NFL Nation: New York Jets

W2W4: New York Jets

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
The New York Jets (2-1) face the Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, in the final preseason game for both teams. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

1. A sort of homecoming: Michael Vick will start at quarterback for the Jets, against the team he played for the past five seasons. It'll be interesting to see how he is received by the fans in Philadelphia. The Jets are sitting all their starters, and even Vick won't play for long. Ex-Jets starter Mark Sanchez is now the backup to Nick Foles in Philly, but Eagles coach Chip Kelly isn't planning to use either of his top two QBs in this game. Nevertheless, it'll be an opportunity for Sanchez and his former teammates and coaches to reconnect on the field before and after the game.

2. Last chance? One Jet who will play is wide receiver Stephen Hill, and his job appears to be on the line. The former second-round draft pick, a major disappointment in his first two years with the team, has just two catches for 29 yards in three preseason games. Fellow wideouts Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson are locks to make the final roster, and coach Rex Ryan talked up Greg Salas and Saalim Hakim on Tuesday, and fourth-round pick Jalen Saunders is currently tabbed as the team's No. 1 punt returner. Hill better make some plays Thursday, or else his Jets career could be over.

3. Around the corner: The Jets' lack of talent and depth at cornerback has been the biggest topic of conversation regarding the team during the preseason, and it could get ugly against the Eagles. Dee Milliner (ankle) is still out, and Dimitri Patterson has been suspended for the rest of the preseason. Third-round pick Dexter McDougle (knee) is out for the season, and converted safety Antonio Allen (concussion) is still out as well. Darrin Walls sat out practice Tuesday and will not play against the Eagles, and Ryan is holding nickel back Kyle Wilson out of this game, too. That leaves you with Ellis Lankster and LeQuan Lewis as your likely starters, with Johnny Patrick, Brandon Dixon and Jeremy Reeves as your reserves. Yikes.
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT, for ESPN’s NFL Nation TV’s special post-draft episode on Spreecast. Host Paul Gutierrez (Oakland Raiders reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guests Rich Cimini (New York Jets reporter) and Dan Graziano (New York Giants reporter) break down the 2014 NFL draft as we look at draft winners and losers with a look ahead to rookie camps. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.


NFL Nation: 4 Downs - AFC East

May, 7, 2014
May 7
Did the AFC East's best keep on getting better?

The perennial division champion New England Patriots signed elite cornerback Darrelle Revis, which could offset significant free-agency gains by the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.

The Buffalo Bills are in good position to improve through this week's NFL draft. EJ Manuel, the Bills' top pick last season, returns as the starting quarterback and is one of three second-year players facing intense scrutiny in 2014.

Who finishes atop the AFC East in 2014 could depend largely on which team best handles the stretch run, as December features five inter-division matchups -- including three in a row for the Patriots to end the season.

The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the AFC East offseason and other key topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.

First Down

Which AFC East team has had the best offseason to date?

Rich Cimini: I'm all about the stars, which is why I'm picking the Patriots, who landed the best free agent of them all: Darrelle Revis. He's one of the top two cornerbacks in the league, a legitimate game-changer. His presence will allow Bill Belichick to play more press-man coverage, which will help their pass rush and create headaches for opponents. Once Brandon Browner serves his suspension, they'll have two physical corners. The Jets and Dolphins helped themselves in free agency, addressing need areas, but neither team acquired a player as good as Revis. The Patriots lost a terrific corner in Aqib Talib and actually upgraded. How often does that happen in free agency?

Mike Reiss: The Patriots get the nod here because they added the best overall player in cornerback Darrelle Revis and re-signed receiver Julian Edelman (the Jets had explored poaching him), but I don't think it's a large gap to the next club. I like what the Dolphins have done to start rebuilding their offensive line (Branden Albert, Shelley Smith) while also bringing in defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, re-signing cornerback Brent Grimes and potentially getting some value with cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

Mike Rodak: Comparing gains and losses in free agency, the Patriots have fared the best. The season is never won in March, but the Patriots were able to upgrade even after losing cornerback Aqib Talib. Signing Darrelle Revis was the most significant free-agent move in the division, while Brandon Browner adds another quality player to the secondary. The Jets aren't too far behind. Eric Decker and Chris Johnson add firepower where the Jets have struggled in recent years -- at their skill positions. Neither player, though, is on the same level as Revis, which is why I give the Patriots the edge. Honorable mentions go to the Dolphins for signing Branden Albert and the Bills for signing Brandon Spikes.

James Walker: I like what the Jets have done this offseason. It has been offense, offense and more offense in free agency for New York. The Jets went out and signed wide receiver Eric Decker, former Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson and veteran quarterback Michael Vick. All three have a chance to make an impact on New York's weakest side of the football. Jets head coach Rex Ryan is a great defensive mind and has that side taken care of. It's just a matter of New York scoring more points this year. If the Jets can add a receiving threat such as Marqise Lee or Brandin Cooks in the first round Thursday, look out for "Gang Green."

Second Down

Will an AFC East team select a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft?

