Free-agency review: Jets
March, 18, 2014
By Rich Cimini | ESPN.com
Most significant signing: Obviously, it's wide receiver Eric Decker (five years, $36.25 million), the biggest veteran acquisition of the John Idzik era. The Jets identified him as the No. 1 receiver on the market, and they made it happen. Decker becomes the top receiver on the team (did you see their receivers last season?), but he's not a true No. 1. His 2013 numbers (87 catches, 1,288 yards) were inflated because he played in the most prolific passing offense in history, with Peyton Manning at quarterback. Unless he's paired with a difference-maker on the other side, Decker won't approach those numbers with the Jets. He's a complementary player; he won't force opponents to alter their game plan.
Most significant loss: They had hoped to lock up right tackle Austin Howard before free agency, but talks stalled, he hit the market and signed immediately with the Oakland Raiders (five years, $30 million). Howard is the kind of guy you want in your program, a former bottom-of-the-roster player who worked his way into a starting role, demonstrating real potential. But Idzik, with a replacement already lined up, refused to budge on Howard's demands. That replacement turned out to be Breno Giacomini, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks. He's a proficient right tackle and they got him for $18 million over four years, saving money in the swap. But he's not better than Howard. At best, it's a wash.
Biggest surprise: After cutting high-priced vets Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes, giving them nearly $40 million in cap space, the Jets figured to be aggressive players in free agency. But it hasn't worked out that way, as Idzik has reinforced his reputation as a deliberate -- some might say stubborn -- shopper. He re-signed a few complementary starters, namely linebacker Calvin Pace, tight end Jeff Cumberland and kicker Nick Folk, but he hasn't addressed needs at cornerback, quarterback and receiver. Bargain hunting is fine, but you don't want to be too cautious. Clearly, Idzik is refusing to deviate from his long-term plan.
What's next? They have to find a replacement for Cromartie before the draft. It could be Cromartie, who wants to return. They may have no other choice because the current free-agent market for corners is thin, to say the least. Rex Ryan needs cornerback depth to play his defense, which is predicated on man-to-man coverage, and his general manager isn't making it easy on him. They also have needs at quarterback, wide receiver (yes, another one) and tight end, among other positions. At this point, there's not much left in free agency.