AFC East: New York Jets
The Jets have a definite interest in Vick, the source said. In an ideal world, they'd like to wrap it up quickly, but the former Philadelphia Eagles starter will have other suitors.
Ditto for McCown, who is scheduled to visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans and Jets -- in that order. The feeling around the league is that McCown, wildly successful last season when he replaced the injured Jay Cutler, could land with the Bucs. No visit has been set up with Vick and the Jets, but there appears to be mutual interest.
The Jets are looking for an experienced quarterback to compete with Geno Smith.
Howard, regarded as an ascending player, became an unrestricted free agent. He will draw considerable interest on the open market, meaning there's a good chance he will sign elsewhere. That would be a blow to the Jets, who don't have a logical in-house replacement. Howard's backup last season was Oday Aboushi, a fifth-round pick who didn't dress for a single game.
The draft is deep at tackle, so the Jets probably could pick one with the 18th overall choice. But, with so many other needs, it would be counter-productive to address a position that could've been solved by locking up Howard on a long-term deal.
There are mixed signals on this one. The Jets "absolutely" would be interested in the star cornerback, according to a person familiar with the team's thinking -- assuming Revis is willing to take less than his current $16 million-a-year salary. Rex Ryan has a deep affinity for Revis and, according to a person close to the coach, he likely already has brought up Revis' name is discussions with general manager John Idzik.
While the football side of the organization would love a Revis reunion, the feeling probably isn't the same on the management/ownership level. Years of acrimony between the front office and Revis' camp culminated last April with a bitter divorce, and it's unlikely Woody Johnson would sign off on a Revis 2.0, according to a person familiar with the owner's thinking.
"Woody's not going to allow Revis back in the building," the person said. "He's so anti-Revis. It would happen over his dead body, and I don't think he's ready to leave us."
The biggest question might be, would Revis even consider returning to the Jets? Unless they meet his asking price (not likely), he'd have to be desperate.
This could all be moot, of course, because the Bucs are attempting to trade Revis. The Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders reportedly have interest. Both teams have New York ties to Revis. The Browns' coach is former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, and the Raiders' assistant GM is Joey Clinkscales, the former Jets director of college scouting. The Bucs want to trade him before Wednesday. If not, they'll cut him before a $1.5 million roster bonus us due.
1. Good riddance: This was a long time coming. The Jets would've cut him last year if it weren't for the 2013 guarantee ($7.5 million) in his contract. Holmes was the ultimate diva, causing problems when things didn't go his way. He was the root of the locker-room turmoil in 2012, clashing with Mark Sanchez in a meeting and getting thrown out of the huddle by teammates in the season finale. Holmes and Sanchez met in the offseason to patch up their relationship, with Holmes telling Sanchez he'd be a team player. It sounded sincere at first, but he reverted to his selfish ways, telling Sanchez he wanted at least five catches per game. Because of Holmes, mistakenly named a captain that year by Rex Ryan, the Jets abolished the practice of making permanent captains. That will be Holmes' legacy.
3. A hard lesson: The Holmes debacle should serve as a cautionary tale for John Idzik, who soon will be doling out the first big free-agent contracts of his GM tenure: Don't invest significant money in players with character issues. More often than not, you get burned. As they attempt to rebuild the wide receiver position, through free agency and the draft, the Jets should put an added emphasis on the intangibles, looking for team-oriented players not afflicted by the "disease of me," as Pat Riley once said. Granted, it's hard to find those guys at receiver, a diva position, but they're out there.
4. A new No. 1: The Jets just dumped their most accomplished receiver, so they need to find a new No. 1. They have a No. 3 (Jeremy Kerley) and a No. 4 (David Nelson), along with a wild card (Stephen Hill). They can find a No. 2 in free agency, a No. 2 who probably will be miscast in a lead role. The future No. 1 probably will come from the draft, one of the richest receiver drafts in history.
Cromartie, a guest Monday on ESPN New York 98.7 FM's Stephen A. Smith & Ryan Ruocco, confirmed that the team wasn't interested in finding a way to pare down his $14.98 million cap charge. Basically, it was a cold cut. Thanks for the memories; you're fired.
"I just thought, for us, me and my agent would get an opportunity to come in and either talk about an extension to get the cap number down or try to restructure," the veteran cornerback said. "But, right now, we didn't hear anything from them."