Cimini: No one will pick a quarterback in the first two days of the draft. The most likely candidate is the Dolphins, who have a new offensive coordinator and might be looking to acquire some Ryan Tannehill insurance after two so-so seasons -- but it won't happen before the fourth round, not this year. Neither Geno Smith nor EJ Manuel is entrenched with the Jets and Bills, respectively, but their teams have too many other needs to start doubling down on quarterbacks. The Patriots made headlines by hosting Johnny Manziel on a pre-draft visit, but I'm not buying it. It's still too early to start looking for an heir to the Tom Brady throne.

Reiss: Yes. One of the things that has become clear in the build-up to the draft is that this is a good year for clubs looking for a developmental quarterback. ESPN's Mel Kiper said he has spoken with teams who have identified as many as 15-20 draftable quarterbacks this year, which is higher than the norm. NFL Network's Mike Mayock said he has 10 signal-callers with grades within the first three rounds, which is about double the norm. I think Buffalo (insurance for EJ Manuel) and New England (backup Ryan Mallett's contract expires after the 2014 season) are the spots to look within the division.

Rodak: The Patriots are the most likely to select a quarterback in the first three rounds. Their backup since 2011, Ryan Mallett, enters the final season of his rookie contract and hasn't proved in limited playing time that he's capable of being a starter. Mallett was a third-round selection and that could be the sweet spot for the Patriots again, although I wouldn't put it past them to take a quarterback in the second round if one of the top signal-callers falls. The Bills might also pluck a quarterback off the board by Friday night. EJ Manuel, a first-round pick last year, is their starter but they could use an upgrade over Thad Lewis or Jeff Tuel as their backup. If the right quarterback falls, Buffalo might pounce.

Walker: The third round seems like the best possibility; it's the safest round of the three for avoiding a quarterback controversy. The Bills would have the best case for drafting a quarterback fairly early. The team has said several times that it's behind 2013 first-round pick EJ Manuel, but I don't see any reason for the Bills to avoid adding depth at the position behind Manuel in the middle of the draft. Backup quarterbacks Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel are not the answers. Manuel had injury issues last year, as well. It makes sense for the Bills to consider a capable backup.

Third Down

What stands out about the NFL schedule for each AFC East team?

Cimini: Prepare for the missiles of October. The Jets face Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in a 12-day span, Weeks 5 to 7. Before that, they meet up with a few other top quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford. The Jets' suspect pass defense, which allowed nearly 4,000 yards last season, will be seriously tested. This is the main reason they need to prioritize cornerback in the draft.

Reiss: The Patriots have a well-placed bye week and some of their biggest games around it. A Nov. 2 home game against the Broncos precedes the bye, then coming out of it is a Nov. 16 road game against the Colts. Fun, fun. If that's not the iron of the schedule, then back-to-back road games against the Packers (Nov. 30) and Chargers (Dec. 7) probably qualifies. Also, with the season concluding with three straight division games, the AFC East could still be up for grabs late.

Rodak: I've harped on this point before, but the Bills might have the NFL's toughest December schedule. Who knows where they'll be by Thanksgiving -- they could be in the playoff hunt or fading -- but their final month is brutal. The Bills must travel to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos, return home to host Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, make a cross-country trip to face the Raiders and then head back East to finish their regular season on the road against Brady and the Patriots. Ouch. Perhaps it's better that this four-game stretch comes at the end of the season rather than the beginning -- the Bills could be staring down an 0-4 start if it did -- but if they have any hope at the playoffs, they're going to need to win a couple of those games.

Walker: The Dolphins must bring their A-game on the road because they do not have back-to-back home games until the final two weeks. The Dolphins were a respectable 4-4 on the road last season, but it will be challenging for them to put together any significant winning streaks away from Sun Life Stadium. Miami's regular-season opener at home against the Patriots also stands out. We will find out immediately whether the Dolphins are a legitimate threat to New England in the AFC East.

Fourth Down

Which AFC East second-year player has the most to prove?

Cimini: My first inclination is to say Jets quarterback Geno Smith, who could lose his starting job to Michael Vick, but that's the Jets beat writer in me talking. The better answer is Bills quarterback EJ Manuel. Why him? Unlike Smith, Manuel was a first-round pick, which means greater expectations -- and those expectations were heightened when the Bills anointed him as The Guy. Smith has yet to receive that kind of endorsement from the Jets. The Bills have hitched their franchise to Manuel, who is coming off a mediocre-at-best rookie season in which he went 4-6 as the starter. He was hampered by injuries, but part of being a franchise quarterback is being on the field.

Reiss: Bills quarterback EJ Manuel would be my choice. He looked like a foundation-type player in the season opener against the Patriots last year, and had a few bright spots in ensuing weeks, but overall had an uneven first year in the NFL that was affected by injuries. The Bills surprised many by using a first-round draft choice to select him last year, and because of that Manuel gets the nod here over Jets quarterback Geno Smith, a second-round pick. It will be intriguing to see how things unfold with Smith now that the Jets have also signed Michael Vick, but I think the discovery process on Manuel in Year 2 -- is he really a franchise quarterback? -- trumps it.

