<
>

Jets' once-deep backfield could be raided in free agency

With free agency approaching (March 9), we're analyzing the biggest needs on the New York Jets’ roster, examining possible upgrades:

Position: Running back

2016 cap hits of top returning players (position rank/average per year):

-- Tommy Bohanon (FB) -- $690,562 (104/126)

-- Zac Stacy -- $675,000 (86/126)

Pending free agents: Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Stevan Ridley.

Key stat: Since being traded to the Jets in 2013, Ivory has rushed for 2,724 yards, 10th in the league. He's third in the league in yards after contact per rush (2.14), trailing only LeGarrette Blount (2.27) and Marshawn Lynch (2.20), per ESPN Stats & Information.

Money matters: The Jets haven't poured big money into a running back since Thomas Jones (2007-09). Ivory, coming off a career year in which he rushed for an AFC-high 1,070 yards, is seeking a free-agent score at age 28. The running-back market has plummeted in recent years, so Ivory probably will have to settle for around $4 million per year, with a total guarantee of at least $7 million. The numbers aren't crazy, but the Jets could be reluctant to dole out the money for a back who has one, maybe two, peak years left. Powell, who made $2 million on a one-year deal, earned a raise after a solid season in a complementary role. Ridley is looking at a one-year contract for the minimum.

Big picture: Todd Bowles prefers to go three deep at running back, which means they're basically rebuilding from the ground floor. (Stacy, coming back from a broken leg, can't be considered a sure thing.) They have to re-sign Ivory and/or Powell -- or players like them with skill sets that complement each other. They also need some fresh blood, so it would be wise to draft a back.

Free-agent market watch: Doug Martin, Lamar Miller, Alfred Morris, Matt Forte, Ronnie Hillman, Chris Johnson, James Starks, Reggie Bush and Blount.

Also could become available: Arian Foster, DeMarco Murray, Frank Gore.

The game plan: The Jets are interested in re-signing Ivory and Powell, but that doesn't seem realistic, considering their cap restraints. If Ivory generates a bidding war, he'll be a goner. He could attract interest from his two home state teams, the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans. Some teams view Powell as an under-valued player, so he, too, should have suitors. Watch out for the Buffalo Bills, who wanted him last year. A fallback option for the Jets could be Morris, a rugged back whose style is similar to that of Ivory. The knock on Morris is that he's a poor receiver. Forget about Martin; he'll be too expensive.