New York Jets: Nick Folk
Position: Special teams
Projected reserves: Jeremy Kerley (PR), Kyle Wilson (PR), Shaq Evans (KR).
Notables on the bubble: Clyde Gates (KR).
Player to watch: Ford. Once upon a time, he was one of the most feared kickoff returners in the league. In 2010, he flashed his 4.22 speed (his 40 time at the combine) by scoring on three returns as a rookie for the Oakland Raiders. If Ford can stay healthy, a problem in recent years, his explosiveness will be a major boost to a unit that disappeared last season. Rules changes have altered the game, but it never hurts to have a 4.2 guy at the ready.
Top storyline: There's a new sheriff in town -- Thomas McGaughey, most recently the special-teams coordinator at LSU. He knows the NFL (he won a Super Bowl ring as the New York Giants' assistant special-teams coach in 2007), so it shouldn't be a difficult transition. For the Jets, this marks a clean break from the Mike Westhoff era. The legendary coach ran the special teams from 2001 to 2012, and one of his disciples, Ben Kotwica, was in charge last season. McGaughey will provide a much-needed new perspective for a once-formidable unit that has slipped in recent years.
Training camp will be a success if ... : No one is longing for the days of Westhoff.
Wild card: Saunders. If he can bring his college production to the Jets, it'll change the face of the punt-returning unit. It was awful last season, as the Jets failed to generate a return longer than 24 yards. Saunders is tiny (5-foot-9, 165 pounds), but he can take off faster than a Johnny Manziel tweet from Vegas. At Oklahoma, he averaged 15.4 yards per return and scored two touchdowns last season.
By the numbers: Folk was fantastic last season, earning a four-year, $12 million contract -- his first multiyear deal since joining the Jets in 2010. One area he needs to improve, however, is his distance on kickoffs. Since 2010, the Jets rank 25th in kickoff distance, 62.4 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Position: Special teams.
Current personnel: PK Nick Folk (signed through 2017), P Ryan Quigley (2005), LS Tanner Purdum (2014), KR Jacoby Ford (2014), PR Jeremy Kerley (2014), PR Kyle Wilson (2014), KR Clyde Gates (2014).
Newcomers: Ford (Oakland Raiders).
Departures: KR Josh Cribbs (free agent), KR Antonio Cromartie (cut/Arizona Cardinals), KR Darius Reynaud (free agent).
Top salary-cap charge: Folk, $3.6 million.
Scouting report: It's a mixed bag. The Jets were happy to retain Folk, who signed a four-year, $12 million contract, but there are concerns for new special-teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey. The once-formidable unit needs an upgrade in a few areas, a sentiment shared by former STC Mike Westhoff, who criticized the talent level at the end of last season. "The personnel is limited -- and I'm being kind," he said.
Coverage and return units are populated by players in the bottom third of the roster, and the bottom third has eroded over the years. This offseason, they lost their third-leading tackler, Isaiah Trufant (Cleveland Browns), who served as a gunner and played 233 snaps on special teams. They finished in the middle of the pack (17th) in overall performance, according to a formula used by ESPN Stats & Information, but it should be higher. The addition of Ford, who scored on three kickoffs in 2010 for the Raiders, should bring some sizzle -- if he's healthy. McGaughey said he'd like to import competition for Ford. He also said his No. 1 objective is to improve the punt coverage.
Potential targets: The Jets need more run-and-hit athletes. With 12 draft picks, including nine in Rounds 4-7, they have plenty of ammo. By the time they get done drafting and signing college free agents, they'll be stocked up on receivers, tight ends, linebackers and defensive backs. Remember these names: Kadron Boone and James Wright, former LSU receivers. They won't be drafted, but they were two of McGaughey's top special-teamers at LSU. The draft's top returners are Dri Archer (Kent State) and De'Anthony Thomas (Oregon), both running backs. They're small, but fast. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU) also has exciting return ability.
Need rating (scale 1 to 10): 6.
1. Woe-ffense: For too long, the Jets have been playing offense with hand-me-downs from other teams -- free-agent pick ups, trade acquisitions and an assortment of castoffs. The list is long: Brett Favre, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, etc. The Jets' best offensive player of this generation, Curtis Martin, came from the New England Patriots. Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and Michael Vick are the latest to join the recycled crowd, although Decker was a premium free agent. There's no law that says you can't build this way, but the lack of homegrown talent is both alarming an mind-boggling.
2. Dreaming of a tight end: The Jets really like North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. They see him as a wide receiver/tight end hybrid that would be a matchup nightmare in a flexed position. Problem is, it's hard to imagine him falling to 18th. The Buffalo Bills (ninth) and New York Giants (12th) need a tight end and could take Ebron. If he gets past the Bills, what would it take to get ahead of the Giants? According to the draft value chart, the Jets would have to trade their third rounder and their two non-compensatory fourth-round picks to move up to the 11th spot, currently held by the Tennessee Titans. That's a lot to give up for a tight end.