Rodak: It has to be EJ Manuel. Geno Smith is a close second, but the Jets have Michael Vick to lean on. The Bills decided not to add an experienced backup quarterback this offseason, clearing the way for Manuel to be their unquestioned starter. Manuel needs to be more consistent. He showed flashes last season but also had some downright horrid games, including a four-interception afternoon against the Buccaneers. Manuel must also stay healthy. His three knee injuries last season limited him to 10 games and set back his development. Another injury this season will cloud the picture and keep the Bills from knowing exactly what they have. That could give him more leeway if he isn't progressing as quickly as the team would like, but it could also cause the Bills to look elsewhere.

Walker: It's easy to point to the quarterback position and say New York's Geno Smith and Buffalo's EJ Manuel have the most to prove. But neither player was drafted higher in 2013 than Miami's Dion Jordan, the No. 3 overall pick. The Dolphins traded up nine spots to get Jordan last year, only to use him as a backup defensive end and special-teamer. It was head-scratching to figure out why such a dynamic talent couldn't find his way onto the field. Jordan's usage actually was one point of contention between Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin and former general manager Jeff Ireland, who had a falling out last season. Was Jordan not ready for the NFL level? Was Miami's coaching staff holding him back? This is a big Year 2 to answer those questions.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Before visiting with the New York Giants, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie spent time at the New York Jets' facility, meeting with team officials. Giants coach Tom Coughlin wasn't worried about losing the free-agent cornerback to his local rival.

"It seemed as if he was going to continue to visit until he found what he wanted," Coughlin said Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings.

Rodgers-Cromartie found it with the Giants, who gave him a five-year, $35 million contract that includes $13.98 million guaranteed. Putting the money aside for a moment, the Giants believe they landed the talented corner by providing two important elements: A specific plan for him on defense and stablity.

This will be DRC's third team in three years, and he wants to settle down with one team, according to Coughlin. The Jets didn't provide that opportunity, reportedly offering what amounted to a one-year contract for about $6 million.

"To be honest with you, he was looking for a place to sink his roots and become a guy who represented a team and stayed there, and worked his way through some things," Coughlin said. "He wanted to be part of something instead of one year here, one year there. ...He jumped on that. He wanted to be a guy who’s associated with a team and be recognized."

Rodgers-Cromartie is a talented, but inconsistent player. He played well last season for the Denver Broncos, but he was a disappointment in the two previous seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. Coughlin said the Giants' coaches studied him closely, formulating a plan to maximize his strengths. He wouldn't divulge the plan.

"We have a young man that really wants to be coached," he said. "We studied and we saw some areas we can help him in, and we were very specific about how that would happen. He was very open and receptive to it. We did a good job of it. Our coaches worked their tails off. They spent a lot of time on it, a lot of time."

And the Jets still have a gaping hole at cornerback, with general manager John Idzik taking heat for failing to address a need.

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- AFC East

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
There's the New England Patriots ... and then there's everyone else.

With a few exceptions, that has been the makeup of the AFC East since 2001, when Bill Belichick and Tom Brady won their first division title -- and Super Bowl -- for New England. Even when the Patriots lose, they win. One day after free-agent cornerback Aqib Talib left for Denver, New England replaced him with perennial Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis.

Belichick will turn 62 next month and Brady turns 37 in August. Both are closer to the end of their careers, so is it realistic to expect the Patriots to decline soon? The Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets are all surely hoping so, as recent history has been that they need to get past the Patriots to make a playoff run.

The AFC East hasn't produced a wild-card playoff team since 2010, when the Jets went on the road to upset the Patriots and punch their ticket to the AFC Championship Game. The Jets' success was short-lived, and they've since been cast back into the pack with the Bills and Dolphins.

Overall, this is a young division. All four teams, including the Patriots, were among the youngest in the AFC at the start of last season. That youth shows up most at quarterback, where Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith and EJ Manuel are all green and looking to prove their worth in the NFL. Their teams' ability to challenge the Patriots might hang in the balance.

The four writers who cover the division -- Rich Cimini in New York, Mike Reiss in New England, Mike Rodak in Buffalo and James Walker in Miami -- offered their insights on the power structure in the AFC East and some other some key offseason topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.

First Down

Which AFC East team is closest to catching the Patriots?

Rich Cimini: The Jets, no question about it. The Jets, Bills and Dolphins are three teams with question marks at quarterback -- and quarterback play is everything in the NFL. So why the Jets? When rating teams, I like to look at which ones can be dominant on at least one side of the ball. Clearly, the defenses of the Bills and Jets (ranked 10th and 11th, respectively) are the best units among the three Patriots-chasing teams. Beyond the stats, I'd give an edge to the Jets because their defensive line has a chance to be the most dominant position group in the division. And the Bills lost their best defensive player, safety Jairus Byrd. Another reason I'd pick the Jets is the coaching staff. Granted, Rex Ryan has missed the playoffs for three straight years, but he has a veteran staff that experienced little upheaval. Continuity is important. The Bills have a new defensive coordinator and the Dolphins ... well, that situation is dysfunctional.

Mike Reiss: Tough to answer, obviously, before we see how each team comes together after adding pieces in the draft and free agency. Last year, it was the Dolphins. Now, after a turbulent offseason and offensive line questions, I'll move off them to the Jets. Why the Jets? Respect for a very good defense and a belief they will address major deficiencies on offense, starting with a viable quarterback option to pair with shaky Geno Smith. All that said, I still see a rather wide gap between the Patriots and the next team in the division.

