Saturday, August 6, 2011
Updated: August 7, 4:35 PM ET
Mason minimizes damage for Jets
By Rich Cimini
The "Flight Boys" are history. Meet the "Frequent Flyers."
Over the span of six days, the New York Jets dismantled their under-30 receiving corps and replaced it with a more experienced group -- a kind way of saying older. They parted ways with Braylon Edwards, 28, and Jerricho Cotchery, 29, and brought in Plaxico Burress, 33, and Derrick Mason, 37, who agreed to terms Saturday.
The only holdover from last season's troika, which dubbed itself "The Flight Boys," is Santonio Holmes, 27, the baby of the group.
No question, the Jets have taken a step back at receiver, but considering the circumstances (Cotchery's desire to leave and enough salary-cap room for only one splurge), the Jets successfully minimized the damage.
Mason is a nice score for the Jets, who put themselves in a precarious position by granting Cotchery his release before having secured a replacement. Mason is going to be gone in a year, but he's a good, short-term fix -- and it's all about now for the Jets.
It would've been embarrassing if Mason had opted for the Baltimore Ravens or Tennessee Titans -- his two former teams both made offers -- but Rex Ryan managed to swipe one from his old team, the Ravens. You can bet he's feeling pretty good about that, especially after saying Friday, "I'm sure he'd have to leave money on the table to come here."
Mason serves two roles: He can fill Cotchery's job as the slot receiver and he's Plaxico insurance. Burress hasn't played football in two years, and you'd have to be na´ve to think he's going to make it through the season without some sort of ailment. He still hasn't practiced, yet he's already nursing a sore ankle.
Prediction: Mason plays more snaps this season than Burress.
The Jets aren't getting the Mason of 2007, when he caught 103 passes for the Ravens, but he's still a solid, crafty receiver. Former Washington Redskins GM Vinny Cerrato attended the Ravens' player-organized workout June 27 -- the Baltimore version of "Jets West" -- and he came away impressed.
"I thought I'd see an old guy, but I thought he looked quick and explosive," said Cerrato, an analyst for 1050 ESPN New York Radio. "He can get one-step separation. Downfield, he's not going to separate in man-to-man coverage, but he's excellent against zones and he's excellent on third down. [Mark] Sanchez is going to love him on third down."
The Jets need help on third down. They also need help in the red zone. Mason isn't great inside the 20, but he did have four red-zone touchdowns last season. The only Jet with that many was tight end Dustin Keller, who also had four.
The Jets have a lot of work to do, trying to break in two new receivers. And we haven't mentioned rookie Jeremy Kerley, who will replace Brad Smith as the No. 4 wideout and resident all-purpose guy.
This is going to put a strain on Sanchez, as he attempts to develop a rapport with his new weapons. Fortunately for the Jets, he knows the offense and can be a teacher instead of the wide-eyed pupil.
Clearly, the Jets will have to lean on their running game and the defense in the early part of the season, allowing the passing attack to grow. Ryan wants to throw more often than last year, but that shift in philosophy may have to be put on hold.
In a perfect world, the Jets wish they still could have Edwards and Cotchery, but the finances were prohibitive with Edwards and they didn't see Cotchery as a starter anymore. They could regret the latter decision, but they made it and found a solid replacement in Mason.
Better keep the Ben Gay handy, just in case.