in a different system in Baltimore. If Santonio Holmes goes down with an injury (or gets suspended), the Jets will have the the oldest pair of receivers in the league.

I’ll do my season prediction later in the month (I guessed 10-6 last year; they finished 11-5), but I’m far less optimistic than I was in the middle of last week, when they appeared close to getting Nnamdi Asomugha.

* It should be noted I didn’t love the Antonio Cromartie trade last year, and that worked out well. And getting rid of Thomas Jones last year was supposed to be a terrible thing for the locker room … it wasn’t.

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