AFC East: New York Jets

In his first full day as a member of the Jets, running back Chris Johnson gave some insight into the competition for quarterback. Apparently, it’s a fair fight.

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Johnson told Michael Kay and Don La Greca on ESPN New York’s 98.7 that the Jets plan to have Geno Smith and Michael Vick compete for the starting job during the team’s training camp in Cortland, NY. Any idea who had the inside track?

“They didn’t give me no indication,” Johnson said. “They said those to will battle it out in camp and may the best man win.”

Rex Ryan said earlier in the year that Vick, signed as a free agent this offseason from the Eagles, would be able to compete with incumbent Geno Smith for the starting job. Smith had the job as a rookie last season after Mark Sanchez sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in a preseason game.

Smith threw 12 touchdowns and had 21 interceptions last season, showing signs of potential but not enough to be the next assumed franchise quarterback. Having two almost-good-enough quarterbacks on the roster apparently wasn’t in the long-term plan, so Vick was brought in and Sanchez was cut.

Vick’s arrival has already sparked protest from animal rights group, who worked up a petition to try to bar Vick from training camp in Cortland, NY. Vick served less than two years in prison on charges stemming from dog-fighting.

That aside, Vick holds more experience as a starter and made it clear in March that he was there to compete for the starting role.

“Well, anywhere I go, or any team, I'm always going to compete for the No. 1 spot,” Vick said. “And I will encourage any other quarterback behind me or in front of me to always compete for their job, for the No. 1 spot. That’s how champions are made.”
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Everybody thought LaDainian Tomlinson was ready for a rocking chair at the age of 30. He was a diminished player for the San Diego Chargers in 2009, finishing the season with a hard-to-watch game against the New York Jets in the playoffs -- 12 carries, 24 yards.

The future Hall of Famer was fired by his forever team, and the Jets, of all teams, gave him a job, gambling the once great runner could reinvent himself. They looked past his pedestrian '09 numbers, determining that heart was a better barometer than his 3.3 yards per carry. They were right; he was terrific in 2010.

"This," Tomlinson said at the time, "has refreshed me, being here."

Four years later, the Jets are once again trying to catch an old lightning-back in a bottle. This time his name is Chris Johnson, and there's every reason to believe he can give them a season like Tomlinson did.

The Jets get Johnson at 28, a little younger than Tomlinson upon his arrival, but the narrative is the same: a fading star coming off his worst season.

Johnson staggered to the finish last season, looking more like CJ1K than the old CJ2K. He barely cracked he 1,000-yard plateau, managing a pedestrian 3.9 yards per rush. The Tennessee Titans decided -- and rightly so -- it made no sense to pay him an $8 million wage for 2014.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiChris Johnson cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark in 2013 despite playing the majority of the season with a knee injury.
Clearly, the Jets aren't getting the Johnson of 2009, when he blew away the league by rushing for 2,006 yards with his sub-4.3 speed, but they should have a highly motivated back who will get an opportunity to duplicate what Tomlinson did in 2010.

That year, Tomlinson rushed for a team-high 914 yards on just 219 carries and caught 52 passes, three shy of the team leader. He was supposed to be Shonn Greene's backup, but Tomlinson was so impressive that he won the starting job and became an integral part of a team that came within one game of the Super Bowl.

Nothing jars a world-class athlete more than being told he's not good enough, that it's time to pack up and leave. Tomlinson used that as his fuel until his body finally broke down in 2011. The Jets are hoping for a similarly inspired Johnson, who's already talking about redemption.

"I can turn the bad things people are saying into a good thing for me, to give me motivation, to keep me hungry and to keep a chip on my shoulder and prove the naysayers wrong," he said Thursday on a conference call with the media.

You'll be disappointed if you expect a 1,500-yard season out of Johnson, but he's better than what he showed last year. He played 13 games on a torn meniscus, running behind a suspect offensive line for a team that didn't have its starting quarterback for half the season -- hardly ideal conditions for a running back.

"Chris Johnson isn't a bell cow anymore," a longtime NFL personnel executive said. "I don't know where his heart is -- there are some things underneath his hood that I don't like -- but for the right price, yeah, I think it's a good move."

The Jets paid a top-of-the-market price -- two years, $8 million -- but the cost is reasonable. Chances are, they will take a less-is-more approach with Johnson, hoping a time-share with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell will preserve the remaining tread on Johnson's tires and improve his efficiency. That, of course, is based on the presumption that one of those tires isn't on the verge of a blowout.