Mike Rodak: The Patriots hardly tore through the division last season, losing to the Dolphins and Jets on the road, while nearly dropping their season opener in Buffalo. But it's difficult to see the other three teams contending for a division title until their quarterbacks emerge as quality NFL starters. In Miami, Ryan Tannehill showed flashes last season. It's hard to predict much of anything season to season in the NFL, but I think the Dolphins are the closest to contending. The Jets and Bills are not that far behind.

James Walker: My short answer is no AFC East team is ready to catch the Patriots in 2014. As long as Tom Brady is healthy and Bill Belichick is coaching, the Patriots will be the favorites to win the division. But the team with the smallest gap is the Dolphins. They have the most talented roster to challenge New England and the second-best quarterback in the division in Ryan Tannehill. Miami's problem is it can't stay out of its own way with infighting and in-house controversy. Last year, there was the bullying scandal and coach Joe Philbin had a falling out with former general manager Jeff Ireland. Miami still split with the Patriots, mostly because of talent. But how can the Dolphins win consistently when they're fighting themselves?

Second Down

How justified is the AFC East's reputation as a weak division?

Cimini: I hate to say it, but it's justified. The division doesn't have much street cred these days. The Jets helped the cause with their little run there in 2009 and 2010, when Ryan was in his "I'm not kissing Belichick's rings" phase, but the AFC East has turned into a bottom-heavy division. Since 2011, the Jets are 22-26, the Dolphins are 21-27 and the Bills are 18-30. In that span, the teams not named the Patriots have combined for a grand total of zero playoff appearances. The Bills haven't made the playoffs since 1999, which is practically prehistoric. The Dolphins haven't made it since 2008. Records aside, the division lacks star power, save for Brady, Belichick & Co. Each team has a handful of good players, but we're not talking about guys with a lot of box-office appeal. Everything is cyclical in the NFL, so I'm sure things will swing the other way. But right now, the AFC East is in a state of depression -- except for the Patriots.

Reiss: I'll start with some stats. Last season, AFC East teams were 22-18 against out-of-division teams. That was the third-best mark of the eight divisions. As it turned out, AFC East teams were tied for the second-best record against non-division playoff teams. So while I wouldn't call the AFC East an elite division, I'd strongly counter any line of thinking that the division is a doormat. What impresses me the most about the division is the quality along the defensive line, which rivals any division in the NFL.

Rodak: Strength of divisions is always difficult to measure because it changes so often. The NFC West was considered a weak division for several years, but recently it has been the class of the NFL. The Seahawks groomed their young talent into a perennial playoff team, while the 49ers found a coach (Jim Harbaugh) who has brought his team to three consecutive NFC title games. They're a far cry from the Seahawks, but the Bills and Jets both had some of the NFL's youngest rosters last season. Let's see if those teams can make the next step before we label the AFC East as "weak." Plus, how many other divisions have a team that has been as dominant as the Patriots? That adds strength at the top of the division while making life tougher for everyone else.

Walker: Absolutely, the reputation is justified. I cannot think of another NFL division that was mostly owned by one team over the past dozen years. I've said since last summer that the 2013 Patriots were the weakest New England team in years. That Patriots group still won the AFC East by four games! That is more of an indication of poor football by the Jets, Dolphins and Bills than dominant football by New England. Here is all you need to know about the AFC East: No team other than New England has posted a winning record the past three seasons.

Third Down

Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith and EJ Manuel: Which young QB will still be his team's starter in three years?

Cimini: I'll be blunt: I'm not confident that any of the three young quarterbacks will be starting in three years. They all have talent, but each one was thrown into a difficult situation. Smith and Manuel were rushed into starting jobs, and Tannehill was under siege last season, behind the worst (and most dysfunctional) offensive line in the league. Out of this group, I'd say Tannehill probably has the most staying power. I'm not saying he will be a star, because I've seen him throw passes that conjure up images of Nuke LaLoosh of "Bull Durham" fame, but he has a decent amount of talent and moxie. That said, Tannehill has a new coordinator, and he could have another one next year if the Dolphins decide to blow up the coaching staff. The same could happen to Smith next year if things go sideways on the Jets. Continuity is vital for a young quarterback. So is the quality of his supporting cast. Smith could overtake Tannehill in this category if the Jets surround him with better players. That, undoubtedly, would accelerate his growth.

Reiss: I'll go Tannehill, assuming the Dolphins protect him better than they did in 2013. I think he's the most naturally gifted of the three. When I watch him beat a Patriots game plan in December that dared him to make throws to the outside of the field, and he succeeded in doing so, it reflects a promising foundation on which to build. I'm interested to see how the presence of a new offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, affects his development.

Rodak: The Bills, Dolphins and Jets have dealt with inconsistent quarterback play for the past decade. Of those three teams, only the Jets with Chad Pennington had a starter for more than three consecutive seasons since 2000. Three years is a very long time in the NFL -- enough time for young quarterbacks to see their stars rise and fall. Smith, Tannehill and Manuel were all high draft picks and have the potential to be long-term starters. Of the three, I think Smith is least likely to stick. Playing in New York can be tough, while the Jets' coaching situation remains volatile. The Bills might have the most stable environment for Manuel to grow, but his knee injuries are a concern. Tannehill has shown promise in Miami, but changes in the front office might bring different opinions. This might be radical, but I don't see any of the three quarterbacks starting in three years.