The most realistic option was a straight pay cut. He was entering the final year of his contract, due to make $9.5 million in salary and bonuses, including a $5 million roster bonus this week. It made no sense for the Jets to extend the deal -- not for a soon-to-be 30-year-old corner with a bum hip -- unless it was just a window-dressing extension for cap purposes. But they never got around to talking numbers.
Cromartie said he would like to finish his career with the Jets and didn't rule out the possibility of re-signing for less money.
"Just talking with the guys [Sunday], the door is still open and that's how I look at it," he said, adding, "I'm going to test the market to see where my numbers are."
Hampered by a strained hip flexor, Cromartie struggled last season. After two months of rest, he claimed he is healthy, predicting, "You're going to see the Antonio Cromartie of old" in 2014. He wants to play eight more years, five at corner, three at safety.
Cromartie took the high road, refusing to bash the Jets. Why bite the hand he hopes will feed him again? He praised coach Rex Ryan and the entire roster, saving his most effusive comments for safety Antonio Allen. He said Allen has "freakish" athletic ability and, if he becomes a consistent player, could be "the next Ed Reed." Allen is an ascending player, no doubt, but that's way over the top.
With the free-agent signing period opening Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, here's our AFC East free-agent ranking:
2. Aqib Talib, Patriots CB: Matchup man-to-man cornerback was a centerpiece in the Patriots' game plans in 2013, with injuries the only real blemish on his resume.
3. Julian Edelman, Patriots WR: Coming off a career-high 105-catch season -- staying healthy for all 16 games for the first time -- the receiver is poised to cash in.
4. Austin Howard, Jets T: An ascending player who would generate significant interest if he hits the open market.
5. Paul Soliai, Dolphins DT: He is one of the top run-stuffers on the market. Soliai can fit in the middle of a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense, which adds value.
6. Scott Chandler, Bills TE: A 6-foot-7 tight end who posted career highs in receptions (53) and receiving yards (655) but was a non-factor in the red zone.
7. Randy Starks, Dolphins DT: The Dolphins used the franchise tag on Starks in 2013 but only used him as a rotational player. A change of scenery is probably best for him.
8. LeGarrette Blount, Patriots RB: The 250-pound running back was tough to bring down once he got rolling late last season; deserving of an upgraded contract.
9. Ryan Wendell, Patriots C: Undersized center has the smarts and durability that could appeal to a team looking to fill a void in the pivot, but sometimes gets overpowered.
11. Calvin Pace, Jets LB: Recorded a career-high 10 sacks last season, but there will be a limited market because he'll be 34.
12. Chris Clemons, Dolphins S: He's a decent safety with plenty of starting experience. Clemons is strong in run support and a sure tackler, but he struggles at times in pass coverage.
13. Nick Folk, Jets K: Designated as a franchise player.
14. Dan Carpenter, Bills K: Kicker is coming off his best season as a pro, converting 91.7 percent of his field goals, including every kick in the second quarter or later.
15. Alex Carrington, Bills DL: Versatile lineman can play tackle in a 4-3 or end in a 3-4; started first three games in 2013 before an injury ended his season.
1. Is this really goodbye? There is the possibility of re-signing Cromartie down the road, according to a source, but I don't see that happening. I think Cromartie is done in New York. Unless he's willing to return on a modest, one-year contract, what sense does it make to commit to a 30-year-old cornerback with a chronic hip condition? Cromartie was terrible last season despite making the Pro Bowl as an alternate. (What a sham that was.) I give him major props for playing through the injury, but he was a liability at times. If he were a few years younger, yeah, you would bring him back, figuring the hip would heal. But he'll be 30 next month, and the combination of age and injury makes this a no-brainer. Cromartie relies on speed, not technique. If his speed is compromised, he's not the same player.
3. It had to be done: Cromartie told teammates at the end of the season that he expected to be a cap casualty, and he later articulated that view in a TV interview. When Cromartie restructured his contract last year, he pushed money into 2014, resulting in a bloated cap figure of $14.98 million. That included a prohibitive $5 million roster bonus, due this week. Obviously, there was no chance he'd remain on the team at those numbers. By cutting Cromartie, the Jets will have a $9.5 million cap savings. Now Cromartie can test his value on the open market, hoping to convince teams he's healthy and still explosive. A young and healthy Cromartie was always the best athlete on the field.