2.a. Scouting term of the week: In a conference call with the NFL Nation reporters, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay used the term "buffet blocker." What is a buffet blocker? "He kind of picks and chooses when he wants to get interested," McShay said. In case you're wondering, he was referring to Ebron.
3. The Fab Four: If I had to select the four most likely picks for the Jets at 18, I'd say: wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham Jr., and cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert. That could change by draft day, of course, but that's what I'm hearing right now.
4. Don't forget the D: For those who believe the Jets absolutely must go heavy on offense in this draft, consider this: The Jets recorded sacks on only 4.6 percent of third-down dropbacks, the only team in the league under 6.5 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. You know what that tells me? The "Sons of Anarchy" could use some help.
5. Q's time is now: The Jets made the no-brainer decision by exercising the fifth-year option for Muhammad Wilkerson ($6.97 million). Next year, the decision might not be so cut-and-dried with 2012 first-rounder Quinton Coples, who has yet to approach his potential. The fixed salary won't be set for another year, but they're looking at about $7 million for Coples. They're expecting big things this year from Coples, whose development was impeded last season with the switch to rush linebacker.
6. Double rejection: Rex Ryan is popular coach, evidenced by his fourth-place finish in a 2013 ESPN.com survey that asked players across the league to name the coach they'd most like to play for. But the notion all players are dying to play for Ryan and the Jets is a bit ridiculous. For instance: They were spurned by two free agents that took less money to play for other teams. Wide receiver Sidney Rice, who recently visited with the Jets, said he decided to return to the Seattle Seahawks (one year, $1.4 million) even though the Jets offered him more. Safety Kurt Coleman, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings (one year, $900,000) after visiting the Jets, said the Jets offered some guaranteed money. The Vikings didn't, but he opted for them anyway. Apparently, some players can resist Ryan's charm and the Jets' money.
7. Cornering the market: If the Jets don't pick a cornerback in the first round, I wouldn't be surprised if they explore the possibility of acquiring a veteran, perhaps in a trade. There has been speculation about the Dallas Cowboys trying to deal the disappointing Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in 2012, but they'd take a major cap hit. Right now, his cap charge is $4.4 million, but it would explode to $9.6 million if they trade him, counting the bonus acceleration. The Cowboys would have to receive an offer they can't refuse to absorb that kind of hit.
8. From the what-if dept.: This never became public, but the Jets showed interest in wide receiver Julian Edelman during free agency. Ryan, in particular, was intrigued by the idea of stealing a weapon from the rival Patriots. Edelman ended up re-signing with the Patriots for $17 million over four years. Landing Edelman would've been quite a coup.
9. Sign of the times: In 2014, the Jets will pay kicker Nick Folk ($3.6 million) almost as much as running back Chris Johnson ($4 million), once regarded as one of the elite players in the league. It's a tale of two markets: Kicker salaries are increasing, running-back prices are plummeting.
10. Not what you think: I've heard coaches over the years say they prefer to face teams with new head coaches early in the season, figuring they still will be getting acclimated to new schemes. This may surprise you, but there's no evidence to suggest those particular teams are more vulnerable early in the season than late. Since 2000, new head coaches have a .453 winning percentage in the first month, followed by .427 in October, .455 in November and .451 in the final month, per ESPN Stats & Information. The Jets play three teams with new coaches, only one of which comes early -- the Detroit Lions (Sept. 28). They also have the Minnesota Vikings (Dec. 7) and Tennessee Titans (Dec. 14).
1. Waiting on DeSean: If the Jets want wide receiver DeSean Jackson, they have the resources to be a major player. They have the need, the cap space (more than $30 million) and the right recruiter (Michael Vick). The question is, do they have the desire?
Frankly, I think it would be out of character for Idzik. Jackson is a problem child, the ultimate risk-reward gambit. The mere fact Chip Kelly is holding a fire sale for his best receiver should tell you something about how badly he wants to rid himself of Jackson. This is Santonio Holmes revisited. The talent makes the player oh-so-tempting, but is he worth the aggravation? Even if Jackson's market dries up and he accepts a team-friendly deal, he'd be complaining next offseason about wanting a new contract. He's a headache waiting to happen, but the Jets appear willing to stock up on aspirin.
2. The Marty factor: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg knows Jackson better than anyone in the Jets' building, having coached him in Philly, but I wonder about that relationship. In May, 2010, Jackson told the Sporting News, "Our offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, said some things, trying to question my toughness" -- a reference to a 2009 game in which he sat out with a head injury. "I was like, 'Coach, I just got a concussion. This (is) my brain. If it's something else -- my shoulder, whatever -- I'm going to play.'" Based on the quote, it doesn't sound like they're the best of buds.
