With NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lingering lockout, we are taking a tour around the league and looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we offer our take on where the Jets stand.
Top three story lines
1. Which receivers will be back at the New Meadowlands? Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Brad Smith are all set to be free agents. Under 2010 rules, Holmes and Smith will be restricted. The Jets drafted two slot receivers who could replace Smith, but there are a lot of free agents to re-sign and they might not have room for Holmes and Edwards. Holmes is the higher priority for the team, but having both weapons for Mark Sanchez would boost last year's 22nd-ranked passing offense. With other free agents, such as Antonio Cromartie, Brodney Pool and Drew Coleman from the secondary, someone is going to get left out, and it's likely to be one of last year's top receivers.
2. The defense gets younger, but is without a pass-rush specialist. The Jets cut NT Kris Jenkins, OLB Jason Taylor and DE Vernon Gholston in February and might not re-sign Shaun Ellis or Trevor Pryce. Rookie Muhammad Wilkerson could be starting Day One at the five-technique. GM Mike Tannenbaum is excited about some of the young D-linemen that didn't play much last season and who could get thrown into the fold in 2011. Without Taylor, the team does not have a player who can consistently get after the quarterback. OLBs Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace will be counted on to get the job done.
3. Is it time for Shonn Greene to be the team's No. 1 back? LaDainian Tomlinson is ready to be the third-down back and isn't expected to have the type of season he had in 2010. Greene has yet to eclipse 200 carries in his career, and part of that is because of the team's RB-by-committee philosophy. It's possible that Joe McKnight sees more action, and maybe rookie Bilal Powell, but ideally, Greene would take the reins of the running game, the way the Jets expected when drafting him in 2009.
2011 free-agency — whenever that happens
Unsigned players: OLB Cody Brown (2), QB Kellen Clemens (5), CB Drew Coleman (5), OLB Shawn Crable (3), CB Antonio Cromartie (5), WR Braylon Edwards (6), DE Shaun Ellis (11), OL Robby Felix (1), PK Nick Folk (4), CB Ben Hannula (1), WR Santonio Holmes (5), OT Wayne Hunter (6), S James Ihedigbo (4), DT Matt Kroul (1), OL Dennis Landolt (1), LB Lance Laury (5), WR Logan Payne (2), S Brodney Pool (6), DE Trevor Pryce (14), RB Tony Richardson (16), LB Brashton Satele (1), WR Brad Smith (5), S Eric Smith (5), DT Martin Tevaseu (1), OL Robert Turner (3), P Steve Weatherford (5). [Editor's note: The number after a players' name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules as used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.]
Analysis: The Jets have plenty of work to do in free agency with a plethora of veteran starters facing the option of testing the market. The top priority is likely Cromartie, but if the 2010 rules are in place he can play ’11 on a first- and third-round tender. Then the receivers come into play, where the Jets would like to keep everyone but could end up with only Holmes, especially after drafting potential replacements for Brad Smith. Pryce is not expected to be back, especially with the team's depth and youth on the D-line. Ellis could stay in New York but it'd have to be for a pay cut. In the secondary, Coleman could be the team's nickel if he sticks around and Pool is the starting safety. Hunter might be expendable, as Vladimir Ducasse is set to be the team's starting right tackle. The team also needs to take a close look at special teams if it doesn't plan on re-signing Folk and Weatherford, although Folk received a tender.
2011 rookie class
First-round DE Muhammad Wilkerson (No. 30 overall) — The team's five-technique of the future, Wilkerson is supposed to be Rex Ryan's next Trevor Pryce. Assuming Shaun Ellis departs, Wilkerson, who should improve the D-line's pass rush, could start Day One.
Third-round NT Kenrick Ellis (No. 94 overall) — Ellis graded higher than where he was drafted but has character concerns with an upcoming criminal trial for felony assault charges. He is what the team is looking for to back up Sione Pouha with Kris Jenkins gone.
Fourth-round RB Bilal Powell (No. 126 overall) — This was a surprising pick to most observers, but the Jets want to have many backs. Powell could compete with Joe McKnight to be the team's No. 3 back and is insurance for when LaDainian Tomlinson retires.
Fifth-round WR Jeremy Kerley (No. 153 overall) — A quicker-than-fast slot receiver, Kerley could contribute immediately as Brad Smith's replacement.
Seventh-round QB Greg McElroy (No. 208 overall) — The smartest quarterback in the draft, McElroy could be Mark Sanchez's backup for years.
Seventh-round WR Scotty McKnight (No. 227 overall) — McKnight, Mark Sanchez's childhood friend, will fight to make the team as a reserve slot receiver.
Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Jets be by the work stoppage?
On scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted), the Jets rate a 5. The coaching staff returns intact as does the all-important QB position, but there are a host of question marks with all of the team's free agents. Most of the top guys are expected to return, but without knowing what rules the NFL will work under or when free agency will begin, the Jets have to deal with plenty of uncertainty at wide receiver, defensive back and on special teams. If most of the starters return, though, this is a team that can challenge for the Super Bowl.
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