4. Dynamic duo ... gone: In 2010 and 2011, the Jets had one of the premier cornerback tandems in the league, Cromartie and Darrelle Revis, who missed most of the 2012 season with a knee injury. In a span of 11 months, general manager John Idzik broke up the two-man band, trading Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and cutting Cromartie. He had better hope Milliner is the real deal, or else the defense is in big trouble.
5. As the Cro flies: Favorite Cromartie memory? That's easy. It was his 47-yard kickoff return in the 2010 wild-card game against the Indianapolis Colts. Basically, he won the game, putting Mark Sanchez & Co. in great field position and setting up Nick Folk's game-winning field goal as time expired. Cromartie wanted the ball in that spot, and the coaches gave it to him, knowing he could break a long one. He was capable of greatness, but too often he aggravated the coaches with his mental lapses. There was "good Cro and bad Cro," as former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine once said.
A: $6+ million AAV (annual average value), 3+ years guaranteed money
B: $2 million-$6 million AAV, 2 years or fewer guaranteed money
C: $2 million or less AAV, 2 years or fewer guaranteed money
D: Minimum salary, 1 year contract
A former college wide receiver, Cumberland has filled out his frame enough to become a move tight end who can be flexed out and detached from the line of scrimmage. He has good straight-line speed to stretch the seam and extend the field vertically. He is a work in progress as a blocker who can be a useful No. 2 tight end who can improve the passing attack in the red zone with his good catch radius. He's not an ideal starter, but he also won't be a detriment to an offense. An improving player.
Only two free agents are worthy of a C, according to Polian -- kicker Nick Folk and right tackle Austin Howard. The Jets overpaid for Folk, per the rating system, and they could be on the verge of doing the same for Howard. Polian's take on Folk, who received the franchise tag ($3.6 million):
After clinging to his job for each of his first three seasons in New York, Folk broke out with the best season of his career in 2013. He showed exceptional accuracy and leg strength, hitting a 54-yard field goal during the season. A starting-level kicker who has connected on over 80 percent of his career kicks.
Polian on Howard, who will land a deal in the coming days (whether it's with the Jets or another team) that will pay him twice as much as the 'C' grade:
Howard made strides during the 2013 regular season, improving as a full-time starter for the Jets as a right tackle. He has a massive frame and wingspan, as he entered the NFL at nearly 350 pounds (he has since trimmed down). Howard can struggle with quickness from opposing edge rushers but is sufficient as a space player and can be a starting right tackle. He should continue to improve.
Verner, 25, coming off his first Pro Bowl season, will be one of the top cornerbacks on the free-agent market. Before you get too excited, let's add some perspective here: This smacks of a due-diligence call by the Jets, who are involved in a negotiation with their own top cornerback, Antonio Cromartie. If Cromartie doesn't take a pay cut to lower his $15 million cap charge, he'll be released. So, yeah, this could be posturing as well. My sense is that Verner is a contingency if things fall apart with Cromartie.
Verner will be expensive. Very expensive. Brent Grimes re-upped with the Miami Dolphins for four years, $32 million, and Sam Shields re-signed Saturday with the Green Bay Packers for a reported four years, $39 million. I don't think the Jets are eager to spend $9 million to $10 million-a-year on a new corner, one year after using a high first-round pick on Dee Milliner.
True, Cromartie is about four years older than Verner, but he's still a good player, assuming that troublesome hip has healed. If he agrees to reduce the $9.5 million he's due to make in salary and bonuses, Cromartie would be a solid, short-term answer. Then again ...
If the Jets cut Cromartie, they'd save $9.5 million on this year's cap, creating a nice, not-so-little slot for a premier free agent. Interesting. By rule, teams can only talk with agents that represent players from other team. (Yeah, like we believe they're only talking.) The real action starts Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Nice of them to join the party.
But now the philosophy appears to be changing.
They locked up Cumberland with a modest, three-year contract, and they're in the market for another veteran. Yes, they're serious about upgrading the position. They've been linked to Brandon Pettigrew (Detroit Lions), Scott Chandler (Buffalo Bills) and Jermichael Finley (Green Bay Packers). The "legal tampering" period is underway, and they've already expressed interest in Pettigrew. I think they're trying to sell Pettigrew on the idea that he and Cumberland would be a two-headed monster, with Pettigrew handling the in-line responsibilities and Cumberland being deployed as the "move" tight end.