Johnson disputed an ESPN report that said there's arthritis in his surgically repaired right knee, insisting he'll be fine. This bears watching, because the fire in his belly will burn out quickly if there's pain in his knee. If he's healthy, he'll be a plus for the offense.

"If a bad year is 1,100 yards, I'll take that all day," said ESPN analyst and former Jets tackle Damien Woody, alluding to Johnson's 1,077 last year.

Woody played for the Jets when Tomlinson arrived in 2010. At first, he wondered if Tomlinson was out of gas, but those concerns were allayed as soon as he saw the old running back on the field, doing his thing. Woody believes Johnson will respond the same way.

"The situations are really similar," Woody said. "You have two really good backs that were jettisoned from teams they had a lot of success with, dealing with the perception they're washed up. That, obviously, puts a chip on your shoulder."

The Jets have become a second-chance/last-chance stop for running backs. Before Tomlinson, there was Thomas Jones, who was outstanding before the salary-cap police decided it was time to go. A year ago, they traded for Ivory, who teased the New Orleans Saints for years.

As Woody noted, Jets coach Rex Ryan has way of reaching older players, coaxing them to give whatever they have left. Now he has Johnson, who still can be a productive runner -- as long as his wheels are as strong as his will.

Analyzing Kiper Mock 4.0: Jets 

April, 17, 2014
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Their greatest needs are wide receiver and cornerback. They also could use a tight end, if the right one is available. In other words, the New York Jets could go in a few different directions with their first-round pick.

The question is, what happens if the premium players at those positions are gone? The Jets have to prepare for that scenario because it could very well happen. It does in ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's latest mock draft Insider.


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Source: Sidney Rice visits Jets

April, 16, 2014
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Injury-plagued wide receiver Sidney Rice, cut by the Seattle Seahawks after the season, visited with the New York Jets on Wednesday, a league source confirmed.

The Jets already have signed two receivers, Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford, but they still want to build depth. Rice, 27, was once regarded as a rising star, but he has missed 15 of the past 48 games due to knee injuries and concussions. In fact, he tore an ACL last October, causing him to miss the remainder of the season. He reportedly was cleared only recently to return to football activities.

The 6-foot-4 Rice would be an inexpensive acquisition for the Jets, probably a one-year contract for close to the minimum salary. General manager John Idzik is a former Seahawks executive and was partly responsible for signing Rice to a five-year, $41 million contract in 2011. Rice parlayed his one big year (1,312 receiving yards for the Minnesota Vikings in 2010) into the big score.

Rice has 243 catches for 3,592 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Johnson
A few thoughts on former Tennessee Titans star Chris Johnson agreeing to a contract with the New York Jets:

1. Adds swagger on offense: Critics of this move can use a lot of numbers to illustrate Johnson's decline in recent years, but that would be overlooking the obvious: Johnson brings street cred to an offense devoid of stars and playmakers. Say what you want about his slippage, but the man knows how to score -- with 58 career touchdowns. The Jets, 29th in scoring last season, need guys who don't require a GPS to find the end zone. They have too many that do.

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2. Projected role: The Jets intend to use Johnson in tandem with Chris Ivory. Presumably Johnson is on board with the plan or else he wouldn't have signed, but you wonder how he'll feel during the season. Remember, he voiced his displeasure last season when the Titans signed former Jet Shonn Greene, robbing him of carries. Johnson, who turns 29 in September, has to understand he's no longer a workhorse-type back. His days of averaging 290 carries per year are over -- or should be. Ivory and Johnson will complement each other nicely. Ivory is a tackle-breaking power back, Johnson the speed back with home run ability. Johnson no longer is the CJ2K of 2009, when he rushed for 2,006 yards, but he still has enough speed (assuming his surgically repaired knee is OK) to threaten the perimeter and stretch defenses. It also creates another wrinkle for the Wildcat package.

3. The new Shady: When he was the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg had a dual threat in LeSean McCoy who was (and still is) dangerous out of the backfield in the passing game. Johnson brings that type of element to the offense. He's not as elusive in space as McCoy, but he's a threat because of his straight-line speed. Johnson made 42 catches on 51 targets last season, averaging 9.3 yards after the catch -- fifth-best in the league. For what it's worth, he has 272 career receptions, more than any other player on the team. With Johnson leaking out of the backfield, opponents will have to think twice before sending extra pressure.

