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 Jets officially announced the deal on Saturday but did not disclose terms. The New York Daily News reported that Cumberland agreed to a three-year deal.
Cumberland was due to become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday, but he would have been allowed to start negotiating with teams at noon Saturday.
The Jets' offseason goal is to add firepower to a unit that finished 31st in passing offense. Despite modest statistics, Cumberland is seen by the organization as an ascending talent.
The Jets are expected to make another significant acquisition at tight end, either through free agency or the draft. They have varying degrees of interest in Jermichael Finley and Brandon Pettigrew, sources said.
The Jets hope to add another offensive piece over the weekend. They're in negotiations with right tackle Austin Howard and hope to re-sign him before he hits the open market.
Before Cumberland's return, the Jets had only two tight ends under contract -- Zach Sudfeld and Chris Pantale, neither of whom has much experience. Veteran Kellen Winslow, set to become an unrestricted free agent, won't be back.
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.
When it comes to New York/New Jersey real estate, Mark Sanchez should be a seller, not a buyer, right? After all, reports of his ouster have been circulating for months. But, wait: The Real Deal, which covers New York real-estate news, reports that Sanchez checked out a $4.2 million loft in Tribeca on Thursday.
The website uses an unnamed source, with the listing agent -- a gentlemen from Sotheby's International Realty -- declining to confirm the information. The apartment hit the market only two days ago.
Obvious question: Does this mean Sanchez expects to remain with the New York Jets? We're waiting to hear from the Sanchez camp, but there could be a number of explanations for his house-hunting adventure. Maybe he's looking for investment property. Maybe he's a Robert DeNiro fan and wants to be his neighbor in Tribeca. Who knows?
Sanchez's football future is up in the air. While it's not a foregone conclusion that he will be released, it's certainly a strong possibility. A lot depends on what happens during the first two weeks of free agency. If the Jets sign a veteran quarterback, perhaps Michael Vick or Josh McCown, Sanchez is a goner. If they strike out, they could see Sanchez as their best option. A significant hurdle would remain: Renegotiating his contract, which is due to pay him $11.5 million in 2014. Another issue is the condition of his surgically repaired shoulder.
Basically, the Jets have to make a decision by March 25, when a $2 million roster bonus is due. Yes, another Sanchez-Geno Smith competition would be awkward and potentially messy, but they can't leave themselves vulnerable again at the position, as they did last season.
The Jets have been tight-lipped on Sanchez's future.
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.
For a team picking 18th overall, the Jets sure have a lot of needs right now. That is a testament to the job coach Rex Ryan did with a limited talent base and an erratic rookie quarterback in Geno Smith.
This is another roster that will look much different on draft day than it does right now, but the only positions I can't see New York considering with this pick are quarterback, running back, center, left tackle and the defensive line. There is still much rebuilding to be done, but with the extreme strength of this draft, the Jets should find a very useful piece with the 18th pick.
Whom does McShay have the Jets drafting at No. 18? ? Let's take a look:
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2013 stats: Started six games (2-4) before getting hurt and losing his job to Nick Foles. Completed 77 ot 141 passes (54.6 percent) for 1,215 yards, with five touchdowns, three interceptions and a 86.5 passer rating. Played in 325 offensive snaps (29.4 percent).
2013 salary: $4.0 million.
Sign him up: Even though he turns 34 in June, Vick will be the top quarterback on the free-agent market and the Jets need a veteran to challenge/back up/mentor Geno Smith. Vick's play has declined over the last three years and there are questions about his durability, but he still has the raw skills (not to mention the familiarity with Marty Mornhinweg's system) to fit in well with the Jets. In the Jets' ideal scenario, he'd come in and push Smith, serving as Geno insurance if the second-year quarterback falters. There's always the chance he'd beat out Smith in training camp. If that happens, so be it. Vick wouldn't come cheaply (at least $4 million for 2014), but the Jets can't afford not to have a quarterback of Vick's ilk. They suffered last season without an experienced alternative that could've replaced Smith when he slumped in November.
Reasons to stay away: With a touchdown-interception ratio of 35-27 and a starting record of 12-17 over the past three seasons, Vick has slipped to statistical mediocrity. There's also the question of whether he'd be receptive to the Jets' potentially muddled situation. He'd have to be on board with the entire dynamic.
Lankster is an underrated signing. In fact, he was ranked No. 6 on our list of the team's 16 unrestricted free agents. He didn't play much cornerback last season (only 29 snaps), but he was a core special teamer, finishing second on the team with 20 tackles. The Jets were concerned that he'd draw interest on the open market, so they made a preemptive strike.
Walls is coming off a weird year. He played a fair amount of football (three starts and a total of 289 snaps), starting opposite Cromartie whenever rookie Dee Milliner was in the doghouse. But when Milliner was in the lineup, Walls was the forgotten man. The Jets rarely used more than three corners in any package, so it turned into an all-or-nothing situation for Walls, who finished with no interceptions and four pass breakups.
Rex Ryan has plenty of bodies at corner, but he'll have a gaping hole if they cut Cromartie. Aside from Milliner, none of the others are starting-caliber players.
With Antonio Cromartie's future uncertain, it makes sense to stockpile corners, although Patrick is primarily a slot corner in the nickel package. In 13 games last season (four starts), he played 474 defensive snaps (48 percent). He recorded one interception, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two pass break ups.
Patrick, 25, was a third-round pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2011. The former Louisville standout lasted only two seasons in New Orleans. He was waived last February and scooped up immediately by the Chargers. Patrick has suffered multiple concussions and was placed on injured reserve late last season with an ankle injury.
The Chargers are rebuilding at cornerback and didn't see Patrick as part of their future, cutting him Tuesday. The Jets' top three corners (Cromartie, Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson) are under contract, but Cromartie has a $15 million cap charge and likely will be released if he doesn't take a pay cut. Beyond the top three, their depth is sketchy.