Earlier this week I wrote about the Carolina Panthers, and their level of screwed-ness without any wide receiver who has a name you’ve heard at least once in your life. The signing of Jerricho Cotchery — he of the ultra flukey 10-touchdown season after scoring just seven times over the previous four years — at least solved that problem of facial recognition.
The New York Jets are the defensive answer to the Panthers, but their free agency sickness is much more confusing, and not brimming with nearly as many legitimate excuses. They have money, they have a defensive-minded coach, and they have a clear need. Yet they still don’t have a cornerback, and now Antonio Cromartie has left for the Arizona Cardinals. Gulp? Gulp.
That’s a slight exaggeration. The Jets employ cornerbacks, and they have a promising one in Dee Milliner who was a first-round pick last spring. Though he had a sluggish debut and wasn’t deemed worthy of starting consistently until Week 7, Milliner grew up quickly as the season came to a close, intercepting three passes over the last two weeks and recording 10 passes defensed.
But a young, sophomore player who will continue to be inconsistent needs the support of a veteran. Acquiring both that and an upgrade across from Milliner was presumably the plan when Cromartie was initially released, and it should have been atop John Idzik’s wishlist right after wide receiver.
Eric Decker solved the latter problem, though he’ll only be a quality purchase if Geno Smith stops being horrible. Then due to either stubbornness, incompetence, overly deliberate old man movements, or a combination of all three, Idzik still hasn’t signed a cornerback, even though we’re now into the second week of free agency.
Nothing about this makes sense, but it gets so much worse when we remember how much cap room Idzik has to work with even after the Decker signing. That’s when your mind initiates melting, especially when he drops zingers like this…
Idzik doesn’t think they missed out on opportunities at the start of free agency #nyj
— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) March 20, 2014
Idzik: “So far… we feel like we’ve been productive.” #nyj
— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) March 20, 2014
After cutting Cromartie and Santonio Holmes, Idzik began free agency with over $40 million in available funds. Now that number sits at an estimated $27.9 million, which gives him the third-largest money mountain in the league. The Jets are one of only five teams with $25 million or more to spend, yet they’re still in position to use a high draft pick on another cornerback even after spending two first-round picks on the position over the past four years: Milliner and Kyle Wilson.
Wilson has busted, and hard. We know this because any time a first-round cornerback isn’t starting during his fourth season, that’s a bad thing. Late this past season Wilson was often getting only 20-ish defensive snaps per game, sometimes even dipping below that. For example, during a Week 15 game against Carolina when the Jets were still clinging to a shred of playoff hope, Wilson saw only 19 snaps to the 58 for both Milliner and Cromartie.
That’s how little head coach Rex Ryan trusted Wilson as he regressed strictly to a nickelback role. Yet as it stands right now he’ll be a starter, and beyond him is Darrin Walls, who played only 292 snaps in 2013, and discarded Patriots garbage Ras-I Dowling is also currently on the roster with a futures contract.
The reality of the Jets’ now barren cornerback depth chart speaks to a clash of philosophies and football world views. Idzik operates deliberately to only retain or acquire players who fit his franchise model, though it’s unclear exactly what that might be, and how he’ll get there. Despite the money he can chuck at anyone, he’s now missed out on Dominique Rodgers-Cromatie, he had only a brief flirtation with a Darrelle Revis return, and now Cromartie has gone elsewhere instead of returning. Meanwhile, Ryan was given false security by his contract extension, one that allows the Jets to fire him at little cost after the 2015 season.
He needs to win, and win now. To do that Ryan needs high quality cornerbacks for his defense, one that’s rooted in quarterback pressure and strong man-to-man coverage, and one that gave up an average of only 246.7 passing yards despite Cromartie gimping through the season with a hip problem (he gave up 937 yards and seven touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus). So what exactly is left on the open market? Sadness.
Go look at the top 40 cornerback free agents listed by Rotoworld. Only 17 remain, and now they’re led by creaky castoff veterans like Champ Bailey, Carlos Rogers, and Asante Samuel. Idzik may be forced into signing one of them to a low veteran one-year deal and hoping that safety net doesn’t tear immediately. For reasons only he knows, Tarell Brown at $3.5 million for one year didn’t suit Idzik’s tastes, and neither did Walter Thurmond III or Captain Munnerlyn at the same cost.
If lower financial risk is his game, then there were options for Idzik. Instead now he’s been reduced to hope, and when that happens you’ve failed.