Brandon Marshall and What the Jets Should Do From Here…

Wow. The Jets with an absolutely terrific move today trading Brandon Marshall for a fifth round pick.

Reports state that Percy Harvin will be released and cost the Jets a sixth round pick to the Seahawks as they’re reportedly going to release him and free up $10.5 million in cap space. Considering that they signed slot receiver Jeremy Kerley to a four-year, $14 million contract extension in October 2014 and that Percy Harvin had no dead money and was nowhere near worth that high cap number, this is not surprising. Marshall, Eric Decker, Harvin and Kerley sure would have been an exciting and dynamic receiving group though.

The Jets also resigned ILB David Harris today to a three-year deal worth $21.5 million with the first two-years, $15 million, fully guaranteed.

Looking at the Jets cap page, which will be updated March 10th when the NFL’s league year officially begins, it says they currently have $103,128,320 of the $143,280,000 cap taken up or just 71.98% of the cap. Subtract Harvin’s contract and they’re at $92,628,320, then add Marshall’s $7.7 million and that puts us at $100,328,320. Then add Davis Harris’ contract, which will be around $7.5 million, so the Jets current cap is at $107,828,320, which is only 75.26% of the cap. Although the Jets had many issues in 2014 and many of those obviously carry over into this year, the fact that they have one-fourth of the cap, $35,451,680, to fix their problems is a huge opportunity.

They can clear another $1.9 million if they release Pro Football Focus’ worst tight end in the NFL, Jeff Cumberland, which would put them at $37,351,680. This is a bit of a stretch, but they could release Nick Folk and free up $2.65 million. He was the fifth worst kicker in the NFL that started every game for his team, but I don’t think they’ll do that, although Justin Tucker, Mike Nugent, and Matt Prater are both on the market.

Now, the way I look at it, the Jets have one of the best receiver groups in the league now, which gives them a huge advantage with the rushing attack that ranked third in the league last year with such little production out of the passing game to open things up for the runners.

The Jets three biggest needs as a team, according to a great piece they do every year, are quarterback, cornerback and offensive tackle, considering that I just cut Jeff Cumberland and Jace Amaro didn’t show us enough last year, we have to add tight end to that list of needs. As I stated in my piece on the LeSean McCoy trade for Kiko Alonso, I would LOVE to see the Jets trade with the Eagles and get Nick Foles, this year’s pick #20, this year’s second rounder and next year’s first rounder out of the Eagles for Marcus Mariota. My thoughts on Mariota is that he’s nowhere near as valuable to anyone as he is to the Eagles as they can very easily project what he’ll look like in their offense as it’s still very similar to what Kelly did at Oregon.

In Nick Foles, the Eagles have a guy who has performed well in the NFL, but who doesn’t fit what they want to do in the way that Mariota does, so he becomes an expendable, but valuable commodity with the small number of starting caliber QBs in the NFL. In the ten games he started in 2013, he had 24 touchdowns and only two picks while averaging 264 yards a game with a 64.1 completion percentage. He’s not going to set the world on fire, but in a package like what I think the Jets can get out of Philadelphia, he’s a dynamite pick up.

A lot of news outlets are saying that the Jets need a veteran free agent who can “push” Geno Smith and they’re talking about Ryan Fitzpatrick who played well enough under Chan Gailey in Buffalo to earn a six-year $59 million deal. Now, while he’s an option and has played well at various points in his career, I think that Foles has the potential to lead this team to the playoffs if they draft a RB like Jay Ajayi or Duke Johnson in the second round to run with Chris Ivory.

Say they get Foles, he’ll only cost $1,677,880 against the cap, which is another huge benefit about him. You get a starting quarterback who costs only 1.17% of the cap, which allows you to spend elsewhere. Adding Foles contract to their cap puts us, essentially, back where we were before we cut Cumberland and the Jets still have $35,673,800 to spend with the QB situation handled with Foles as the leader for the starting job and Geno as the back-up, a much better move than the $4 million wasted on Michael Vick last year.

Now, with the first round pick they get from the Eagles, they could either get a tackle like Ereck Flowerrs from Miami , TJ Clemmings from Pittsburgh or La’el Collins from LSU, or they could get a cornerback like Jalen Collins from LSU or Marcus Peters from Washington. I’d rather them get a tackle and then go after a corner in free agency. With players like Antonio Cromartie, Tramon Williams, Cary Williams, Kareem Jackson, Chris Culliver, Perrish Cox, and Byron Maxwell on the market, the Jets have plenty of options out there.