4. The new Ground & Pound: Since Rex Ryan took over in 2009, the Jets have rushed for nearly 11,000 yards, the third-highest total in the league, and they've done it without a true burner in the backfield. They have been a grind-it-out running game, but Johnson brings a different dimension. He makes defenses pay attention even though he falls into the all-or-nothing category. He has been tackled for a loss or no gain on 410 rushes since he entered the NFL in 2008, the most during that time. But he also has gained at least 10 yards on 200 rushes since then, second to only Adrian Peterson. The problem is that unless the Jets add another threat on the perimeter, they will continue to see a steady dose of eight-man fronts.

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5. Commentary on the QBs: The rest of the league might be pass happy, but this move reinforces the Jets' belief in running the ball. They believe a strong ground game gives second-year quarterback Geno Smith the best chance to succeed. It wasn't a coincidence that Smith's late-season rally happened when the rushing attack perked up. Johnson will benefit, too, having two quarterbacks -- Smith and Michael Vick -- with good mobility. It will create creases in the defense.

Still not time to tear down O-line

April, 16, 2014
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The New York Jets used to have one of the best offensive lines in the league. Now they need serious help, according to an article by Pro Football Focus Insider.

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The Jets are listed among five teams with "positional frailties" that should be addressed with high draft picks. In their case, it's the line. According to PFF:
"On the surface, this may seem a strange selection given that both D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold are still on board and the team replaced departed right tackle Austin Howard with Super Bowl winner Breno Giacomini.

"However, we are now close to the nadir of a group that was as recently as 2010 the best in football. Things started to go downhill with the departure of the remarkably underrated Damien Woody (who in a fairer world would at least be discussed as a Hall of Fame candidate) and this was exacerbated further by the loss of Brandon Moore and the decline of Mangold and Ferguson. It's just as well Chris Ivory is a tough runner (he ranked tied for third in yards after contact per attempt in 2013, with 3.0) because he got very little help from his linemen this past season: not a single one graded green as a run-blocker."
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My thoughts? I'd be surprised -- no, stunned -- if the Jets used a first- or second-day draft pick on a lineman. Ferguson and Mangold, both 30, may not be what they once were, but they're still in the top third of the league at their respective positions. Ferguson's cap numbers are so high that he can't be released without serious cap ramifications until 2016. Mangold also has high cap charges, but he has less security than Ferguson and could conceivably be cut next year. But I still don't think it's time to start looking for their replacements.

The Jets gave Giacomini a $7 million guarantee, so they expect him to be around for at least a couple of years. At left guard, they suffered through Brian Winters' rookie growing pains, but they remain high on his future. If they were to draft a lineman, it likely would be a right guard. Willie Colon is back on a one-year contract, but there's no heir apparent -- unless you count William Campbell, a former defensive lineman who didn't get close to the field last season as a rookie. Campbell and tackle Oday Aboushi were the "future" picks in John Idzik's first draft. Evidently, they're still down-the-road prospects.

But do you want to know the biggest reason why the Jets won't use a high pick on a lineman?

Too many other pressing needs.

Jets hope to lock up Chris Johnson

April, 15, 2014
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It comes as no surprise that free-agent running back Chris Johnson is visiting Tuesday with the New York Jets. They never lost interest in him even though his first week on the open market was eerily quiet. Despite a down season in 2013, the Jets still believe he's a quality back, capable of recapturing some of his past form with better offensive line play than he had with the Tennessee Titans.

The timing of the visit (and possible signing) makes sense. The Jets open their offseason program Monday, and Rex Ryan prefers to have his veteran players under the same roof for as much of the program as possible. Johnson probably would be limited because he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in January, but his presence would be good for team chemistry and would allow him to start learning the offense. Teams also like to tie up loose ends in free agency before shifting into total draft mode next week. A similar situation unfolded last year. After maintaining contact for a few weeks, the Jets signed free-agent safety Dawan Landry a week before the offseason program.

Don't think money has nothing to do with this. Johnson has generated little interest as a free agent, causing his value to drop. No other team has been identified as having serious interest. No doubt that factored into general manager John Idzik's thinking from the outset. The Jets should be able to lock up Johnson with a team-friendly deal, and they hope to get it done quickly.

Examining the what-if QB question

April, 14, 2014
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Only one team in the last 40 years has drafted a quarterback in the first round the year after picking one within the first two rounds -- the Carolina Panthers, who chose Cam Newton in 2011 to replace Jimmy Clausen, a second-rounder.

