With free agency set to begin March 9, we'll examine the New York Jets' top free agents over the next several days:
Player: Chris Ivory
Position: Running back
Age: 28 (on March 22)
Previous contract: Three years, $6 million.
2015 stats: Ivory led the AFC with 1,070 rushing yards, which ranked fifth in the league. It was a personal best. He also set career highs with 247 carries, seven rushing touchdowns and 30 receptions. His average per carry (4.33) ranked seventh among running backs with at least 200 attempts. He made his first Pro Bowl as a replacement player.
The case to keep him: Ivory was one of the Jets' best players last season, and the whole point of team building is to keep good players in the building. Todd Bowles is a defensive-minded coach who believes in a strong running game, and Ivory proved last season he can be a No. 1 back. He's a tone setter for rest of the offense because of his physical brand of running. His ability to make yards after contact (2.20 per rush, seventh in the NFL) camouflages deficiencies in the offensive line.
The case to let him go: Ivory is approaching the age when running backs of his ilk typically start to decline, although it should be noted he's only 10th in carries (627) over the last three seasons -- not an unusually heavy workload. Nevertheless, you saw signs of fatigue in the second half of last season, perhaps enough to make the Jets skittish about a multi-year commitment. His production in a spread offense was average compared to the rest of the league, as he averaged only 4.83 yards per carry with three or four receivers in the lineup, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's an important nugget because the Jets use the spread so much. Ultimately, it will come down to money. Based on the market, he'll probably seek more than $4 million a year. Hey, if Shane Vereen can land $4.1 million per year from the New York Giants, Ivory has every reason to believe he can get more.
Crystal ball: Ivory will have suitors because, other than Doug Martin and Lamar Miller, there aren't many quality backs on the market. It wouldn't be a surprise if the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans show interest. Seeing Ivory go to the Patriots, who need a power back to replace LeGarrette Blount (free agent), would be a nightmare for the Jets. The Jets will be in the mix, but the feeling here is the number will get too high and Ivory will play elsewhere in 2016.