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Friday, February 14, 2014
Examining team needs: Safety

By Rich Cimini

Rex Ryan needs to revamp his philosophy regarding the safety position. Instead of trying to get by on the cheap, it's time for the New York Jets to invest in the position.

In Ryan's system, the big money goes to the cornerbacks. The safeties are considered interchangeable parts. The Jets haven't drafted a safety in the first three rounds since 2006 (Eric Smith) and they haven't doled out big bucks since Kerry Rhodes (2008) -- both pre-Ryan moves. They splurged a little for LaRon Landry in 2012 ($3.5 million), but it was only a one-year contract. He made the Pro Bowl and they let him walk.

Allen
Landry
The safeties had an alarming lack of big plays last season. The ancient Ed Reed showed up in mid-November and he finished with more interceptions (three) than Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen combined (two). The defense allowed so many long pass plays that Ryan did something that pained him -- he used a two-deep alignment at times. He'd rather wear New England Patriots gear in public than play Cover 2 looks, but he felt he had no choice, especially with his cornerbacks also struggling.

Safeties are important. Just look at the Seattle Seahawks and what they've been able to do with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. It's time for the Jets to add a playmaker on the back end. Will they? No -- unless Ryan does a 180.

Projected offseason plan: With starters Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen under contract, along with backups Josh Bush and Jaiquawn Jarrett, the Jets are expected to stand pat. Their expectation is that Allen and the backups will continue to develop. Reed, 35, is an unrestricted free agent, but he doesn't figure in the immediate plans. He could be a fallback option if there's an injury down the line.

Free agency: If the Buffalo Bills are dumb enough to let Jairus Byrd hit the open market, the Jets should be all over him. He's exactly what they need, an instinctive ballhawk still in the prime of his career at age 27. He has 22 interceptions in five years and he's familiar with the Ryan system, having played in a similar scheme last season under former Jets coordinator Mike Pettine. Put Byrd in the deep middle of their Cover 1, and everything changes. He'll have a huge price tag (at least $8 million per year), but he'd be worth it. He also could get slapped with the franchise tag for the second straight year. T.J. Ward (Cleveland Browns) would be a terrific Plan B. He's only 27, a player on the rise, but you have to think the Browns, with a ton of cap room, won't let him get away. Then again, they're the Browns, so you never know.

Draft: It would be a major upset if the Jets take a safety in the first round, so forget about Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor, whose stock is creeping up. A second-round possibility could be Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward. But, like we said earlier, it's not Ryan's style to pick a safety this high.