Could the New York Jets become the second team?

Unlikely, but it's a good talking point because of the uncertainty regarding the top three quarterbacks -- Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel. In his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback column, Sports Illustrated's Peter King notes that four quarterback-needy teams in the top six are thinking hard about waiting until after their first pick to address the position. The teams: The Houston Texans (No. 1), Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3), Cleveland Browns (No. 4) and Oakland Raiders (No. 5). The Minnesota Vikings (No. 8) didn't make the list, but they're also looking for a quarterback.

If one of the top three quarterbacks gets past the Vikings, it's possible he could fall all the way to the Jets at No. 18. What, then? It certainly would add to the drama at Radio City. Would the Jets, only one year removed from choosing Geno Smith in the second round, take another quarterback?

First of all, this isn't a Carolina situation for two reasons: Unlike Clausen, Smith showed some promise as a rookie. In addition, the Panthers owned the No. 1 pick when they drafted Newton, who was deemed a legitimate franchise quarterback. Most talent evaluators agree there are no quarterbacks of that ilk in this year's draft, just a group of intriguing prospects that fall into the good-not-great category.

Some believe the most likely to fall is Bridgewater, once considered a top-five pick. (Sound familiar, Geno?) If he slips to the Jets, they'd have to ask themselves: Is he better than Smith and could he be our starting quarterback in 2015? Personally, I'd pull the trigger if it were Manziel.

The organization is hopeful that Smith can become their long-term starter, but it's not sold on him. If that were the case, Michael Vick wouldn't be here. If the Jets have a strong conviction on Bridgewater (or any others), and he's clearly the best player on their board, they should take him. This is a quarterback-driven league, and you can't have sustainable success (where have we heard that before?) without a good quarterback.

That said, it would an upset if the Jets go in that direction. They have too many other needs and they're not ready to abandon Smith after only one season. If they picked a quarterback, the Smith trade rumors would begin about 30 seconds after the selection. Could you imagine Rex Ryan's reaction if his general manager picks a player that probably wouldn't be able to help until 2015? He'd have to pull a Sir Laurence Olivier to convince the fans he's on board with that one.

A similar situation played out in 2006, when the Jets were looking to move on from Chad Pennington. With the fourth pick, they resisted the quarterback temptation, passing on Matt Leinart to take tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. They later looked into trading up for Leinart as he began to slide, but they wisely made no deal, walking out of the first round with Ferguson and center Nick Mangold.

In the end, this could all be a moot point because you know how teams react around draft time: When they're desperate for a quarterback, they panic and reach. If it turns out that Bortles, Bridgewater and Manziel are picked in the top 17, it would benefit the Jets, as it would push a "need" player or two down to them.
Say this for Muhammad Wilkerson: He's consistent when it comes to discussing his future with the New York Jets. He's sticking with the "Jet-for-life" stance, which probably sends shivers through the fan base because Darrelle Revis used to say the same thing -- and look what happened to him.

"I told (the front office) at the end of the year last year that I want to be a Jet -- a Jet for life,” Wilkerson told the New York Post on Thursday. “I’m from the area (Linden, N.J.), I’m a local guy, so I would love to be here and finish my career here.”

[+] EnlargeMuhammad Wilkerson
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsWith the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets have one of the better defensive lines in the NFL.
Back in October, Wilkerson gave the same response, almost verbatim, in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com. Like we said, he's consistent. Some might say he's hurting his leverage by professing his devotion to the Jets, but that's not the case at all. It's actually a smart approach from a public-relations standpoint because it shifts the focus to the Jets, who, in terms of public perception, bear the onus of making him a Jet for life.

So what are the chances of them locking up their best player to a long-term extension before the start of the season? Let's examine the situation:

Wilkerson is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, due to make $1.2 million. By May 3, the Jets are expected to exercise a fifth-year option that will set his 2015 salary somewhere in the $5 million to $6 million range. (For players drafted from 11th through 32nd in 2011, the fifth-year salary is the average of the 25 highest-paid players at the position, excluding the top three.)

In essence, the Jets are under no sense of urgency to renegotiate Wilkerson's deal because they will have him under contract for two more years. Actually, you might say three years because they can slap him with the franchise tag in 2016. Do the math, and it comes out to three years for about $19.8 million, based on the current franchise-tag amount for a defensive end. For the Jets, that's a heck of a bargain for one of the top, young defensive players in the league.