By the way, Jackson suffered two concussions in 2009 and 2010, including a severe concussion that resulted in memory loss -- another factor the Jets should consider.
3. 3-21: So on the two-year anniversary of the Tim Tebow trade, Mark Sanchez gets cut, Greg McElroy announces his retirement and Vick joins the team. That has to be cosmos, right?
4. Polarizing player: Opinions on the Vick signing are sharply divided among fans and media, which isn't a surprise. I happen to think it's a good deal, but I spoke to one longtime front-office executive who believes Vick, 33, is washed up.
"The Jets already have a guy like him ," said the executive, referring to Geno Smith. "If you bring Vick in, you're not thinking. It makes no sense. He's a good kid. He's more mature, he's not a distraction and the players respect him, but he doesn't bring anything to the table anymore -- nothing. He can't win with his legs anymore, he has to win with his head. His arm is good enough, but unfortunately, the arm isn't connected to the head."
An AFC personnel scout said of the Vick-for-Sanchez move: "I don't know what to think, to be honest. You swap one out for the other. There's still no long-term solution."
5. Penalty pals, revisited: Based on their track records, the Willie Colon-Breno Giacomini tandem on the right side of the offensive line will produce a lot of penalty flags. Colon was penalized a team-high 12 times for 82 yards last season. Giacomini, playing for the Seattle Seahawks, was flagged six times for 39 yards -- in only nine games, mind you. (In addition, he had two holding calls in the postseason.) In 2011 and 2012, he combined for 21 penalties for 172 yards. Unless they change their ways, Colon and Giacomini will invite comparisons to the original Penalty Pals, Jeff Criswell and Dave Cadigan, circa 1993.
6. Keeping their own: Penalties notwithstanding, the Jets made a good move to re-sign Colon, who received a one-year, $2 million contract. Only $500,000 is guaranteed; he can also earn $1 million in base salary, plus another $500,000 in roster bonuses if he plays every game. They gave a similar deal to linebacker Calvin Pace, who can make $2.625 million in the first year of a two-year, $5 million contract.
All told, the Jets retained seven free agents for a combined total of only $5.255 million in guarantees -- Pace, Colon, Nick Folk, Jeff Cumberland, Ellis Lankster, Darrin Walls and Leger Douzable. That's what you call bargain shopping.
7. John the Rigid: The biggest criticism of Idzik, according to some agents and league insiders, is that he shows little or no flexibility in negotiations. He assigns a monetary value to a player and refuses to adjust, they say. That style may help in certain situations, but there are times when you have to examine the big picture and ask yourself, "Do we really want to lose this player over X amount of money?" Idzik's conservative approach probably cost him cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who signed with the New York Giants. So now they have a gaping hole at the position. Barring a trade, or a veteran unexpectedly shaking free, the Jets will have to rely on the draft.
8. Bad things come in threes: In a span of 12 days, Idzik jettisoned three of the cornerstone players from the last playoff team, cutting Sanchez, Holmes and Antonio Cromartie. That's a stunning player dump, considering they're all 30 or under. The downside is the amount of "dead" money on the cap. The three players are counting $12.78 million, nearly 10 percent of the entire salary cap.
9. Small-school sleeper: Remember this name -- Terrence Fede. The former Marist defensive end is trying to become the first player in his school's history to be drafted. The 6-foot-3, 276 pounder was a stud pass rusher as the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., school, recording 30.5 career sacks. He has an impressive burst on the edge. He performed for scouts recently at the University of Buffalo pro day, clocking a 4.79 in the 40. All 32 teams were in attendance, including Jets scout Cole Hufnagel. Even if he's not drafted, Fede will be a priority free agent.
10. The Jets' new dogma: Everybody knows about Vick's sordid history with dog fighting, a crime that resulted in him spending nearly two years in a federal prison. Well, here's something interesting and ironic: One of his new receivers is a dog lover. Eric Decker has a foundation called "Decker's Dogs," which provides service dogs to returning military vets with disabilities. Decker and his wife, Jessica, raise money to help train rescued dogs. They believe rescued dogs have the same success rate as dogs bred for service.
1. Reality bites: The irony of the Eric Decker signing is that general manager John Idzik, who has spent a year trying to eliminate the Jets' "Hard Knocks" image, took on a player with his own reality TV show. Decker and his wife, country singer Jessie James, are preparing for their second season on E!'s "Eric and Jessie: Game on." The season premiere is March 30. His former team, the Denver Broncos, said last year it had no problem with Decker doing the show. "To each his own," team exec John Elway said.