Walker: My first response hinted at my answer: I'm going with Tannehill, though the instability of the Dolphins' organization gives me pause. Joe Philbin might not be Miami's head coach in 2015, let alone in three years. That obviously impacts Tannehill's job security. However, I think Tannehill has the most pure talent of the three young quarterbacks. Tannehill set career highs in yards (3,913), touchdowns (24) and passer rating (81.7) last season. He also was sacked a franchise-record 58 times last season and had little help from the running game. I believe Tannehill can thrive with good pass protection and a stronger running game. He needs to work on his deep ball and make quicker decisions, but that might improve with time.

Fourth Down

The Dolphins, Bills and Patriots each experienced noteworthy changes to their coaching staff. Which will have the greatest impact?

Cimini: The Patriots lost a beloved assistant coach, Dante Scarnecchia, but let's be honest: As long as Bill Belichick is the HC of the NEP, the Patriots will be a highly competitive team. Assistants and coordinators come and go, but the Patriots remain the Patriots because of one man. I think the Bills' coaching change -- Jim Schwartz as the new defensive coordinator -- will have the greatest impact in the division. True, the Bills took a big jump last season under the departed Mike Pettine, but they still stunk against the run. Schwartz will fix that. The Dolphins' new offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, has a chance to make a big impact, but it won't happen right away. Why not? Because the Dolphins' offensive line is in shambles (maybe you heard about the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin mess), and no offensive genius has invented a scheme that works without efficient line play. They addressed it in free agency by signing Branden Albert, but there will be growing pains for the offense.

Reiss: I was going to say the Patriots because of the wide-ranging respect retiring offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has across the NFL, and also with linebackers/scout team coach Pepper Johnson landing in Buffalo. But the more I thought about it, how can it not be the Dolphins with a new offensive coordinator and two new offensive line coaches? The Patriots will miss their two assistants for different reasons, but that seems to pale in comparison to Miami based on the bigger role/responsibilities of offensive coordinator.

Rodak: I think the Patriots' changes are the least likely to have an impact given Bill Belichick's reputation to wield nearly absolute control. Assistant coaches come and go in New England, but Belichick keeps his staff small and his message consistent, so there typically isn't much change. It's a toss-up, then, between the Dolphins and Bills. The Bills have seen significant changes on their defensive coaching staff, but their personnel doesn't figure to change dramatically. The Dolphins have a new offensive coordinator, and while their skill positions could remain intact, their offensive line will be different next season. That, coupled with the need for a culture change after their bullying scandal last season, means the Dolphins' coaches have more to overcome this season.

Walker: I really like the addition of Jim Schwartz in Buffalo, and it goes beyond X's and O's. Schwartz brings head-coaching experience to Buffalo's coaching staff. Bills head coach Doug Marrone is entering his second year after a 6-10 record in 2013. There were some things last year that appeared a little too fast for him as a rookie head coach in the NFL -- and that's expected. Schwartz can help slow things down in Year 2 for Marrone, who is trying to make the transition from the college game. Schwartz experienced plenty of ups and downs with the Detroit Lions and can be a shoulder for Marrone to lean on. Mike Pettine also was a solid defensive coordinator, but he couldn't bring that element to Buffalo's staff.

A few takeaways on the New York Jets' decision to release cornerback Antonio Cromartie:

1. Is this really goodbye? There is the possibility of re-signing Cromartie down the road, according to a source, but I don't see that happening. I think Cromartie is done in New York. Unless he's willing to return on a modest, one-year contract, what sense does it make to commit to a 30-year-old cornerback with a chronic hip condition? Cromartie was terrible last season despite making the Pro Bowl as an alternate. (What a sham that was.) I give him major props for playing through the injury, but he was a liability at times. If he were a few years younger, yeah, you would bring him back, figuring the hip would heal. But he'll be 30 next month, and the combination of age and injury makes this a no-brainer. Cromartie relies on speed, not technique. If his speed is compromised, he's not the same player.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Cromartie
AP Photo/Damian StrohmeyerWith Antonio Cromartie heading to Arizona, the Jets are in need of a top-flight cornerback.
2. Possible replacements: The Jets might try to sell us on Kyle Wilson as a possible replacement, but don't buy that for a second. Right now, they have only one starting-caliber cornerback on the roster -- Dee Milliner. With about $30 million in cap room, which will grow to $38 million as soon as they cut Santonio Holmes (which will happen any minute now), the Jets have plenty of flexibility to sign a top-tier free agent. On Saturday, they inquired about Alterraun Verner of the Tennessee Titans. He and the New England Patriots' Aqib Talib will be the best cornerbacks on the market, assuming they don't re-sign before Tuesday. I think the Jets should make a push for Verner, only 25, coming off his first Pro Bowl. He could cost $10 million a year, but you would rather go long term with a player entering his prime than re-up with a banged-up player at the beginning of his downside.