The only motivation for the Jets to re-work his contract this year is if he accepts a team-friendly deal. Wilkerson's only leverage is to stage a holdout, but he reiterated in his interview with the New York Post that he has no intention of going that route. (Unlike his Jet-for-life comment, his recent no-holdout statements have weakened his bargaining power.) He'd be taking a risk by playing for $1.2 million because the fifth-year option isn't fully guaranteed until the fifth day of the 2015 league year. It's partially guaranteed (for injury only) as soon as the team picks up the option. General manager John Idzik hasn't revealed his plans, but it's a no-brainer.

Even though Wilkerson is operating under a different set of rules (the current collective bargaining agreement went into effect in 2011), his situation is similar to the Revis drama of 2010. Entering his fourth season, Revis refused to play for $1 million, staging a long and nasty holdout.

Wilkerson reiterated that he won't pull a Revis.

“I’m not holding out," he told the Post. "My agent is talking with Idzik, and that’s all I can say. I have nothing to do with that. I’m just going to let him take care of that. That’s his job. I’m just here to play ball."

The Jets should do the right thing and take care of Wilkerson before his contract becomes an issue, taking advantage of their significant cap space, but it's a bottom-line business. Teams are rarely motivated to make their players happy unless they get something out of it as well.
The New York Jets, who have a history with Broadway (see Joe Namath), almost made it to Hollywood.

A year ago, the Jets mulled a key role in "Draft Day," which opens Friday across the country. The movie, starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner, uses real NFL team names in a fictional story about the Cleveland Browns, who make a blockbuster trade to acquire the No. 1 overall pick. In the original script, their trading partner was the Jets, who pass up the opportunity to draft a blue-chip quarterback.

But in the actual movie, the Jets are nowhere to be seen. Their role is played by the Seattle Seahawks. So what happened? Conflicting versions emerged.

The director, Ivan Reitman, told the Los Angeles Times the Jets backed out several days before last year's draft in New York City -- where much of the movie is filmed -- because they were concerned about their quarterback situation and a potential backlash from their fans.

“They were having something of a quarterback dispute, and the team said that this is just going to incite our fans a little more to criticize us, even though it’s all fictional,” Reitman told the newspaper, adding that he had to scramble to secure the Seahawks at the 11th hour.

At the time, the Jets were immersed in a quarterback mess. They went into the draft with five quarterbacks, including Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, and they added a sixth by drafting Geno Smith. The Times article suggests the Jets, who have a history of draft-day blunders, didn't want to be connected to another one, albeit fictional.

But there's another side to the story.

The Jets were open to participating in the movie, but they expressed hesitancy because the original script portrayed their fans in a negative light, according to a source familiar with the team-selection process. Everybody knows Jets fans aren't wallflowers at the draft, but the producers wanted to take it to the extreme. When they got back to the producers to discuss possible changes to the script, the Jets were told they were out of the picture, said the source, adding that the team's reluctance had nothing to do with its uncertain quarterback situation.

The Seahawks apparently had no problem allowing themselves to get fleeced by the Browns' general manager, played by Costner. Obviously, it didn't ruin the Seahawks' karma, as they went on to win the Super Bowl. As for the Jets, hey, that's show biz.
John Idzik and Rex RyanAP Photo/Bill KostrounWill Jets GM John Idzik draft the starting-caliber cornerback that Rex Ryan needs?
The biggest cliché you will read or hear over the next few weeks will be from NFL experts explaining that this will be a critical draft for (insert any team name).

Hello? They're all critical because they happen only once a year.

The second-biggest cliché will be from smart-alecks like me reminding you it's a cliché.

That said, I'll probably incur a penalty flag for writing this, but there are special cases -- see the New York Jets -- where there is simply no way to minimize the importance of a particular draft.

This is one of those years for the Jets. Because of their deliberate approach in free agency -- some might say cheap -- they have raised the stakes for the upcoming draft. May 8-10 will be the three biggest days of the year for a franchise in Stage 2 of its rebuilding project.

Despite having enough salary-cap room to pay an entire small-market baseball team, general manager John Idzik chose to save most of his money, counting on a bountiful draft to fill the many holes on the Jets' roster.

You might say he's putting most of his eggs in one basket, and it happens to be a complete dozen -- 12 draft picks. He'll have yolk on the face if he blows this draft, because he passed up a lot of potential upgrades in free agency.