In theory, it sounds good, but Cumberland isn't known as that kind of tight end. In 2013, most of his receptions (16 out of 26) came when he lined up as a traditional, in-line tight end, per ESPN Stats. They tried to move him around the formation; in fact, he ran 76 of his 214 routes from the slot or split out wide, but he was targeted on only 15 of those 76 routes. In other words, he was a decoy. Either that, or he simply couldn't get open.
Obviously, the Jets thought enough of Cumberland to sign him before he hit the open market. Hey, why not? He'll be only 27 and the price was right -- $3.7 million over three years, according to the New York Daily News. I have doubts about whether he can be a legitimate, pass-catching tight end, although here's something you probably don't know about him: His yards-after-catch (YAC) was 6.35 per reception, second in the league.
One thing is certain: The Jets are trying to shake up the status quo at one of their weakest positions.
The free-agency season is upon us, and the Jets have about $23 million in cap space, which will grow to more than $40 million if/when they dump Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie and Mark Sanchez. It's "go" time for Idzik, whose long-term plan -- presented to owner Woody Johnson when he was hired 14 months ago -- is predicated on stockpiling talent in 2014.
People who know Idzik say he won't take a "shop-till-you-drop" mentality into free agency. They say he will spend, but won't forget his core principles. He won't give lucrative, long-term deals to players over 30 or those with injury concerns. He won't sell out to sign "the big star." He won't deviate from his "the-draft-is-our lifeline" philosophy. He won't pay top-dollar prices for middle-of-the-road players.
Pardon me, but I'm skeptical of the last one, because most teams overpay in free agency. Do you think starting-caliber receivers will be beating down the Jets' door to play with Geno Smith and the 31st-ranked passing offense? Of course not; the Jets will have to pay to attract the top talent.
Former longtime NFL GM Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst, cautioned that free agency isn't a cure-all.
"The best players are signed,” he said on a media conference call. “These (free agents) are essentially ‘B’ players whose agents are looking for ‘A’ money. That, in itself, is not the best of buys. You recognize that as a general manager.”
Ideally, you want to use free agency to fill needs, allowing you to take a best-available-athlete approach in the draft. It's easy to preach that, but quite another to practice it. When the bidding starts and the money starts flying, it's easy to get sucked into the madness of free agency. Idzik is known for his deliberate approach; we're about the find out how deliberate. The "legal tampering period" begins at midnight; the signing period commences at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
A few thoughts on what to expect from the Jets:
1. Keeping their own: Unlike last year, the Jets are actually trying to retain some of their free agents-to-be, namely RT Austin Howard and TE Jeff Cumberland. They're deep into negotiations with both players. It wouldn't be a surprise if both re-up by Tuesday. They're interested in keeping LB Calvin Pace, 33, but they won't shower him with money because of his age. They told RG Willie Colon, almost 31, he's free to test the market. Once again, it's the age factor. Former second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse also is unlikely to return. In his case, it's not age, it's a talent thing.
2. Resolve the QB situation: If I were Idzik, I'd address this ASAP. How can you convince free-agent receivers to sign if you're selling the still-unproven Smith and a bunch of question marks at quarterback? They should make an immediate run at Michael Vick, with Josh McCown the No. 2 option. Vick isn't what he used to be, but he has more credibility than Smith at this point. If Idzik strikes out in free agency and the trade market, he might have to turn to Sanchez, whose cap charge ($13.1 million) and surgically repaired shoulder make him a less-than-ideal option.
3. Go wide: There are two ways to approach the wide-receiver search. Idzik can go long and invest significant money in Golden Tate, a solid No. 2 receiver, or he can go short and take a chance on Hakeem Nicks, who might be ammenable to a one-year deal. Nicks has No. 1 talent, but he hasn't played like a lead receiver since 2011. Obviously, there are other options as well, including Emmanuel Sanders. Stay away from Eric Decker; he'll cost too much and he's not a true No. 1. If the Jets can sign a No. 2, pairing him with Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill and David Nelson, they'd be in position to look for a No. 1 in a receiver-rich draft.
4. The big splurge: Even though the Jets have a ton of cap space, I can't see Idzik spending franchise-type money for one player -- unless he makes an exception for S Jairus Byrd. Even that would be a long shot. With the possibility of 12 draft choices (counting possible compensatory picks), Idzik can afford to be relatively patient, building for sustainable success and avoiding the quick fix. The goal should be to build around Smith, letting him grow with those around him. That was part of the problem for the previous regime. They put Sanchez in charge of a win-now team and, by the time Sanchez was ready to take the next step, the talent around him had eroded. They couldn't get it going at the same time. This is Idzik's chance to make that happen.