Some people wonder if Decker picked the Jets over the Indianapolis Colts because he wanted to raise the show's profile by playing in the No. 1 media market. He downplayed that notion, saying he picked the Jets with football in mind. As for his wife's input, Decker said, "She obviously wants what’s best for me in my profession. She spent a lot of time in New York with her career when she was younger, and she's excited again to have an opportunity to work now again and to be able to have some resources and things. I think that overall it is a great decision and place for us as a family and career wise."
Idzik isn't a show-biz kind of guy, and I find it hard to believe he likes the idea of a player having his own show. It creates the perception that he's bigger than the team. But in the end, the No. 1 reality was this: Idzik was willing to put aside any concerns to land their top-rated free-agent receiver. The GM hasn't been made available to comment on any of his signings.
2. Decker vs. Holmes: Not to pick on Santonio Holmes or anything, but ...
Decker produced five 100-yard receiving games last season, one more than Holmes managed in four years with the Jets. Decker is counting $4 million on this year's cap, $6.5 million less than Holmes would've counted. Just saying.
3. Strength in numbers: The Jets have six experienced wide receivers under contract, and they could add another two through free agency and the draft. Overkill? Not really. Teams always look beyond the current year when making personnel moves, and when the Jets look at 2015, they see only two of those six receivers under contract -- Decker and Stephen Hill. That's why stockpiling makes sense.
4. Go west, men: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg , accompanied by two members of the scouting department, attended two important pro days on the West Coast -- USC and Oregon State. The main attractions were wide receivers Marqise Lee and Brandin Cooks, respectively. In each case, the Jets' contingent spent private time with the players. It's not unusual for Mornhinweg to scout on the road. In fact, he attended Geno Smith's pro day last year, taking him out to dinner the night before. With the 18th pick, the Jets are thinking strongly about a receiver.
5. Revis Inc.: Darrelle Revis' contract with the New England Patriots sheds light into his thinking as a player/businessman. Technically, it's a two-year, $32 million deal, but the second year is bogus because of a $25 million cap charge. They added a second year for cap purposes and because Revis is hellbent on a $16 million-per-year average. Has been since 2010, when he staged his second holdout with the Jets. At the time, he proposed a 10-year, $160 million deal. He refused over the years to bend on the APY, finally finding a team (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) willing to pay it. Why $16 million? I think it goes back to Nnamdi Asomugha's $16 million-a-year deal from the Oakland Raiders in 2009. As soon as Revis surpassed Asomugha as the top cornerback, in the eyes of many, he considered $16 million his birthright.
For an interesting take on the Revis contract from the Patriots' perspective, check out ESPN.com colleague Mike Reiss.
6. California dreaming: The quarterback-needy Raiders are targeting two players likely to be released -- Matt Schaub and Mark Sanchez (in that order), according to a report by ESPN.com colleague Paul Gutierrez. Sanchez makes a lot of sense. Joey Clinkscales, the team's director of player personnel, is a former Jets executive and was heavily involved when they drafted Sanchez in 2009.
The Jets are running out of time to make a decision on Sanchez, who's due a $2 million roster bonus March 25. If they don't sign another quarterback (Michael Vick?) before then, what then? Do they turn to Sanchez, trying to get him to take a major pay cut? If Sanchez balks, he will be released -- unless the Jets pay the $2 million, buying more time. It's not Idzik's style to cut a player before his replacement is on the roster. It hurts leverage. If the Raiders want him badly enough, maybe they'd be willing to make a trade.
7. Tony the recruiter: Former Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, now the Raiders' offensive-line coach, was instrumental in recruiting right tackle Austin Howard. Said Howard: "I really love his style of coaching. Once we got that call, it was honestly a no-brainer decision to get on the plane and make the trip out to Oakland.” Obviously, the five-year, $30 million contract had something to do with it, too. Sparano was a key Howard ally in the summer of 2012, when the Jets replaced Wayne Hunter.
8. A tale of two kickers: Nick Folk was the only kicker this year to receive a franchise-tag designation, which usually translates to a top-of-the-market contract. In Folk's case, his four-year deal is actually similar to what Dan Carpenter just landed from the Buffalo Bills -- at least in terms of first-year compensation. Folk gets $3.6 million in total compensation (the amount of the franchise tender), Carpenter scores $3.425 million. Carpenter was given a chance, albeit brief, to take Folk's job last preseason, but he lasted only a few days. Now he's making nearly as much as him.
9. DRC on ED: Came across this quote from Super Bowl week. Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was asked which of his team's receivers is the hardest to cover. His answer: Wes Welker. "Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are great receivers, but you can kind of break their moves down," he said. "Wes, he does too much." DRC could end up reunited with Decker.
10. Hurting at OLB: It didn't get any attention, but the Jets decided not to tender restricted free agent Garrett McIntyre, making him unrestricted. It would've cost them $1.4 million. It came as a surprise because McIntyre was a decent backup, good for about 20 defensive snaps per game. With Calvin Pace also an unrestricted free agent, the Jets are perilously thin at outside linebacker.