3. It had to be done: Cromartie told teammates at the end of the season that he expected to be a cap casualty, and he later articulated that view in a TV interview. When Cromartie restructured his contract last year, he pushed money into 2014, resulting in a bloated cap figure of $14.98 million. That included a prohibitive $5 million roster bonus, due this week. Obviously, there was no chance he'd remain on the team at those numbers. By cutting Cromartie, the Jets will have a $9.5 million cap savings. Now Cromartie can test his value on the open market, hoping to convince teams he's healthy and still explosive. A young and healthy Cromartie was always the best athlete on the field.

4. Dynamic duo ... gone: In 2010 and 2011, the Jets had one of the premier cornerback tandems in the league, Cromartie and Darrelle Revis, who missed most of the 2012 season with a knee injury. In a span of 11 months, general manager John Idzik broke up the two-man band, trading Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and cutting Cromartie. He had better hope Milliner is the real deal, or else the defense is in big trouble.

5. As the Cro flies: Favorite Cromartie memory? That's easy. It was his 47-yard kickoff return in the 2010 wild-card game against the Indianapolis Colts. Basically, he won the game, putting Mark Sanchez & Co. in great field position and setting up Nick Folk's game-winning field goal as time expired. Cromartie wanted the ball in that spot, and the coaches gave it to him, knowing he could break a long one. He was capable of greatness, but too often he aggravated the coaches with his mental lapses. There was "good Cro and bad Cro," as former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine once said.
From now until March 11, the start of the league year, we'll profile potential free agents that figure to be on the New York Jets' radar:

Player: Josh McCown, Chicago Bears

Position: Quarterback

2013 stats: Started five game for the injured Jay Cutler, compiling a 3-2 record and fueling a quarterback controversy. Finished third in passer rating (109.0), completing 149 of 224 passes (66.5 percent) for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception. The 13 touchdown passes exceeded the combined total of his six previous seasons. He played in 421 offensive snaps (40 percent).

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.

McShay's Mock 3.0 reax: Jets

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
In his latest mock draft , ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay predicts USC wide receiver Marqise Lee for the New York Jets, who own the 18th pick.

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.

McShay Mock 3.0: Jets 

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
Todd McShay's third NFL mock draft for 2014 is out on ESPN Insider today.

For a team picking 18th overall, the New York 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 Insider:

The New York Jets are rooting for cornerback Darrelle Revis to remain with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

When the Jets dealt Revis to the Bucs last April, they received a first-round pick (13th overall) and a conditional fourth-round choice that improves to a third-rounder if Revis is on the Bucs' roster for the third day of the 2014 league year -- March 13.

General manager John Idzik probably thought that was a gimme when he made the trade, but now there's speculation that Revis could be traded again. CBS Sports reported that the Bucs were approached at the scouting combine by teams inquiring about his availability. If the Bucs decide to move Revis, their motivation is to get it done by March 13, allowing them to retain their third-round pick.

It's not that hard to trade Revis because he signed a six-year, $96 million contract last year that included no guarantees, meaning no cap hit for the Bucs if they cut or trade him. New coach Lovie Smith is installing a Tampa-2 system -- not a good move for Revis' elite man-to-man skills -- another factor that has people wondering about a trade.

I thought the Bucs made a bad trade last year for Revis, who was coming off major knee surgery, and now it looks really bad. If they do ship him out, they wouldn't get the 13th pick (or anything close) in return. Maybe the Bucs realize what the Jets knew last year: Revis is a terrific player, but he's not worth a $16 million cap charge.

Could Revis return to the Jets? That's funny. Even if they cut Antonio Cromartie, I can't see them turning to Revis unless he gives them a huge discount -- and we all know that's not happening. The Jets are committed to Dee Milliner, and I have a feeling things will work out with Cromartie. Why would they want to go back to the bargaining table with a player who called their general manager a liar last spring? Why would Revis want to go back?

If the Bucs decide to trade him (a big "if" at this point), they'd look like idiots to send him back to the Jets, probably receiving 75 cents on the dollar. But they could impact the Jets by dealing him in the AFC East -- like, say, the New England Patriots, whose best corner, Aqib Talib, is set to become a free agent.

Scouting combine: Final thoughts

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
The NFL scouting combine wraps up Tuesday with on-field workouts for the defensive backs. We'll take this opportunity to put a bow on the combine, recapping it from a New York Jets' perspective:

1. Good hands people: This is one of those years where the Jets' top need marries with the strength of the draft. Everybody knows they want to rebuild at wide receiver, and the combine reinforced the widespread belief that receiver is perhaps the deepest position. Nearly all of the top wideouts performed well in drills, with Mike Evans (Texas A&M), Brandin Cooks (Oregon State), Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU) and Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) helping themselves the most. The Jets should be able to get a quality wideout with the 18th pick if they opt to go that route. The abundance of receivers could impact how they approach free agency.

2. Thin at tight end: The Jets may have to think twice about filling their tight-end need in the draft. North Carolina's Eric Ebron solidified his standing as the top tight end with a strong performance, but some of the other top prospects were limited by injuries. For players such as Jace Amaro (Texas Tech) and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington), it means their pro days will carry greater importance. It's not a terribly deep position anyway.