Many fans are restless because they are not accustomed to this way of doing business. Under Idzik's predecessor, Mike Tannenbaum, the Jets owned the New York back pages in March, titillating the fan base with sexy trades and expensive signings.

Tannenbaum knew how to feed the beast, but there was a method to his madness. His research told him they were better off spending the money on proven commodities instead of stockpiling draft choices, figuring the bust rate of draft picks -- especially in the late rounds -- didn't validate the risk-reward.

In the past six drafts under Tannenbaum, 2007 to 2012, the Jets added 31 players -- an average of roughly five per year. If Idzik keeps his full allotment of choices, which includes four compensatory selections and a pick from the Darrelle Revis trade, he'll be up to 19 picks in two drafts.

Tannenbaum's plan damn near worked, as the Jets reached back-to-back AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010, but the talent base eventually eroded and he was fired. Now they have the anti-Tannenbaum in Idzik, building at a glacial pace through the draft.

"The football offseason is like an event, a circus act, and fans in general want to see something," a longtime personnel executive said this week. "With John, he takes the air out of the balloon. It's not exciting, but he does it his way. You have to respect that."

Idzik's way is similar to those of the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, three successful organizations that rely on the draft more than free agency. In Wisconsin, you're more likely to see a March thaw than a flurry of free-agent signings. The signing of Julius Peppers last month was a stunning departure from the norm, a rare walk on the wild side by GM Ted Thompson.

Their usual philosophy: Draft. Develop. Extend. In other words, use your money to re-invest in your homegrown talent.

"He's modeling those organizations," the former personnel executive said of Idzik.

Idzik has to yet to make a long-term commitment to an ascending player, although you could make the case that the Jets haven't had anyone worthy of a contract extension. That will change when defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson gets a new deal, this year or next. For now, the objective is to find more Wilkersons.

Their list of needs is long, perhaps too long, considering they began free agency with close to $40 million in cap room. They upgraded the No. 2 wide receiver spot by signing Eric Decker, and they fortified the quarterback position by adding Michael Vick. But where are the playmakers? If the Jets are counting on Decker to be a difference-maker, they misspent their guaranteed $15 million.

Defensively, the personnel is worse than it was at the end of the season, specifically at cornerback. The mistake wasn't cutting Antonio Cromartie and making no effort to re-sign him; after all, he played poorly last season. No, the mistake was failing to come up with a better replacement than the aging and injury-prone Dimitri Patterson.

Defense will drive the Jets as long as Rex Ryan is the coach, and his defensive system is driven by cornerbacks. Idzik knows that, but he obviously held back in free agency, knowing he has an XXL draft to attack the team's weaknesses.

The second-year GM and his revamped scouting department enjoyed a solid first draft, so there is hope, but the challenge is greater this year because the expectation level is higher. If you're going to be frugal in free agency, you had better own the draft.

The Jets need to come away with a starting-caliber cornerback, a potential No. 1 receiver and a pass-catching tight end. With six choices among the top 137, they have the bargaining chips to wheel and deal. Idzik has enough ammo to take control of the draft, cherry-picking the players he covets most. A Justin Gilbert-Allen Robinson-Jace Amaro troika would be a nice start.

This is a critical draft for the Jets. Sorry about the cliché, but it's the truth.
The draft still is four weeks away, but the most compelling storyline already is starting to come into focus for the New York Jets: wide receiver or cornerback?

For weeks -- no, months -- the first-round speculation centered on the receiver position. Now, after a few weeks of free agency, it can be argued the Jets have a bigger need at cornerback. When it's their turn to pick (18th overall), there should be a handful of similarly rated corners and receivers, which should make for interesting debate in the draft room.


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The Tennessee Titans made it official Friday, releasing former Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson. The New York Jets have interest, according to a league source. In fact, they were one of the teams that inquired about trading for Johnson, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Wade PayneChris Johnson will be looking to bounce back after playing through a knee injury for much of last season.
A few thoughts on whether this is a move they should pursue now that Johnson's a free agent:

1. Proceed with caution: If I were the Jets, I'd try to sign Johnson on three conditions: There are no concerns with his surgically repaired right knee; he's willing to accept a deal for fair market value; and he agrees to be a complementary back with Chris Ivory. If everything aligns, he's worth the risk. CJ2K is gone, but any back with six straight 1,000-yard seasons has to be a consideration.