1. Rough start: It wasn't a productive day for the Idziks. They lost right tackle Austin Howard to the Oakland Raiders, watched as the three highest-rated corners came off the board and began to hear the rumblings of a Darrelle Revis-to-the-New England Patriots scenario -- a potential nightmare. But, hey, they re-signed kicker Nick Folk to a long-term deal.
2. Patience: The lack of activity set off a near panic among fans who wanted general manager John Idzik to put in dent in that $39.6 million cap surplus. Relax, people. It was only the first day, when desperate teams throw ridiculous money at players not worthy of superstar paychecks. Championships aren't won in March. Jets fans should know that better than anyone.
3. Howard's end: The Jets liked Howard, they really did, but they liked him only to a certain point. Idzik didn't want to match the five-year, $30 million offer from the Raiders, and that was that. His fallback option appears to be former Seattle Seahawks right tackle Breno Giacomini, who was good enough to start for the Super Bowl champions.
4. They like Mike: It has been rumored for weeks, but now it can be confirmed: Yes, the Jets have interest in quarterback Michael Vick (Philadelphia Eagles), according to a league source. They also scheduled a visit with Josh McCown (Chicago Bears), who also has visits set up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (the favorite) and the Houston Texans. Vick reportedly is drawing interest from the Buffalo Bills and Raiders. The Jets would like to get it wrapped up quickly, but it sounds like Vick will take his time. Meanwhile, Mark Sanchez is twisting in the wind, waiting to learn his fate.
5. Dangerous corner: It's too soon to say the Jets are desperate at cornerback, but I bet Rex Ryan is feeling a bit uneasy about his current situation. The Jets expressed a strong interest in Vontae Davis, but he re-signed with the Indianapolis Colts for four years, $39 million. Alterraun Verner was on the Jets' radar, but he signed with the Buccaneers for four years, $25.5 million. The Denver Broncos took Aqib Talib away from the New England Patriots with a crazy contract -- six years, $57 million. The cornerback market isn't barren yet, but the Jets might want to get busy. Keep an eye on Captain Munnerlyn (Carolina Panthers) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Denver Broncos). And, of course, Antonio Cromartie is out there. Remember him?
6. 'Folk Hero' gets paid: Folk wore the franchise tag for only two weeks. On Tuesday, he signed a four-year, $12 million contract. The deal reportedly includes only $2.1 million in guarantees, about $1.4 million less than what he would've received if he had signed the $3.55 million franchise tender. Folk wanted a long-term deal for security, but in reality, it won't be hard to cut him if he has a bad year. Good deal for the Jets.
7. Quiet at receiver: Not much action for the free-agent wide receivers. Here's a name to watch: Miles Austin, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys. The receiver-needy Jets are expected to have interest. They're also showing interest in running back Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville Jaguars) at "the right price," a source said. They're eyeing other backs as well.
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South
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.
2. Little-known rule: Technically, the Jets couldn't stop Folk from hitting the open market unless they exercised the tag. Here's why: Because they used the minimum-salary benefit last year with Folk, the Jets were allowed to offer only another minimum-salary deal before March 11, the start of free agency. Obviously, that would've been insulting, considering Folk's performance. The two sides could've circumvented the rule, agreeing to a long-term deal and signing it after free agency started, but they apparently didn't get close. The Jets didn't want to take a chance on losing him to another team, so, in essence, they shut down the loophole by tagging him.
3. Folk not pleased: Folk should be thrilled, right? After all, if he plays for the tag amount (the deadline for a long-term deal is July 15), he'll make more in 2014 than he did in his five previous seasons combined ($3.2 million). Ah, but there's another side to it: The premier kickers have at least $4 million in guarantees. The Chicago Bears' Robbie Gould, who signed a new deal at the end of the season, has a $4.9 million guarantee. That's where Folk gets shortchanged. It's safe to assume that Folk, who said after the season he deserved a long-term contract, isn't happy.
4. Austin's power: With Folk tagged, there's an increased sense of urgency to get right tackle Austin Howard locked up by March 11. They probably wouldn't have used it on Howard anyway (the projected amount for an offensive lineman is a steep $11 million), but now they can't use it as leverage in negotiations.
The drive started with an incomplete pass, but the next play proved to be critical as Kellen Winslow grabbed a 25-yard strike to put the Jets at their own 45-yard line with 15 seconds left. Smith quickly spiked the ball.
The next play was the turning point of the game, and a controversial one. With no play developing, quarterback Geno Smith ran for 10 yards and toward the right sideline. As Smith stepped out of bounds, Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David shoved him. David was called for a personal foul. That play resulted in a 25-yard gain and the Jets were in field goal position with seven seconds left. David said after the game he was surprised he'd been flagged.