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Key free agents: RT Austin Howard, PK Nick Folk (franchise player), TE Jeff Cumberland, LB Calvin Pace, RG Willie Colon, S Ed Reed.
Where they stand: The Jets are trying to re-sign Howard before he hits the open market. He's not a household name, but he's a massive blocker with surprising athleticism. Howard has two years of starting experience and he's only getting better. They've expressed an interest in re-signing Cumberland and Pace, although it's unclear if deals will get done by Tuesday. Pace produced a career-high 10 sacks last season, playing for the minimum salary, but he's 33 -- and the Jets won't throw significant money at a player that old. The Jets are rebuilding at tight end, so Cumberland's role is undefined, which could affect negotiations. Colon and Reed are fallback options. In Reed's case, way, way back. Colon is recovering from biceps surgery and won't be healthy until the spring.
What to expect: With an anticipated $30 million in cap space, the Jets could be aggressive buyers if they so choose. They need a wide receiver (or two), a tight end and a veteran quarterback to push Geno Smith. There aren't any true No. 1 receivers on the market, so they'd better be careful not to overpay for the second-rate talent. Emmanuel Sanders and Golden Tate could be on the radar. They're likely to have interest in QBs Josh McCown and Michael Vick, who'd be ideal because he already knows Marty Mornhinweg's system from their days together in Philadelphia. If they strike out with free agents, the Jets could retain former starter Mark Sanchez, contingent on his health and a massive pay cut. The Jets could have 12 draft choices (counting possible compensatory picks), so they don't have to overpay to fix every need in free agency.
Player: Josh McCown, Chicago Bears
2013 salary: $865,000.
Sign him up: McCown, who turns 36 in July, is the quintessential journeyman. He has played for five teams, and it looks like it will be six because his mid-30s renaissance last season probably priced him out of the Bears' budget for a backup. In terms of role acceptance, he would be a good fit for the Jets because he would push Geno Smith in a non-threatening way -- if that is what they're looking for. He would be David Garrard, sans the chronic knee condition. At this point in his career, McCown knows he won't be handed a starting job. He won't come cheaply; quarterbacks of McCown's ilk can cost a team about $4 million for the first year.
Reasons to stay away: His magical, five-game run last season screams "aberration!" McCown was a mediocre quarterback his entire career, finally finding something special under quarterback guru Marc Trestman. It also helped that he had a couple of stud receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery; he wouldn't have that luxury with the Jets, that's for sure. McCown will parlay his right-time, right-place season into a relatively big payday, but it will be hard to duplicate last season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars are possible suitors.
Watkins is Ryan's second-favorite receiver at Clemson. As many of you know, Ryan's son, Seth, is a receiver for the Tigers. The Jets' coach told the Associated Press that he would like to add a receiver (what a revelation!) and that he likes Watkins a whole lot.
"But there's no way he'll be there" when the Jets pick, Ryan said. He's right; there's no chance he'll fall to them at No. 18.
Clemson has another intriguing wide receiver, Martavis Bryant, who is 6-foot-5 and projects as a third-round possibility, according to some. The Jets' contingent also got a good look at quarterback Tajh Boyd, a late-round projection.
About 60 NFL types were in attendance, but Ryan and the Detroit Lions' Jim Caldwell were the only head coaches, according to AP.
Lee was off the board for the Jets in McShay's previous mock draft (he had them taking Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks), but this time there's a run on defensive players from the 13th pick to the 17th, allowing Lee to fall. In this scenario, he'd be the third receiver selected, behind Clemson's Sammy Watkins (Oakland Raiders, No. 5) and Texas A&M's Mike Evans (Detroit Lions, No. 10). Interestingly, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron still is there for the Jets, which would make for an interesting choice. Obviously, the decision could be based on how they address those needs in free agency.
If the Jets take Lee, they'd be looking past his disappointing 2013 season, betting that his 2012 performance (he won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver) is a better gauge of his talent. A similar situation unfolded in 2012. Defensive lineman Quinton Coples was a beast at North Carolina in 2010, but slipped the following year for a variety of reasons. He became a human pinata before the draft, with critics taking shots at him. The Jets chose him 16th overall. How's it working out? Too soon to say. Coples' physical talent is undeniable, but he has given credence to some of the pre-draft concerns by displaying a lukewarm motor at times. Lee's work ethic is said to be outstanding.