With Foles in the trade, an offensive tackle with the 20th pick and a cornerback or two through free agency, one can predict that the Jets will have around $20 to 25 million left to spend after solving their cornerback issues. Considering that Antonio Cromartie’s deal with the Cardinals last year was for $4 million, that’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jets got him and another corner and still have around $25 million left to spend. If Revis hits the market, the Jets will have the space to sign him for something reasonable in the $10-12 million range, although that doesn’t seem likely considering reports say Revis and the team are “confident” they’ll reach a long-term deal if the Patriots decline his $20 million option (which they should).

Rather than speculate about which cornerback or cornerbacks they’ll get, let’s move on to tight end. Considering the Jets run-first nature and that they have a decent young pass catching tight end in Jace Amaro, I would love to see them get Zach Miller as he’s been one of the best run blockers at tight end when healthy. Even Jacob Tamme would be a nice veteran leader to pair with Amaro as he’s always been a good blocker and productive player.

While every Jet fan can fantasize about Julius Thomas, let me take you back down to earth as I don’t think he fits what they’re doing, plus they did just spend a 2nd rounder on Amaro, who I’ve been very high on from his days at Texas Tech. Owen Daniels would be a nice signing as he would be at a decent price and wouldn’t overshadow and stunt Amaro’s growth. I said this before last year’s draft, I think that Amaro has the tools to be a big-time tight end in the NFL and while 38 catches for 345 yards (9.1 pyc) and two touchdowns doesn’t blow you away, even the best tight ends of the last two decades didn’t do much as rookies. I contend it’s the hardest position to transition into the NFL because you have to be a pro-level blocker and pass-catcher, thus you’re kind of learning two positions and skill sets rather than being able to be weak at one while you get acclimated.

Figure 1: Tight End Production as Rookies

Tight End Production As Rookies

In the defensive backfield, I’d like to see them resign Dawan Landry as he was better than people give him credit for being a top ten safety according to Pro Football Focus. At 32 years old, there won’t be too much of a market for him, so I could see him resigning with a two-year deal worth $2.6 million. They should draft a safety in the late rounds in hopes of eventually pairing him with Calvin Pryor over the course of his career. The key here is for the Jets to find a player who fits their system much like the Seahawks have made a habit out of by drafting defensive backs in the late rounds who are long, big, athletic players who fit their teams mentality. I won’t pretend I know who Todd Bowles should draft as I don’t know his system well, but safeties that I like are Eric Rowe from Utah and Byron Jones from UConn because they both can play corner and safety and they’re long, rangy, athletic dudes. Adrian Amos from Penn State is also a bigger athlete who could be good for the Jets in my opinion.

Now, I haven’t addressed free-agent safeties, but it’s a pretty weak group. If the Jets didn’t want to sign two corners, but rather draft one, I’d love to see them use one of their third round picks on Jones, Rowe or Kevin White from TCU. The big fish in this group is Devin McCourty and considering he just won a ring with the Patriots, could the Jets lure him back to the state where he wore St. Joseph’s Green Knights green and played his college ball at Rutgers? That’d be a huge get for them and give them such a boost in the defensive backfield.

I think that they’d have a big-time backfield if they got a player like Jay Ajayi from Boise State, Duke Johnson from Miami or TJ Yeldon from Alabama in the second round. Considering that Chris Ivory is heading into the last year of his contract, now is the time that a team must re-up at running back. I’d like to see them take one of those three and then, I always go back to these two from the CAA, sign Kevin Monangai from Villanova or Lyle McCombs from URI after the draft. As I’ve said before, I’ve seen these two play and they were both dynamic, shifty, complete backs in the best FCS conference in America. Lyle was an All-American as a freshman at UConn with guys like Giovani Bernard and Isaiah Crowell. We all saw the damage that Crowell did last year as an undrafted guy after his time at the FCS level, McCombs could do the same and the Jets can afford him some time to develop.

Since Ivory averaged only 4.1 ypc last year, which is around league average, I want another starting caliber guy there because if you’re going to be a run-first team, then you need to excel at it. Some have mentioned signing Justin Forsett, but I’m just so hesistant to do that considering they need a back for the future and signing older backs is a crap shoot. I know Forsett has limited tread on his tires, but the Jets don’t have a young back for the future, so I don’t see signing a veteran to be plausible.

