After a 10-6 season, the New York Jets have a whole host of issues to deal with in the off-season. This article will focus on the running back position, where three players currently on the roster (Chris Ivory, Stevan Ridley, and Bilal Powell) are set to become free agents.
Of these three, Powell is the most important to resign. He is the most versatile, able to run in between the tackles, catch the ball out of the backfield, and be an asset in pass protection. He excelled in running the football in Chan Gailey’s shotgun rushing attack, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and managed his most prolific season as a receiver, catching 47 passes for 388 yards and three total touchdowns. When healthy, Powell can be a weapon all over the field in Gailey’s offense.
Despite coming off his most productive season in the NFL, the Jets should let Chris Ivory walk. Yes, he managed over 1000 yards this season, but he also carried the ball 49 more times than he had ever done before in his career. Add in Ivory’s punishing running style, and it is unlikely that he will be able to keep up this level of production. 1000 yard rushers are also afforded a premium in the NFL that makes their contracts more expensive, making it unwise to pursue bringing Ivory back to the Jets.
Stevan Ridley is the most intriguing Jets back. He looked slow early in the season coming back from his torn ACL, but began to hit his stride towards the end of the year, averaging 5.1 yards per carry in the Jets’ Week 16 victory over the Patriots. He was also on a team friendly deal that paid him only $1.1 million. If Ridley is willing to take similar money on a short term “prove it” deal, the Jets should look to bring him back. Anything more than that, and they should let him walk.
However, Ridley absolutely cannot be the feature back in this offense. The Jets should also look to add a running back via free agency or the draft with the goal of having them split 1st and 2nd down carries with Ridley and then going with Powell on passing downs.
Matt Forte and Alfred Morris are two seasoned backs who the NY Jets should sign for the right price. The same could be said about Tim Hightower and Fred Jackson. All four of these backs are set to become free agents. If the price is too steep, the Jets could also take a flier on Bernard Pierce or Jacquizz Rodgers. Neither of these backs had much of an impact last season but they have produced in the past.
The Jets could also look to the draft for a running back, using a middle round pick to fill their need. It is entirely possible that someone like Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliot, Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, or Utah’s Devontae Booker will be around when the Jets pick on Day 2 of the NFL draft.
Whichever direction the Jets end up pursuing, they will look to fill out a running back committee in their backfield. This will continue to be a Jets offense that needs to lean heavily on the running game and thus will need a talented stable of backs to get the job done. Ideally, they could resign Powell, get Ridley to agree to a one-year deal for the league minimum, and then sign Forte for cheap. If that does not work out, the good news is that they have options.