3. Sanchez saga: The Jets met with Mark Sanchez's reps to discuss the quarterback's future. Nothing was settled, but Sanchez will be rehabbing in New Jersey this week, giving the Jets a chance to monitor his surgically-repaired throwing shoulder. One source said the chances of Sanchez returning are about 20 to 30 percent. Obviously, he'd have to accept a large pay cut. Look for this to play out until March 25, when a $2 million roster bonus is due -- or until they find his replacement.

4. Higher salary cap: The Jets aren't facing a cap squeeze, but it's always nice to have extra flexibility. The combine began with one report projecting the cap would increase to $130 million, up from $123 million last year. Then came another report saying it would be $132 million. The final number will be announced in the coming days. Either way, the Jets will have the ability to be aggressive in free agency. It'll be a departure from last year, when they were forced to bargain-shop.

5. Meet and greet: Teams were permitted to conduct 60 formal interviews at the combine. The Jets met with many of the top players, including Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, but don't put too much stock in these sitdowns. It's called due diligence. They will conduct hundreds of player interviews by draft day. In some cases, the combine interview is just a starting point. Example: The Jets weren't blown away by Geno Smith last year, but they scheduled a follow-up on the eve of his pro day. That's when they became more comfortable with him.

Sanchez will be ready, but for whom?

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
INDIANAPOLIS -- Mark Sanchez is progressing well with his shoulder rehab and has resumed throwing, according to New York Jets officials. But they clammed up when asked if Sanchez will be doing his throwing for the Jets in 2014.

The former starter is expected to be a salary-cap casualty in the coming weeks, and neither Rex Ryan nor general manager John Idzik said anything Thursday that indicated otherwise. They wanted no part of a Sanchez discussion, with Ryan refusing to give a basic overview of the quarterback position.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesThe Jets owe Mark Sanchez a $2 million roster bonus if he's still on the team March 25.
"I prefer not to," Ryan told reporters at the NFL scouting combine. "We’ll just say this: Let's talk about where Geno [Smith] left off."

And he proceeded to praise Smith for his strong finish. It's not hard to read between the lines here, folks.

Sanchez has a $13.1 million cap charge in 2014, including a $2 million roster bonus due March 25, and there's no way he will be on the roster at that number. The only question is whether the Jets will try to retain him by offering to restructure his contract -- i.e. a massive pay cut. If the Jets were to take that route, they'd probably offer Sanchez an incentive-laden deal with base pay in the $2 million-to-$3 million range for the coming season, according to a longtime personnel executive. His current base pay is $9 million.

It's quite possible the Jets will simply cut bait, making no effort to keep him. It's also possible that Sanchez would reject a pay cut, forcing his release by March 25. His agents are expected to meet with Idzik here at the combine.

Ryan gave his stock answer, saying he'd "absolutely" like to have Sanchez back. He says that about every player whose status is uncertain. Idzik declined to comment. Quite frankly, his non-answers were eerily reminiscent to those from last year's combine, when he dodged questions about trade rumors involving Darrelle Revis. Of course, we all know how that turned out.

"We tend to let things play out," Idzik said of Sanchez's situation. "We still have some time there. We know he’ll be ready (for the season). We’ll just let that take its course."

Economics aside, the big factor is Sanchez's surgically repaired throwing shoulder. He's four months into what was initially projected as a four- to five-month process. Both Idzik and Ryan praised Sanchez's diligent approach, repeating the sound bites they used last February for Revis and his knee rehab.

"His whole focus -- and I know he’s doing a great job of this – is rehabbing, getting that shoulder back to where he’s throwing right now," Ryan said of Sanchez. "I know he’s doing whatever he can to get back."

Added Idzik: "We’re assuming Mark is going to be fine with his shoulder."

Of course, the Jets are best served by giving a glowing medical report. They need to enhance Sanchez's market value, assuming they try to trade him. Good luck with that.

League observers expect the Jets to replace Sanchez with another veteran, possibly Michael Vick, a free agent. Smith is the odds-on favorite to start, although Idzik continued to spew his semantic approach to the quarterback situation, refusing to name Smith the starter.

"We don't anoint starters in February, and we don't anoint them in March," Idzik said.

There will be another quarterback competition, because everything is competition in Idzik's world -- just don't expect Sanchez to be part of it. They won't acknowledge it publicly, but the Jets want no part of the egg-on-face possibility of Sanchez beating out Smith in training camp. Idzik said Sanchez still can be a starter in the league, but he measured his words carefully.

"We know Mark Sanchez," Idzik said. "He’s been a productive player in this league, a productive starter in this league. We know how he works, we know how he’s going to put everything into his rehab. We know how he’s going to be ambitious in his career. What would lead you to believe he wouldn’t (be a starter again)? That’s who Mark is. He’s competitor and he’s done it before."

And he hopes to do it again, but probably not with the Jets.

Wake-up call: Combine, Day 2

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
On the schedule for Thursday in Indianapolis:

Local media: New York Jets coach Rex Ryan (2:45 p.m.) and general manager John Idzik (3 p.m.) are scheduled for news conferences. The hot topics will be the futures of Mark Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie; the draft and free agency; and the organization's first public comment on former Missouri DE Michael Sam. The New York Giants' media availability begins Friday.