The rest is history. Nick Folk booted a 48-yarder to put the Jets ahead 18-17 with two seconds left, and they survived the ensuing kickoff.
The impact: Rookie QB Smith won his career debut, and even more impressive, has a comeback win to his name. The Jets were consistently labeled as one of the NFL's worst teams all preseason, but at least for one game they could revel in a nice victory.
Ten takeaways from the Jets' costly win over the Giants:
1. Geno Smith isn't ready: He made a lot of rookie mistakes in his first extended action, but guess what? He's a rookie. Smith saw a lot of things for the first time -- a six-man rush on his second interception and a defensive lineman in coverage on the third pick. The safety was inexcusable, just a mental lapse by a young player lost in the moment. Two things I noticed: He stared down receivers and held the ball too long. On the positive side, he completed his last six passes (five against the Giants' backups), showing the ability to drive the ball on intermediate routes.
2. Rex Ryan didn't trust his instincts: Yes, Ryan announced Thursday that Mark Sanchez would play in the game, but he should've altered the plan on the fly once he saw how the game unfolded. Because of Smith's struggles, it was clear that Sanchez would be the opening-day starter. Ryan shouldn't have played him unless it was behind the first-team line, not behind the likes of Caleb Schlauderaff and J.B. Shugarts. You have to wonder if Ryan was following orders from GM John Idzik.
3. Stephen Hill needs to grow up: He has a lot of talent inside that big body, but he tends to lose his cool. He took a swing at LB Jacquian Williams, resulting in a personal foul, and he lost a fumble a couple of plays later, failing to secure the ball. That he was in the game was another mistake by Ryan, who should've taught him a lesson by benching him after the dumb penalty.
4. They need Santonio Holmes more than ever: Aside from Hill's shenanigans, the Jets dropped three passes, shades of the daily drop-fests in minicamp. The best receiver was rookie free agent Ryan Spadola, who caught three passes for 110 yards. On the positive side, newly signed Mohamed Massaquoi got into the game and made two nice catches. If I'm Braylon Edwards, I'm worried about my roster spot. By the way, Holmes looked fine in pre-game warmups. You have to think he'll be ready for Week 1.
5. Perimeter run defense is still a concern: This was an issue last season, and it didn't look any better in this game -- see David Wilson's 84-yard TD run. Interestingly, the defense came out in a 4-3 look, with three linebackers stacked behind the line. It resembled the old Tampa-2 defense. The Jets seemed a bit confused by the Giants' twin-fullback look. LB Demario Davis got caught in traffic, S Antonio Allen blew his gap assignment, and CB Antonio Cromartie and LB Garrett McIntyre couldn't get off their blocks. In a heartbeat, Wilson was gone, too fast for anyone on the Jets' D.
6. The defense got mad: To its credit, the defense responded nicely after the Wilson TD. Despite bad field position, courtesy of Smith's three interceptions, the Jets held the Giants to three points on the next eight possessions, including a goal-line stand. They dominated the Giants' patchwork line, with DT Sheldon Richardson (one sack, two QB hits) and NT Damon Harrison (seven solo tackles) generating inside pressure. Richardson lined up in several different spots before leaving with an undisclosed injury. They have to be encouraged by their young linemen.
7. They miss Darrelle Revis: Kyle Wilson is entering his fourth year, yet he still makes the same mistakes he did as a rookie. He still lacks awareness when the ball is in the air. In this game, the result was three pass-interference penalties. This is why he was moved back to his nickel-back role as soon as rookie Dee Milliner reported to camp. Milliner didn't play because of an injury, but he hasn't lit it up. The Jets will be vulnerable against opponents with good No. 2 receivers.
8. Brian Winters really exists: The third-round guard, hampered by an ankle injury throughout camp, made his preseason debut. Winters replaced LG Vladimir Ducasse (leg injury) early in the game and ended up making a nice pulling block on Bilal Powell's two-yard TD run in the third quarter. Winters is the future at left guard. For now, it'll be Ducasse or Stephen Peterson, who played center with the second unit and allowed a sack.
9. Nick Folk keeps it interesting: Now we know why they keep importing competition for Folk. In overtime, he was wide right on a 39-yard FG attempt. A few minutes later, challenger Billy Cundiff won it with a 32-yarder. It looks like the kicking battle will last a little longer.
10. Mayday Malone responds: With his job in jeopardy, incumbent P Robert Malone had a fantastic game, putting all three punts inside the 20. Challenger Ryan Quigley, who had been having a solid camp, suffered a poor game. This could be over.
The numbers resemble a zip code: 0, 9, 7, 7, 9. In reality, they represent the Jets' point total in five games last season.
In an era of wide-open passing attacks and high-scoring shootouts, the Jets trotted out a sorry offense that was reminiscent of the Rich Kotite daze. Rex Ryan took some responsibility, claiming he failed to establish an offensive identity, but the problem went beyond that.
