AFC East: Kirk Cousins

Green Day: Offseason issues await Idzik

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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MIAMI -- It has been nearly three years since that magical day in Foxborough, where the New York Jets delivered their biggest win since that other magical day in the franchise's history, Super Bowl III, in 1969.

In January 2011, Rex Ryan conquered his nemesis, the New England Patriots, creating a big, loud and cocky green monster that figured to wreak havoc for seasons to come. But instead of the Incredible Hulk, they turned into Shrek -- ugly and goofy.

On Sunday, the Jets completed their third consecutive non-playoff season. It's their longest postseason drought since the dark ages of the 1990s, when they failed for six straight years under four different coaches. Their record since 2011 is just 22-26.

Without question, they overachieved in 2013, squeezing eight wins out of a young roster devoid of stars. Ryan did a commendable job in a rebuilding year and will return in 2014, the team announced after a season-ending 20-7 victory in Miami.

For GM John Idzik, the honeymoon is over. It's on him, and he faces an offseason with many challenging issues. Such as:

Augment the quarterback position: This is the biggest decision facing the Jets. They have to decide if Geno Smith is a true No. 1 quarterback or whether they should hedge their bet by bringing in legitimate competition. They have 16 games on tape to evaluate.

While Smith's late-season rally reduces the need to make a major acquisition, the smart play would be to add a competent veteran. Problem is, it's hard to find that guy, a No. 1/No. 2 quarterback.

Mark Sanchez fits the description, but there are health and salary-related questions, not to mention the entire issue of whether they'd want to re-create last summer's competition. Been there, done that.

An interesting target would be Kirk Cousins, who probably will be dangled in trade talks by the Washington Redskins. He wouldn't come cheaply in terms of compensation, maybe a second-round pick. That's a lot to surrender for a possible backup, but they have to look at the long view. He'd be an asset that appreciates in value.

They could go for Matt Schaub, the 2006 version of Cousins. Schaub would bring some baggage to the party, assuming he's released by the Houston Texans, but he’s still only 32 and would be a worthwhile reclamation project/insurance policy.

What about the draft? Unless Idzik absolutely falls in love with someone (Johnny Manziel, anyone?), it wouldn't make much sense to sink a first-round pick into a quarterback, one year after using a No. 2 on Smith. Jay Cutler could be the big fish in free agency if the Chicago Bears let him hit the market, but he'd be a disaster in New York.

Rebuild the offense: The Jets' skill-position talent has deteriorated steadily since 2010. Since 2011, they're ranked 26th in scoring, due largely to a lack of playmakers and poor quarterback play. They've ignored this side of the ball under the defensive-minded Ryan. It's time to pour money and resources into the offense so they compete in an offense-obsessed league.

They need a new tight end and two new wide receivers, preferably a game-breaker. Stephen Hill was supposed to be that guy, but he can't be counted on after two disappointing seasons.

The free-agent market for receivers is thin -- Eric Decker of the Denver Broncos might be the best -- so look for Idzik to address the need in the draft. There are a couple of good ones, Sammy Watkins (Clemson) and Marqise Lee (USC), assuming they turn pro. The top free-agent tight end is Jimmy Graham, but there's little chance he gets away from the New Orleans Saints.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Cromartie
AP Photo/Alan DiazWill Antonio Cromartie, a Pro Bowl cornerback in 2012, be playing in the Jets' secondary in 2014?
Spend money: Facing a tight cap situation last offseason, Idzik operated on a shoestring budget, doling out modest contracts. Cap space won't be an issue this time. With Darrelle Revis coming off the books, and with Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes likely to be released (a total savings of $16.5 million), the Jets will have close to $40 million in cap space.

In theory, the Jets could stage their biggest spending spree since 2008, the year they acquired Alan Faneca, Kris Jenkins, Calvin Pace and Damien Woody, but Idzik believes in building through the draft. He owns eight choices, a total that could grow to 10 or 11 with expected compensatory picks.

This is "go" time for Idzik, a chance to show his acumen as a team-builder.

The first thing they should do is take care of couple of their own free agents, namely right tackle Austin Howard and kicker Nick Folk. Both earned long-term deals with their play in 2013. Linebacker Pace and guard Willie Colon are B-list free agents who have value for the short term.

Out with the old: Sanchez, Holmes and Antonio Cromartie -- key players on the 2010 team that reached the AFC Championship Game -- are highly paid players with injury questions. It's possible all three could be playing elsewhere in 2014.

Holmes is a goner, for sure. They would've cut him two years ago if it weren't for $24 million in guarantees, one of the contracts that got Mike Tannenbaum fired. Sanchez fits the profile of what they need, but he's due a $2 million roster bonus in March -- and there's no way that will be paid. He'd have to agree to a massive pay cut, and that's unlikely to happen. Chances are, he'll be released.

Cromartie is a tough call, with a lot depending on his bad hip. His contract, which runs through 2014, is prohibitive -- a $15 million cap charge, including a $5 million roster bonus. He says he wants to retire a Jet, but let's see if he changes his tune when they propose a pay cut. Chances are, they'll cut him, letting him establish a market price before deciding whether to bring him back on a new deal.
The Buffalo Bills made one of the most surprising picks of the NFL draft by selecting former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel at No. 16 overall Thursday night.

Should the Bills double up at the position and draft former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib or USC's Matt Barkley Saturday for insurance?

The fourth round of the NFL draft begins Saturday and there is still tremendous value available at quarterback. Nassib and Barkley were widely considered second-round prospects entering the draft and remain on the board. Buffalo has the eighth pick Saturday in the fourth round (No. 105 overall) and could have a shot at one or both of these quarterbacks.

New Bills head coach Doug Marrone is very familiar with Nassib after coaching him at Syracuse. Nassib knows Buffalo’s offensive system well and could provide a solid insurance policy if Manuel is a bust. Barkley has some physical limitations but plenty of experience playing in a pro-style offense at USC. The Bills heavily scouted Nassib and Barkley and staged private workouts with both quarterbacks this offseason.

Drafting another quarterback could invite controversy. But the situation can pay dividends if handled properly.

The best recent example is the Washington Redskins last year drafting first-round quarterback Robert Griffin III and backup Kirk Cousins in the fourth round. Some criticized Washington for doubling up at quarterback. But the Redskins' brass wisely calmed the situation by immediately declaring Griffin the starter and Cousins the backup. Now, Washington has one of the best young quarterback combos in the NFL.

Buffalo hasn't had a long-term franchise quarterback since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired in 1996. The Bills hope Manuel is the answer. But boosting their odds for success by drafting Nassib or Barkley Saturday is not a bad idea.

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