Combine schedule: Placekickers, special teamers, offensive linemen and tight ends will undergo medical exams, measurements and team interviews. They also will be available to the media. ... Quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs arrive in town. They will have a medical pre-exam, X-rays, orientation and team interviews.

Players of interest: The Jets (18th overall pick) and Giants (12th) both have a need at tight end, so North Carolina's Eric Ebron -- the consensus top player at the position -- will be a focal point among the New York reporters. Ebron has the ability to light up the combine -- on and off the field. He's confident and entertaining, once bragging that his speed should be "illegal." He will be asked about his weight in light of a recent report that he put on extra pounds in an effort to become a better blocker. ... The Giants need help at offensive tackle, so Thursday's media session will offer a chance to meet first-round possibilities, namely Michigan's Taylor Lewan. We know how the Giants love those Big 10 linemen.
In 1996, I sat down with Keyshawn Johnson for a one-on-one interview at the players' hotel. The following year, I was invited up to Bill Belichick's hotel room to interview him during his brief run as the coach of the New York Jets -- a few days before they received permission to hire Bill Parcells. Unless he was acting, Belichick looked and sounded like he was ready to dive in as HC of the NYJ.

Those were the days when the NFL scouting combine wasn't a major media event, when one-on-one interviews were possible and everything wasn't orchestrated by the league. Now the combine is a mini-Super Bowl, with live television, a "radio row" and wall-to-wall news conferences. You might say it's less intimate than the old days, but to use one of Belichick's pet expressions, it is what it is.

The fun starts Wednesday in Indianapolis. For the record, is scheduled to be on the ground late Wednesday, providing updates through the weekend.

Wednesday's combine schedule:

Placekickers, special teamers, offensive linemen and tight ends arrive. There's a medical pre-exam, X-rays, orientation and team interviews. No formal media sessions are scheduled.

One of the most laughable aspects of the combine is how teams fall in love with prospects based on how well they run and jump and lift weights, forgetting the most important part of the evaluation process is ... you know, how they play football. You will hear coaches and team officials insist they don't place added emphasis on the combine, but they're all guilty of it, including the Jets, who unwittingly provided the rest of the league with the cautionary tale.

Vernon Gholston.

Gholston blew up the combine in 2008, running the 40 in 4.67 seconds after weighing in at 266 pounds -- freakishly fast for a man that size. He also did 37 reps on the bench press and, just like that, the Jets were smitten. They picked him sixth overall and you know the rest. Right now, I can say I have as many sacks as Gholston, whose career flamed out after three years.

The Jets learned a hard lesson, but they did it again in 2012 with Stephen Hill. His measurables were off the charts -- a 6-4 wide receiver and a 4.36 time in the 40, the 40th-fastest 40 in combine history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Seduced by those numbers, the Jets' scouts bet on Hill's potential, overlooking his limited production in college. He was given a mid-first-round grade and selected high in the second round. You know the rest.

So here we go: In Indianapolis, a city famous for speed, the mantra for the week will be, "Gentlemen, start your stop watches."
One of Rex Ryan's favorite players last season was Calvin Pace, who enjoyed perhaps his best season (career-high 10 sacks) after spending part of the offseason on the NFL's scrap heap (cut and re-signed by the New York Jets). He did it at the age of 33, admitting that getting fired for the first time was a humbling experience that steeled his motivation.

He also happened to be incredibly fortunate, in a right-place, right-time kind of way.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Pace
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsCalvin Pace caught a lot of breaks in racking up a career-high 10 sacks last season.
An in-depth breakdown of Pace's 10 sacks reveals that he caught some breaks and benefited greatly from excellent pass coverage. Consider: Six of the 10 sacks occurred when the quarterback held the ball for at least 4.0 seconds, unofficially -- i.e. a coverage sack. Another 1.5 sacks came when he was unblocked -- blown blocking assignments by the offense.

In other words, that 10-sack total is a bit deceiving.

Pace was the first to admit during the season that he benefited from being surrounded by young, talented pass-rushers such as Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Sheldon Richardson. Instead of being the No. 1 or No. 2 pass-rusher, drawing extra attention from the opponent, Pace thrived in a complementary role. Indeed, six of his 10 sacks happened while the quarterback -- under pressure -- was stepping up and/or attempting the escape the pocket, according to a video breakdown of the plays. Pace became the clean-up guy, the finisher.

To his credit, Pace's sacks came at opportune times. In fact, eight of the 10 sacks came in Jets' territory, including two in the red zone.

Now Pace is due to become an unrestricted free agent March 11, and you can bet he's looking for more than the $1 million he made last season on a one-year contract. No doubt, he has earned more leverage, but the Jets have to be careful not to overpay for a player who will be 34 at midseason. Pace said at the end of the season that he wants to return, especially with Ryan staying on, but every man has a price. If Pace prices himself out of the job, the Jets will turn elsewhere.

Either way, the Jets need to look for a strongside linebacker in the draft. It doesn't have to be in the first or second round, but they could use another edge player to put opposite Coples, the rush linebacker in Ryan's 3-4 base scheme. There isn't an heir apparent on the roster, so it would behoove them to use the draft to find their 2015 starter.




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