Analysis: Playing with fire at QB

March, 16, 2012
3/16/12
7:28
PM ET
Mike Tannenbaum, bargain hunter.

Who'da thunk it?

Instead of rocking the NFL with their typically sexy moves, the Jets are taking a methodical, low-key approach to free agency. Some of that, of course, is dictated by salary-cap restrictions, but it's also about finding value and not overpaying, as so many teams have done with over-rated players. Hey, this is how the really good teams stay good.

So Friday, they signed their first two free agents, backup QB Drew Stanton and WR Chaz Schilens. Both received one-year contracts, totalling $2 million. Previously, they re-signed PK Nick Folk and LB Bryan Thomas to one-year deals. They spent a little on NT Sione Pouha (three years, $15 million), but they got him at a reasonable price.

All told, the Jets have spent under $19 million in total contracts for five players -- about $81 million less than Mario Williams landed from the Bills. This tells me the hierarchy doesn't think the current roster is as bad as some people are making it out to be.

There's nothing wrong with bringing in inexpensive role players and relying on the draft to fill other needs, but the problem I have is with the quarterback situation. Stanton isn't a viable No. 2. Forget about pushing Mark Sanchez; we knew that wasn't going to happen once they awarded him with the contract extension. No, this was about finding a reliable insurance policy.

Sanchez has been remarkably healthy over three seasons (only one missed game), but the law of averages is always lurking. If something happens to Sanchez, do you trust Stanton? Do you trust a guy with only 187 career pass attempts? A guy with a 2-2 record as a starter? He beat the Packers at the end of the 2010 season when Aaron Rodgers was rested and he beat the 8-6 Bucs the following week. That's it. He put up good numbers at Michigan State, but that was out of a spread offense. Tony Sparano isn't going to run a spread.

This is the one position where the Jets should've splurged a little. The Bears (Jason Campbell), the Jaguars (Chad Henne) and Cowboys (Kyle Orton) each paid extra for peace of mind. The Jets apparently are going to live and die with Sanchez. It's playing with fire.

As for Schilens, scouts tell me he could be a sleeper. He's got the size and speed (typical Al Davis draft pick), but he's had durability issues. It was worth a flyer, especially since his old position coach is on the Jets' staff. He could be the guy to rip the top off a defense, opening things underneath for the others. Maybe he's a diamond in the rough; they'd better hope he's not David Clowney.

The Schilens move has upside and virtually no downside, but it's unrealistic to expect him to nail down the No. 2 job. This tells me they're thinking hard about taking a receiver high in the draft.

So for the impatient fans that want to rip Tannenbaum, relax. You don't win anything in March. The Jets have a game plan and they're executing it. They'd just better hope they weren't penny-wise, dollar-foolish at quarterback.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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