I know, they have missed four straight postseasons (going 26-38 during that time), run the franchise beyond poorly for years and have a rookie HC in Todd Bowles. But it seems obvious [to me, at least] no team has improved more in 2015 than the New York Football Jets. The real question, however, is whether Gang Green has improved enough to contend for a playoff spot. Given their defense, running game and conference affiliation, my answer is a resounding yes.
Now, there’s a long way to go – the league year just started less than a week ago, and the upcoming NFL Draft looms large – but new GM Mike Maccagnan has seemingly rebuilt this roster in one sensational week. He was able to re-sign his two key free agents, G Willie Colon and LB David Harris, and make the following moves:
New York kicked things off by trading for Brandon Marshall, giving up merely a fifth-round pick in exchange for his services plus a seventh-rounder. Despite coming off an injury-riddled 2014 campaign, the five-time Pro Bowler has eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in seven of his nine seasons (2007-2013). Marshall’s presence gives NYJ a true No.1 receiver at the “X” position, taking pressure off Eric Decker, who fits better at “Z” as a secondary option. Hard to believe Marshall was available given his age (turning only 31 this month) and reasonable contract (three years/$23.7 million remaining with no guaranteed money after 2015). As expected, New York also released Percy Harvin, who was expendable given his salary ($10.5 million cap hit in 2015), locker room history and the recent trade. Additionally, by cutting Harvin, the compensation going back to Seattle becomes a sixth-round selection rather than a fourth.
Where the Jets really made a splash, however, was in the secondary. Woody Johnson’s “tampering” evidently paid off as the club inked Darrelle Revis to a five-year, $70 million contract on Tuesday. In addition to addressing the team’s primary need the deal, which includes $39 million guaranteed, comes with the added bonus of weakening hated division-rival New England. But that wasn’t all; New York added three more pieces to the puzzle in corners Antonio Cromartie (four years, $32 million) and Buster Skrine (four years, $25 million) as well as safety Marcus Gilchrist (four-year deal). Revis (six) and Cromartie (four) have 10 Pro Bowl selections between them, forming arguably the league’s best cornerback tandem. Gilchrist figures to start at safety alongside Calvin Pryor, last year’s first-round pick, while speed merchant Buster Skrine assumes the role of nickel CB. Despite finishing sixth in total defense at 327.2 YPG a season ago, the Jets were dead last in interceptions (6) while surrendering 31 passing touchdowns (30th in NFL). It will be a whole different story in the back end with this revamped secondary, now one of the best in the game.
Lastly, New York traded a seventh-round pick to the Texans for Ryan Fitzpatrick. While the journeyman QB has won just 33 of his 89 career starts, he posted a 17:8 TD:INT ratio and 8.0 YPA (both career bests) for Houston last year, taking them to the brink of a playoff berth. It would be shocking if the Jets didn’t draft a quarterback at No.6, but at the very least Fitzpatrick provides depth or a capable bridge to the future if the rookie (say, Marcus Mariota) isn’t ready to start from day one. Whoever plays quarterback merely needs to be serviceable with this defense, which now has an elite secondary to go with a front seven rated fifth in both rushing YPG (93.1) and YPC (3.8) allowed in 2014. Whether it’s Fitzpatrick, Mariota, or Geno Smith at the helm, this team is good enough to be playing in January… possibly even make some noise once they get there.