The Jets averaged only 4.6 yards per play, next-to-last in the league. Statistically, it was one of the 10 worst offensive performances in the NFL over the last five years.
As usual, it starts with the quarterback. Mark Sanchez is part of the problem, no longer deemed part of the solution. Thing is, it's not a quick-fix situation. Sanchez's burdensome contract, coupled with a weak quarterback class, puts new GM John Idzik in a quandary: Does he commit to a new quarterback of the future by drafting one of the top prospects from the dinged-up Class of '13 or does he wait until next year and ride out the storm with the Sanchez-David Garrard-Greg McElroy troika?
Knowing Idzik, an executive in Seattle last year when the Seahawks found Russell Wilson in the third round, he'll probably wait. One thing could change that: If he feels strongly enough about one of the quarterbacks in the draft and can convince owner Woody Johnson to eat most of Sanchez's $8.25 million guarantee (the likely precursor to any trade), then maybe Idzik can start a new era at the position.
Geno Smith (West Virginia) could be available with the ninth pick, but we're not talking about a sure thing in the Andrew Luck-Robert Griffin III category. You want to be sure when you're picking a quarterback that high. The Jets like Ryan Nassib (Syracuse), but he probably will be picked somewhere between No. 9 and No. 39, their second-round choice.
The Jets should focus on upgrading the skill-position talent. Even though their top three receivers return, they still need a home-run threat for Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense. The top receivers are Tavon Austin (West Virginia) and Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee). The Jets' wideouts generated only 575 yards-after-the-catch, fourth-worst among receiving corps, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They need a pass-catching tight end to replace Dustin Keller and they could use a between-the-tackles runner to replace Shonn Greene.
Rome wasn't built in a day and the Jets' depleted offense can't be rebuilt in one draft.
Rex Ryan said Friday the Jets weren't in a rebuilding phase. Check out the list and see if you agree.
WHO IS GONE
TE Dustin Keller: Drafted by the Jets in 2008, Keller signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins worth $4.25 million. Keller was injured for much of last season, but was one of the most familiar targets for quarterback Mark Sanchez.
S LaRon Landry: Landry's Pro Bowl year with the Jets helped him rehabilitate his foot and elevate his profile. Ultimately he became too expensive to keep and signed a four-year, $24 million contract with the Colts with $14M in guaranteed money.
DE Mike DeVito: The New York-born DeVito will play in Kansas City after getting a three-year, $12.6 million deal from the Chiefs. He will be tough to replace as a player and locker room presence.
RB Shonn Greene: Drafted in the same class as Sanchez, Greene heads to the Titans or a three-year, $10 million contract. He'll be paired with Chris Johnson, and Johnson already bristled at the idea.
S Yeremiah Bell: Bell will replace former Jet Kerry Rhodes with the Arizona Cardinals. Bell signed a one-year worth $965,000, which was a number in the Jets' neighborhood but they passed.
K Nick Folk: Signed a one-year deal to return to the Jets.
RB Lex Hilliard: Another one-year deal for Hilliard, who replaced John Conner at fullback last season.
WHO IS IN LIMBO
OL Brandon Moore: The veteran right guard has options, and seems to be weighing them before deciding on his future.
OL Matt Slauson: Slauson, drafted by the Jets in 2009, had for his left-guard job with Vlad Ducasse. The two split time during the season, a move that even offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo said was a decision made above him.
WR Braylon Edwards: The former and current wide receiver has said he wants to be a Jet, although Ryan didn't mention him on Friday's list of receivers he expects to excel in 2013.
LB Bryan Thomas: Thomas, 33, played 11 seasons with the Jets -- and has likely played his last.
WR Chaz Schilens: He has barely been with the Jets a year, and his deal is up. Schilens played well at times, but there seems no hurry to bring him back.
Folk, who has held the job for three seasons, is coming off his best statistical year for field goals. He made 21 of 27 tries (77.8 percent), with three of his six misses coming on blocked attempts. It was that kind of year for the special teams, which suffered numerous breakdowns.
Folk, 28, doesn't have a big leg on kickoffs, but the Jets are willing to live with that. It's possible, though, they will bring competition to training camp. In 2012, he beat out Josh Brown, who recently signed with the Giants.
Folk will have a new coach, Ben Kotwica, who replaces retired special teams coach Mike Westhoff. Folk became only the second unrestricted free agent to re-sign with the Jets. The other was FB Lex Hilliard. They've lost five players in free agency.
MOST LIKELY TO STAY PUT
DE Mike DeVito: He's a blue-collar lineman with scheme versatility, so he should draw considerable interest from other teams. The Jets want to re-sign DeVito, but with Quinton Coples poised for a larger role, it might be a financial squeeze to bring him back as the fourth linemen -- unless they're planning to play more 4-3 fronts. The Chiefs could be interested. Grade: 64. Rank: 15.