It’s worth mentioning, this is a DEEP running back free agency market with plenty of guys who had great years in the last two years like DeMarco Murray, Forsett, Mark Ingram, Reggie Bush, Knowshon Moreno, Shane Vereen, and others. It’s going to be really interesting to see how this market shakes out. The running back marketplace has become one of my favorite things to analyze because it’s become so hard to predict. If you’ll look at this running back article I wrote in January, I’ve established that the best way to build a backfield is through the draft, but when is it okay to sign a veteran and how can you establish their value or even predict future production for a guy whose already ran the ball 1200 to 1500 times?

You can never have enough linemen, so while the Jets should draft a tackle in the draft, they’ll have the cap space to sign some more linemen before draft day. They could seriously use a guard as all of their guards had negative ratings from PFF. One great free agent option would be Orlando Franklin of the Broncos who was one of the best guards in the NFL in 2014.

I guess I should mention how many draft picks and the projected amount of money it’ll cost the Jets considering the Nick Foles trade I put through in this piece. So if the Jets get Foles, the 20th pick and the 20th pick of the second round, that will give them a first, two seconds, a third, a fourth and a seventh. The rough estimates I’ve put together means they need $5,041,316 of cap space to sign these picks, but let’s round up and call it $5.1 million because I’m unsure if that’s accurate, although I’m sure it’s close. I want to kind of guide us down the path

To take us back to the $35,673,800 figure we were at after acquiring Foles, we’ll take $10 million out for the two cornerbacks I said they would sign, which puts us at $25,673,800. Then we’ll take out $2 million for the veteran tight end they’ll sign to replace Cumberland whose $1.9 million we took off the books, which puts us at $23,673,800. They resign Dawan Landry for $1.3 million a year, while they should draft a young strong safety in the later rounds, so that puts us at $22,373,800. After that, all we have here are the draft picks to subtract which puts them at $17,173,800 worth of cap space before signing anyone to shore up the offensive line or pass rushers which a team can always use.

I think that this illustrates the fact that with the right moves, the Jets have more than enough space to go out and sign Darrelle Revis and/or Devin McCourty, which would make their defensive backfield truly dominant as Calvin Pryor played well this season and will continue to develop. As I’ve stated before, the most important positions in football now revolve around the pass game. I’m confident that, with the Brandon Marshall and the Nick Foles trades, the Jets would be in prime position to set up the rest of their team nicely through the draft.

In the first round, Clemmings from Pitt at number 20. In the early second round, Ajayi from Boise State. With the second rounder they got from Philadelphia, Kevin White from TCU. In the early third, guard Josue Matias from Florida State, Laken Tomlinson from Duke, or Tre Jackson from Florida State. In the early fourth, Byron Jones from UConn or Eric Rowe from Utah as they’re versatile players who can play corner and safety. In the seventh, go with the best guy on the board.

These draft picks are assuming that they don’t get Revis or McCourty in free agency, if those deals happen, that changes the entire dynamic of everything. We’re assuming that the Jets are going the route that gives them $17,173,800 in cap space after the moves I described three paragraphs up. With that excess cap space, they’ll be able to find some more role players that can be vital to their success in 2015, like edge rushers as you can never have enough pass rushers.

With Sheldon Richardson, Quinton Coples, Muhammad Wilkerson David Harris and Calvin Pace all totaling five sacks or more, they already have a great group of pass rushers, but considering the money they have available, I wouldn’t be opposed to them signing a veteran like Brian Orakpo as a situational pass rusher or Pernell McPhee. That extra $17 million gives them a lot of options and they can let the marketplace dictate where they go with that money.

I know I went heavy on defensive back through freee agency and the draft, but they didn’t have a single cornerback that graded positively over on Pro Football Focus. I’m obviously just spit-balling with my own visions for free agency and the draft, but the scenario I just proposed shouldn’t be far off from how the Jets are thinking this offseason. Todd Bowles used his defensive backs more than anyone in the league last year Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie, Deonte Bucanon, Rashad Johnson, Jerraud Powers and Tony Jefferson all totaling more than 697 snaps. That doesn’t include Tyrann Mathieu who had 438 snaps, so his defenses are heavily reliant on strong defensive back play.

One other move I would like to see them make is for a fourth WR, someone like Jacoby Jones or Ted Ginn who can also return punts and/or kicks for them with Percy Harvin gone as their main kick returner last year. You sign Jacoby Jones or a player like him to a deal worth about $2.5 million a year and you’ve still got $14.5 million left to spend.

The possibilities are endless for the Jets right now and it’s great to see that they’re finally making some of the right moves and putting themselves in position to have a good team this year. With one-fourth of your cap space left to spend, there are very few holes that a team can’t fix.