Salute Magazine’s Exit Interview series examines the status of each NFL team heading into the offseason, along with their free agents, team needs and more. Click here for the rest of the exit interviews. Up next: the New York Jets.
The fact that the Jets were able to win 5 games is amazing in and of itself. Entering the season, most of the major pundits (including this very site) pegged them as one of the worst teams in the league. In the end, they were mostly competitive in the games that they lost, and considering how young the team is, that’s pretty encouraging for the future.
Head coach Todd Bowles should be commended for how well he prepared the team each week with the limited amount of talent on the roster. Offensive coordinator John Morton did a good job as well, though he won’t return in 2018. Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates will be promoted in his place.
General manager Mike Maccagnan is off to a decent start, but he needs to make finding a franchise QB his top priority this offseason. Josh McCown did about as well as he could, but he’s a free agent that will turn 39 before the start of next season. Of the other two options currently on the team, Bryce Petty hasn’t shown much in the time he’s gotten, while Christian Hackenberg has barely been on the field at all.
Luckily for Maccagnan, this year’s QB class is pretty stacked, though the Jets are behind three other teams who will also be looking for signal callers. Once that’s taken care, everything else should come into place.
Most of the roster still has holes, however. The only set position groups are the defensive line and the safeties. With nearly $80 million to spend though, the roster can be stabilized more quickly. They might be a year away from truly competing for the playoffs, but if Bowles can continue to have the team playing well, the Jets will at least stay on the right track.
Current number of draft picks: 8 (#6 in the first round)
Cap space: $79-80 million
Notable free agents
Demario Davis, ILB: Believe it or not, Davis was arguably the best player on the Jets in 2017. The team took him in the third round of the 2012 draft, though he was just average through his first four seasons. He signed a two-year deal with the Cleveland Browns in 2016 but got traded back to the Jets for Calvin Pryor before this season.
All of a sudden, Davis was playing like an elite talent. He led the team with 135 total tackles, a career high, and good for 6th in the league as well. Additionally, he was first on the team in sacks with 5, and his pass coverage was noticeably improved. The Jets can’t let him leave again.
Josh McCown, QB: Many expected McCown to utterly fail this season. He was on a one-year deal, clearly set up as a stopgap QB, and the talent around him wouldn’t be enough to carry him through 16 games. Yet somehow, McCown had a relatively successful campaign.
His passing yardage wasn’t the best (just over 2,900 total), but he kept his completion percentage steady at 67.3% while throwing for 18 touchdowns and just 9 interceptions. McCown went to injured reserve after 13 games with a hand injury, but the fact that he played as well as he did is admirable. The Jets are better off going with a young QB for the future, but if McCown is willing to come back as a backup, he’d be a good investment.
Morris Claiborne, CB: After years of inconsistent play with the Dallas Cowboys, Claiborne finally had a breakout season in 2016, showing why he was the first corner taken during the 2012 draft. However, it was a contract year, something which, by proxy or not, inflates the performances of many players.
Injuries were a big reason why Claiborne didn’t play well early on, and they were the most likely reason why he had to take a one-year deal with the Jets for 2017. While he played the most games of his career (15), he returned to his previous uneven performances. The Jets should probably look elsewhere to improve their secondary.
Kony Ealy, DE/OLB: Ealy had a bizarre start to the season. The New England Patriots gave up a second-round pick to acquire him (and a third-rounder) from the Carolina Panthers, expecting him to bolster their pass rush. However, he looked flat in the preseason, and the Patriots opted to release him during final cuts.
The Jet, also looking for improved pass rush, picked him up on waivers. He ended up rotating with David Bass and Josh Martin, picking up just a single sack as a result. Ealy just turned 26, so he still has time to salvage his career, but things aren’t looking good for him.
QB: With McCown turning 39 before next season and hitting unrestricted free agency, the Jets need to start looking for a long-term answer at QB. Petty and Hackenburg clearly don’t fit that description.
ILB: Davis must be retained, especially since there’s not much left at the inside linebacker position. Darron Lee is already looking like a first-round bust. Even if Davis is re-signed, other options are needed.
G/T: Aside from left tackle Kelvin Beachum, the rest of the offensive line didn’t play particularly well this season, especially the guards. Free agency doesn’t look great for replacements though, so the draft may be the avenue to restock for depth.
TE: The Jets haven’t had much at tight end the past few seasons, but Austin Seferian-Jenkins finally started to emerge after three seasons of mediocrity and off-the-field issues, catching 50 passes for 357 yards, both career highs. The 25-year old will be hitting the open market though. Re-signing him and adding another option could be more beneficial.
WR: Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse surprisingly ended up playing like a solid duo at wideout. However, Anderson was recently arrested for speeding, adding to previous legal trouble. The rest of the group has dealt with injury and below-average play.
OLB: The defense was pretty solid against the run as a whole, but when your inside linebacker leads the team in sacks, something needs to be done.
RB: Bilal Powell, Matt Forte and Elijah McGuire are an okay trio at running back, but none of the three come off like a surefire starter at the position. If the Jets can’t bring in a better option though, they can certainly stay with the three in 2018.
K: Chandler Catanzaro did a fine job in his first season with the Jets, missing just five field goals. He only signed a one-year deal though, so they’ll need a replacement if he moves on.
Best player/building block
Jamal Adams, S: It was a bold move for the Jets to spend their first two draft picks on safeties. While second-round pick Marcus Maye had a mixed rookie season, sixth overall pick Adams lived up to where he was picked.
He was third on the team with 82 total tackles, breaking up 6 passes as well. His run defense was especially productive; Pro Football Focus ranked him 7th among all safeties against the run. Hopefully, Maye can improve during his sophomore campaign so the two can form a deadly partnership at safety for years to come.
Demario Davis, ILB: Not to continue to harp on Davis, but his 2017 performance needs to get more attention from casual fans. Adding to the previously mentioned stats, he was also tied for 8th in PFF’s linebacker rankings this year. He’s just turned 29 two weeks ago, so the Jets should lock him up for as long as possible.
AFC North: Cleveland Browns
AFC West: Denver Broncos
NFC East: New York Giants