Playing GM of the Jets Part 4: Defense and Final Thoughts

This is the final part of my look at the Jets and it focuses on the defense and my genral toughts on the team. Since it was longer than expected I split the offense and defense into two parts. To read about the Jets offense click here otherwise read on…

Defensive Line

The biggest disappointment on the team comes from this unit. The Jets finally caved in on Muhammad Wilkerson at the last second and then realized they had too many players for two slots. Wilkerson has an $18 million cap charge and his $14.75 million salary is guaranteed which pretty much makes him the only player with no risk of being released. Would someone trade for a $15 million salary?  Probably not.

With Wilkerson going nowhere that means Sheldon Richardson should be moved. He counts for just under $8.1 million on the cap and it will all go away if cut or traded. Richardson’s value is at an all time low and I think he has a pretty poor reputation around the league for his lack of consistent effort. I thought the Jets should try to focus him over the last 6 weeks of the year to pump up his numbers but they have seemingly gone in the opposite direction.

I think you have to just take whatever you can get at this point and then try to be creative in a trade. My assumption is they can get a 3 that can maybe escalate based on playing time or re-signing after the season to a big contract. While that probably sounds low to many, Richardson is probably on the path of a Nick Fairley whose post rookie contracts were for $5 and $3 million.

Leonard Williams looks like he will be the best of the three draft picks on the line. While it’s still early in his career he has shown the ability to make impact plays and there are times when he looks like a man among boys with the way he moves offensive linemen like they are nothing. He is arguably the only promising light on the team.

Steve McClendon has a cap charge of just under $4 million and I would lean towards keeping him. I think you need a true nose tackle to make the defense work and McClendon will fit that bill and that’s a reasonable price. There are so many areas where the Jets need to either spend money or draft capital that it would not make sense to add this position to the mix in 2017.  They can make the line stronger next year by having everyone back in their natural spots.

Linebackers

Teams are generally built with a focus on pass rushers but the Jets haven’t really been able to find anyone to man either of the outside linebacker positions. They only drafted one player highly (Quinton Coples) a few years back and then never seemed to know where to play him, but besides that it’s been a position of neglect for some time. Maybe it was an organizational failure to think that they could generate massive heat from the defensive end positions the way Houston had been able to in the past but either way it’s something that needs to be improved upon. The only cost effective way to fix this position is via the draft and part of me is worried that the Jets will go out in free agency and go wild on a mediocre talent who has a good year leading into free agency.

Inside linebacker is in better shape though I don’t understand the need for them to have gone there in round one when other premium positions may have been available. Davis Harris has been around since 2007 but it has to be time to move on, especially now that Darron Lee has full year under his belt.  Harris is kind of a throwback to a different era and I can’t see spending $6.5 million on someone who should be a one down player unless they really like what he brings to the locker room. I don’t think Lee necessarily had a great rookie season or anything but in my mind they made the decision on Harris when they drafted Lee.

Expect Erin Henderson to be cut to free up $2.75 million in cap room.

Cornerbacks

There is little else that I can write about Darrelle Revis that hasn’t been written before. Whether he grew lazy from years of not being tested, had his body break down and is hurt, simply saw age catch up with him incredibly quickly, or just decided to mail it in, the fact is he can’t play corner anymore.

The question is can he play football? If he’s hurt or he is just too old for the athleticism at receiver there might be a case to have him play free safety. He should have the instincts to be able to disrupt plays in the secondary and being that he is guaranteed $6 million anyway it may be worth seeing if he will convert to safety and just play for that salary, not a penny more, in 2017.  If he has mentally checked out there is no coming back from that and you may as well just pay him his $6 million to go away. The Jets free $9 million on the cap by cutting him.

I absolutely can not understand why the Jets refuse to convert him to safety this year. He has begged for the move and now the starting FS is out for the rest of the year.  Why not see if he can play the position?  If he goes out there now and dogs it there is no question that his career is over. I feel like the Jets are backing themselves into a corner for no good reason.

Buster Skrine has been a disaster unless we measure being good by the number of penalties you have called on you in a game. That contract was an odd one when it was signed because the Jets were basically paying a nickel outside money. These are the kind of dings that really go against the general manager. Unless they intend on moving Skrine next year I can’t see the purpose of him coming back. He’s been so bad and I don’t see him as any part of the solution. They only save $3.5 million by releasing him, but its addition by subtraction at this point. He’ll need to lower his salary if he wants to stay.