PK Nick Folk: The Jets have kept him off the market the last two years with one-year contracts before free agency, but it looks like they're prepared to let him test the waters. They'd better be careful; Folk is an under-rated kicker and could get scooped up. Grade: 66. Rank: 5.
TE Dustin Keller: He's expected to hit the open market, as the Jets have shown little interest in re-signing him. They will let the market dictate his value. He'd be an ideal fit in Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense. This offense should be collecting playmakers, not sending them away. Grade: 77. Rank: 4.
G Matt Slauson: He won't command big bucks on the open market, so there's always a chance he could return. The Jets made Slauson take a pay cut last season and rotated him with Vladimir Ducasse, but he's better than Ducasse. Maybe new GM John Idzik will recognize that. Slauson may draw interest from the Cowboys and Raiders. Grade: 69. Rank: 6
WR Braylon Edwards: He's a journeyman player at this point in his career. The Jets need size and depth in the receiving corps, but there's no sense of urgency with Edwards, who could be a post-draft option. Grade: 66. Rank: 17.
S Yeremiah Bell: They have no experienced safeties under contract, so there's an obvious need. Bell was a nice hold-the-fort player last season, but he's 35. He could be another post-draft option. Grade: 69. Rank: 16.
GOING, GOING ...
S LaRon Landry: He bet on himself last year, signing only a one-year contract -- and he won. Landry stayed healthy, made his first Pro Bowl and figures to cash in. The Jets would like to re-sign him, but they won't pay $6 million a year. Chances are, it'll be one-and-done. Grade: 78. Rank: 4.
RB Shonn Greene: He's a between-the-tackles thumper, and the Jets need a No. 1 back with breakaway speed and pass-catching skills to excel in Mornhinweg's offense. Greene could draw interest from the Broncos and Falcons. There's little chance of him returning. Grade: 76. Rank: 4.
G Brandon Moore: Their longest-tenured player on offense probably will move on, and that's too bad because Moore has been one of the Jets' most consistent and durable players. He'll be 33 before the season, so age is an issue. He could draw interest from the Bills, Cowboys and Raiders. Grade: 81. Rank: 1.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
LB Bryan Thomas: Their longest-tenured player is a true warrior, but injuries and age (34 in June) are concerns. It's time to say goodbye. Grade: 64. Rank: 13.
WR Chaz Schilens: Well, he was always good for a sarcastic quote. Grade: 58. Rank: 35.
FB Lex Hilliard: He was a midseason fill-in who played like a midseason fill-in. Adios. Grade: 56. Rank: 37.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
RT Austin Howard: The Jets really like his upside. They're deciding whether to make him a first-round tender ($2.86 million) or a second-round tender ($2.02 million). Grade: 68. Rank: 17.
TE Jeff Cumberland: If he receives the second-round tender, it means Keller is a goner. The Jets could take the cheap route and assign the low tender ($1.32 million), which would give the team the right of first refusal but no draft-pick compensation. Grade: 61. Rank: 22.
LB Josh Mauga: He missed most of last season with a torn biceps. He won't be tendered a contract. Grade: 20. Rank: 86.
LS Tanner Purdum: A very good long snapper, but there's little chance of him getting even the low tender ($1.3 million). Grade: 59. Rank: 8.
“He’s been phenomenal,” Rex Ryan said. “There are a lot of areas that we can improve in. Kicking is not one of them.”
Folk also got praise from special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff.
“I thought last week was Herculean. That 54-yard field goal was into the wind.”
But the fact is, Folk had to fight for his job this year in a close kicking contest during training camp against Josh Brown. So when he heard Ryan was lauding his performance, he understated how well he has played.
“It’s nice to hear but I still have things I can improve,” Folk said.
Folk said his kickoffs could get more accurate. It’s a part of the game that isn’t always as noticeable as field goals and extra points, but important for field position.
Details like that might have been the reason Westhoff wasn’t happy with Folk at the end of last season, and brought in Brown.
“I know that he can do it, but there were some things we were disappointed with so we wanted to challenge him,” Westhoff said. “Where if Nick would be the Nick that we would expect, that’s the Nick we want.”
Brown and Folk were neck and neck in practices, and Westhoff was completely prepared to go with Brown. Despite Folk’s history with the Jets, he would have been cut if he hadn’t performed.
“I firmly believe that how he handled it,” Westhoff said, “and how he went out from Day 1 and said ‘I’ve got to bring my A game because this guy’s pretty good,’ and he did.”
Folk ended up winning the spot, and he’s been perfect for the Jets ever since.
“(This is) not (a) warm and fuzzy business,” Westhoff said. “This is a tough business.”