As a New York Jets fan of nearly 30 years, I often like to play GM for the team that hasn’t been to a Super Bowl since I’ve been on this planet. I loved what the Jets did last offseason. And not just because they followed nearly everything I said. But something happened on the way to the tanking: Josh McCown had a career year, and the Jets will only have the 6th pick in the draft. Here’s what they need to do before the draft.
Make a Run at Kirk Cousins
As much as Jets fans are hoping to sign the Redskins QB, everything I’ve heard is they’ve likely got the 3rd best chance after Cleveland and Denver. The Browns are in the driver’s seat, but they’re the Browns. John Elway closed Peyton Manning, but they’ve got to make some moves to free up cap space. The Jets can sell this: We’ve got cap room, you’ve got a chance to be one of the greatest QBs in franchise history – it won’t take much, really – and being a QB in NYC affords you the opportunity to be a marketing dream (and make a lot of money). If you’re wondering about a backup plan: If the Browns get Cousins, offer them a Goff/Wentz-type package to move up for Sam Darnold. If the Broncos get Cousins, and the Browns keep the #1 pick, I’m up for drafting one, not Josh Allen at 6, perhaps one of these guys in the middle rounds. Just say no to Case Keenum and Sam Bradford.
Trade Muhammad Wilkerson
The Jets foolishly gave Wilkerson a 5-year, $86 million contract in 2016 and his production massively cratered. After making his case for big money with a strong 12-sack season in 2015, Wilkerson has a total of eight sacks and one forced fumble the last two years. It probably didn’t help that defensive line wingmen Damon Harrison signed with the Giants in 2015 and Sheldon Richardon was dealt in 2016, but Wilkerson has not looked like a lineman with a $20 million cap hit next season. Toss in the skipped meetings, benchings, and off-field nonsense, and who needs this guy?
There’s an out after next year in his contract, so maybe someone’s willing to trade for him the way Seattle was desperate for Richardson. More likely: They’ll have to cut him. If it’s before March 16, they’ll clear $11 million; if they wait until June, the number rises to $17 million.
Sign Baltimore Center Ryan Jensen
The Jets offensive line was below average last year, and the interior was a mess. Ask the running game or QB Josh McCown. Jensen will command top dollar, as he’s by far the best free agent center. The Jets have the cap room to overpay if they must. A 6th round pick in 2013, Jensen only became a starter last season, and was the 13th best center according to Pro Football Focus.
Chase Malcolm Butler in Free Agency
I know what you’re going to say – not a former Patriot! Here’s the situation with Butler – he was just humiliated at the Super Bowl. He’s now incentivized to not only prove people wrong, but to prove Bill Belichick wrong. He’ll have suitors, and many will say he’s a system corner and was in the doghouse for a reason … I’m betting on Butler, and if you pair him with Morris Claiborne, or let Claiborne walk and draft Minka Fitzpatrick 6th overall, either pairing is an upgrade. I like Vontae Davis a lot as a backup plan to Butler, but his injury history and age (30 in May) scare me.
Keep RFAs Jermaine Kearse and Quincy Enunwa; Trade Robby Anderson
You won’t believe it when you look it up, but Kearse (65 catches, 810 yards, 5 TDs) had similar production last year to Dez Bryant (69 catches, 838 yards, 6 TDs). He’s only 28 and worth keeping. Enunwa was terrific in 2016 (58-857-4) but a neck injury forced him to miss all of 2017. Anderson is the one that’s difficult. He’s got two arrests in a year, and the Jets have to decide if they want to put up with a nearly-25 year old who is very talented, but also a major problem. Academics were an issue at Temple; the NFL must know something if his 4.3 40-yard speed at the Combine meant nothing because he was undrafted. Maybe someone thinks they can “fix” Anderson, and they’ll give the Jets a pick in return. I’m all about 2nd chances, especially when he’s the most talented skill position player they have. A difficult decision, for sure.
Josh McCown, QB: Turns 39 in July. Just had the best season of his career. He was so good, he beat playoff teams Jacksonville and Kansas City. But what’s the point of moving forward with him? When do you give Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg – the latter hasn’t thrown a pass in two years as a pro – a chance to see what they’ve got? If the Jets re-sign McCown, the front office is scared/embarrassed they drafted Petty and Hackenberg. Which says plenty about the front office.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE: Former 2nd round pick is immensely talented. He’s only 25. He partied his way out of Tampa, but has been a model citizen with the Jets (and now sober). Only people who spent every day with him know the answer to this: Did ASJ clean up his act because he knew it may have been a last chance in the NFL and because it’s a contract year, or is he really grown up and ready to fulfill that star potential he once had? Given what happened with Robby Anderson, it feels like the Jets have to roll the dice and keep Sefarian-Jenkins.
Kony Ealy, DE: Riddle me this – how does a talented former 2nd round pick go from Super Bowl star – three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble for the Panthers vs the Broncos – to object of Bill Belichick’s affection, to waived, to non-factor with the Jets? For some reason, the Jets became home to talented misfits the last two years. Brandon Marshall and Sheldon Richardson were quickly jettisoned. The Jets gutted the roster and replaced them with less heralded players who … could get in trouble at any minute (Robby Anderson) or clean up their act and become desirable (ASJ). The Jets can’t be choosers. They were 28th in sacks, with just 28. They need to give Ealy another chance.