No other corners are any good but all are cheap.

Safety

Whenever the cornerbacks needed help this year odds are they were not getting it from this group. Marcus Gilchrist was likely signed with the thought that Bowles’ expertise would rise his level of play. It never happened. Cutting him saves $4.6 million on the cap though I’m assuming he will qualify for injury protection based on what happened last week. That would reduce the savings to about $3.5 million. It still should be worth moving on.

Calvin Pryor is a hit or miss player for me. I don’t think he is very good in coverage and seems to be better around the line. I think he is cut from the same mold as Mark Barron which means he is best suited for hybrid linebacker/safety role. I think that works better in a 43 system than a 34 though I guess they could play him alongside Lee. He is good on the blitz and certainly happy to lay hits on anyone that comes in his zone on the field, but I don’t know if that is what the Jets need in a safety. 5 or 6 years ago he would have fit in great but now they might need a different skillset. Id probably look to trade Pryor or at the least see what market might exist. If no trade is out there then I think they need to find ways to better utilize his strengths.

Final Thoughts

By slicing and dicing the roster the Jets will create around $61 million in cap room while putting just an additional $17 million of dead money on the books if they follow the moves outlined here. That number sounds exciting but it’s really just a sad reminder that the Jets are right back in the same spot they were in 2015 when Maccagnan took over.

When you look at the Jets roster it’s pretty barren. They are below average at quarterback, left tackle, right tackle, tight end, outside linebacker, free safety, and cornerback.  They are on the lower end of average at wide receiver, running back, and inside linebacker, while being average at defensive tackle, guard and strong safety. The only above average talent on the team is at the defensive end position and the way Wilkerson has played I’m not sure he belongs in that category right now. The special teams unit is also poor.

This is just about as bad as two seasons ago when Idzik left the Jets with nothing for the future. It’s a failure of pretty epic proportions. The Jets were supposed to develop the young talent so that when it was time in 2017 to release the Revis’, Gilchrist’s, and Decker’s nobody would bat an eye because young players were proving how great they were. Instead the Jets have gotten nothing out of the second round draft picks, limited returns on their first rounders, and little more than some situational play from their later picks. So when releases like this are proposed it looks bad.

The question now is will this just be Groundhog Day with the Jets or will they do something different? Will Maccagnan pull off a number of trades and free agent signings as he did in 2015? Will they go the more Idzik route and just horde the cap for a season?  Will they do something in between?

If it were me in charge I’d opt for the third option. I think spending for a few mid cost players that could have upside for two to three more years while trying to build through the draft is ok. I won’t just bank on the draft and tank if it goes bad the way Idzik did. The media will also kill the front office if they do that and wind up looking like the Browns or 49ers, who basically gave up on a season before it even started. I also don’t like the idea of spending on a few high priced players in March to win the offseason Super Bowl because that is also a road to nowhere given how many holes are on this team. I think if the team was to create $60M in cap room they should spend between $25 and $30 million of that on players and bank the rest for the future.

We’ll know pretty quickly as to what they plan when we hear the QB rumors of the offseason. If there are rumors of trades like Richardson for Romo it means they are going in the expensive direction. If they don’t sign anyone in the first 3 or 4 days of free agency it probably means a focus on the draft. If they make no changes to the roster at all and go into 2017 with almost no cap space it just means they are lost and my guess is the head coach will wind up fired halfway through the season.

The one thing the Jets need to do is draft premium positions right now. If those players don’t “grade” in their draft slot then they have to trade down, even if it means swallowing their pride and not getting the max return. They don’t need a safety, interior lineman, or running back with a top 8 pick. You can find reasonable ones either later in the draft or at reasonable prices in free agency. You can’t get by via drafting project left tackles and signing overpaid corners and bad quarterbacks in free agency. None of the players may work out but the Jets would have gotten far better value by trading back to take Paxton Lynch and picking up a 3rd rounder in the process and using their 2nd on an ILB or whatever they wanted to spend it on than Lee/Hackenberg and no extra pick in the first three rounds.

Make no mistake about it this is the worst period of Jets football since the 1990’s. The team has now gone six straight years without a playoff appearance and only once in those six years were playing meaningful games late in the year. Two the Jets four wins this year came against the two worst teams in the NFL, the 49ers and the Browns, who have combined for a total of 1 win. They had to come back to beat both those teams and won those games by a total of 9 points, 6 of which came in overtime. They lost to the awful Rams, got blown out by the Cardinals, lost to the Bengals, and got wiped out by the Colts. This is a dreadful team and there is no quick fix.