2. The upside: The Jets have a solid stable of backs, but they don't have a home run threat. While Johnson's statistics show a steady decline in his breakaway ability (he had only five rushes of 20-plus yards last season, compared to 22 in 2009), he's still fast -- and defenses would have to respect that. Right now, they don't have a runner that can threaten the perimeter on a consistent basis. Johnson is a finesse runner -- he doesn't break many tackles in the hole -- but they can create space by running him out of spread formations. He's the anti-Ivory, which is why they'd make a good tandem. Johnson would have to be OK with a reduced role. He'll be 29 in September, and he needs to understand that fewer carries would make him more effective and lengthen his career.

3. Extenuating circumstances: Johnson hasn't come close to replicating his signature season -- 2,006 yards in 2009 -- fueling a variety of theories on why his production has slipped. His per-carry average last year (3.9) was a career low, but he revealed after the season that he played with a torn meniscus from Week 3. He underwent arthroscopic surgery in late January and began running only about two weeks ago. The knee injury would certainly explain his lack of explosiveness. Since signing a four-year, $53.5 million extension in 2011, his average has dropped to 4.12 per carry (28th in the NFL). Is he a victim of circumstances or has the tread on his tires worn thin? Probably a combination of both.

4. Money matters: Johnson was due to make $8 million this season from the Titans. This is a depressed running back market, and a team would be crazy to guarantee that much money. A total of 24 running backs have signed free-agent contracts since March 11, and the numbers are sobering. The biggest guarantee was only $4.5 million (Toby Gerhart) and the largest average-per-year was $3.5 million (Gerhart, Donald Brown). The Jets have some wiggle room at running back. In fact, their backs are counting only $5.7 million on the cap, 29 percent below the league average, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Johnson has to be realistic with his demands.

5. Final thoughts: Based simply on the data, you'd want to stay away from Johnson, a player on the decline. But sometimes you have to trust your gut, gambling that a once-great player can find some of that old magic. If Johnson is willing to put ego aside, and the docs give the knee a thumb's up, he's worth checking out.

Jets begin training April 21

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
5:45
PM ET
It starts April 21 for the New York Jets -- the offseason program, that is.

The NFL released the offseason dates for every team Thursday, from the first strength-and-conditioning session to the final minicamp. Based on the collective bargaining agreement, the offseason is divided into three phases. The first phase (two weeks) focuses on strength and conditioning -- no football activities. The second phase (three weeks) allows for limited on-the-field workouts. The third phase (four weeks) is organized team activities -- OTAs -- the closest thing to real football in the offseason. There's no contact, but it includes the routine drills, including offense versus defense.

The Jets' OTA dates: May 27, 29, 30; June 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12.

Mandatory minicamp: June 17-19.
Chris Johnson's days in Tennessee are numbered, according to his agent. And, yes, the New York Jets already have been linked to the former 2,000-yard rusher.

On Wednesday night, agent Joel Segal told SiriusXM Radio, "Had some communication with Titans management today. I think it’s a matter of time before Chris won’t be with the Titans, just don’t know when."

Johnson's declining production, combined with a $10 million cap charge, has made him expendable. The Titans are trying to trade him, but if they can't swing a deal, they're expected to release him before Monday. Why Monday? The Titans' off-season program starts Monday, and they don't want Johnson to show up, risking an injury that could put them on the hook for his salary.

Speculation already is building that the Jets will be a major player for Johnson. Of course, we heard that about DeSean Jackson, too, fueled by owner Woody Johnson, and nothing came of it. This situation is a bit different because Johnson doesn't have the character issues that raised red flags with Jackson. I believe the Jets will have some level of interest in Johnson, but -- and you can probably predict the next sentence -- it would have to be at the right price.

As you know, the Jets are in a cost-conscious mode, so I can't see them spending a ridiculous amount of money on a 28-year-old running back. On the other hand, they recognize there's a need at the position. Early in free agency, they flirted with Donald Brown and inquired about Maurice Jones-Drew, although that never got serious.

The Jets have a decent stable of backs, led by Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, but they're complementary backs. In Ivory's case, there are durability questions. They need a home-run hitter. Johnson, despite his shrinking numbers, offers that dimension. Mike Goodson was supposed to be that guy, but he's still facing weapons charges and the possibility of another suspension by the league for violating the personal-conduct policy.

So prepare for the CJ2K Watch, which should be commencing shortly.

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