Most likely 2017 will be a throwaway year but the team can make some moves to at least begin heading in the right direction after a few years of going nowhere. I think this is still a 3 year project where the foundation is built this season, they can be more competitive in 2018 and then in 2019 be a legit contender. Unfortunately I probably wrote that same sentence in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 and Im writing it again about the 2017 season. Hopefully I won’t be writing it again next year.

  • a57se

    Jason, this is like you plugged into my brain and wrote the piece from my thoughts.
    I think we both look for sustainability rather than a short term benefit, the question is, does Woody have the patience to let Macc and Bowles work on this roster for 3-5 years?
    The other question is: IS Macc capable of developing a quality roster through the draft and targeted FA??? He hasn’t shown much so far…

    • McGeorge

      What has Macc done to justify not getting fired after the season?
      He got lucky that Leonard Williams fell to him.
      The only smart move he made was signing Brandon Marshall.

      If the Jets stay with Macc for one more year, and he has another sub par draft, the Jets are even worse off.

      Why take the risk with Macc? Its possible he improves. But he’s shown little in 2 years. They would probably better off firing him and Bowels. Let the new GM hire a HC.

      • Werner

        Well, as expected Jets will need to go thru the valley of tears once more. If they use the basic lessons learned from the last 6-8 years (a BIG IF), they should be respectable again. And maybe taking Woody Johnson out of the active Service of the Franchise might be the best contribution of Mr. T. to make the Jets great again…

  • McGeorge

    >>I won’t just bank on the draft and tank if it goes bad the way Idzik did.

    I would. There is no point in trying to go 5-11 instead of 2-14. Both are terrible but by going 2-14 you can draft a good QB. If you go 5-11 it’s far worse. You have to trade up (a la Jared Goff) to get a good QB, and the draft picks you give up set you back 2 years.

    The Jets *MUST* tank 2017, and draft a QB.
    Otherwise they are going to be a 5-11/6-10 team for years. Who wants to watch that?

  • McGeorge

    After watching the Saturday night game I have to ask, whats’t the point of keeping Bowels and Maccagnan?
    It doesn’t make sense to fire Bowels, because the new HC will have to deal with a new GM the following year after Maccagnan is fired.
    The Jets are terrible, Maccagnan hasn’t done anywhere near enough to justify keeping his job.

    Hire a new GM, and let him hire his HC. Woddy will have to pay more or guarantee their contracts longer.
    But thats better than another lost year under these 2 bozos.

    Start Petty all next year so the Jets go 2-14 and can draft a top QB.

  • Alec Wilson

    I met macc in London and he seemed a soild and astute bloke……but when you have so many fans scratching there heads and questioning the players he has drafted and signed and then the fans being right rather than him it’s a massive red flag.

    There just never seems to be a approach based around what happens in 3 years with the Jets…ie how many of us have watched the O-Line getting progressively worse over the past 5 years but the team has pretty much only drafted mid round projects, completely misreading the situation. There need to be a focus on continuous improvement and development

    The other negative around macc is that he seems to have panicked into some contracts…ie Revis, Wilkerson and Fitz…..he’s given into either fans/press or ownership pressure and made shocking decisions and his drafting is questionable at best.

    I really like Bowles as well but I think he has surrounded himself with the wrong coaches…he’s picked his pals and its clearly not working out, the amount of miscommunication is frightening the the staff seem completely unable to rectify the problem.

    At the end of the day its easy to sit back and criticise, but i’ve lost count how many times over the past few years the Jets have made a move where I just didn’t understand the logic and in the end the guys getting paid millions in the front office are the ones with egg on there face !

    • McGeorge

      Supposedly John Idzik is extremely intelligent. That doesn’t mean he will be a good GM. Macc is probably no dummy, but is he a good GM, compared to NFL GMs?

      He was probably pushed into the Revis contarct by Woody. And he was forced to spend a huge amount of money because John Idzik under spent. What if … John Idzik had signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie? He had the chance, but signed Dimitri Paterson instead 🙂

      Macc did panic with the Wilkerson and Fitz contracts.

      Macc should be fired not because after 2 years his drafts don’t appear to be that good, but because in addition to not drafting well, he doesn’t do anything else well. He signs bad free agents at bad prices. He wastes draft picks trading up. In 2 years the Jets are in the same position as they were 2 years ago – bad.