The New York Jets made a smart business move last week, releasing Antonio Cromartie and more importantly his 8 million dollar cap charge from the roster. There was some initial talk about resigning him later, but Bowles did not exactly sound like someone who was interested in giving him another chance in his press conference explaining the move. So now that the New York Jets are replacing one half of their starting corner back tandem, let’s take a look at what players remain, and what moves need to be made before September to improve a unit that struggled down the stretch.
Core players: Darrell Revis, Calvin Pryor, Marcus Gilchrist, Marcus Williams, and Buster Skrine.
Overall, this unit improved considerably in 2015. 13th in the league for total pass yards allowed and number 1 in completion percentage, with opposing QB’s only completing 57.1% of their passes against the NY Jets. They were also fifth in the league in INT’s, which was a gigantic improvement from the 2014 group that had a measly six.
Any review of the secondary of course has to start with Revis. Sure, critics will argue that Revis is no longer the elite receiver eliminator he was when he earned the nickname “Revis Island”, but he is still a top 10 corner in a league that requires above average play from the secondary if you want to be successful. Keep in mind that the only times last season where it felt like Darrell wasn’t winning his matchup came against two of the up and coming elite receivers in the game in DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. So as long as he isn’t lining up against a wide receiver from Clemson, he should be fine. One prediction for next season is to expect Revis in a lot less of his traditional man-to-man island defense that he is so well known for. Bowles knows he has to protect his aging corner over the top, so do not be surprised if you see an increased amount of safety help behind 24.
The safety tandem of Pryor and Gilchrist was solid overall, with Pryor even bordering on spectacular at several times last season. There was a noticeable difference on defense during the middle of the season, while Calvin was out with an ankle injury. If he can continue to grow in his role as the QB/enforcer of the defense, the Jets will have many of receiver’s short-arming catchable balls across the middle next season, because of the respect for the Louisville Slugger. Gilchrist on the other hand had a relatively quiet season. Sometimes that can be a good thing for a player in the secondary, because generally it means they are not blowing assignments and giving up long TD’s all season.
Finally, we are left with the two biggest question marks and arguably the two most important players in next year’s passing defense; Marcus Williams and Buster Skrine. Both are going to be fighting all summer to replace Cromartie at the number 2 spot, with Marcus having a slight advantage because of his play last season and Skrine being a better fit at the nickel position. Williams is still a giant question mark though. Sure, he had six interceptions in a reserve role, impressive no matter how you judge interception numbers; but he also looked like he had no idea how to tackle in two different games when thrown into a starting role. Skrine is also an interesting case to look at. Personally, I thought he had a decent season, but he was not highly regarded by places like Pro Football Focus, or other knowledgeable writers who cover the NFL like Bill Barnwell formerly of Grantland. I did notice him struggling at times, but he also had some solid games and showed ability as a blitzing corner, a play I did not think the defense employed enough. It will be very interesting to see if Bowles runs more zones this year in order to compensate for some of these unknown commodities in the secondary.
Odd Men Out: Dexter McDougal or Dee Milliner
I may be in the minority on this one when it comes to Jets fans, but I still have hope for Dee! I know he has to actually stay on the field in order to get an opportunity, but I genuinely think he is talented enough to start opposite of Revis and be a solid number 2 corner. This season will only be his third in the league, and I am not ready to call the former first round pick a complete bust just yet. I will not be reckless and predict that he snags the number 2 job during OTA’s and training camp, but I think he will contribute to this team next season. McDougal will battle with Milliner for a spot in the secondary; but I will be surprised if McDougal wins the spot on the roster for the New York Jets if Milliner stays healthy.
The Jets are not in need of a total overhaul of the back end of the defense like they were this time last year. I expect a couple of minor moves in free agency like bringing in a veteran to compete at the 2 spot and adding a couple of rotation players to add depth. I would be very surprised with all of their needs if they spend a draft pick on a corner, especially in rounds 1-3; but no one expected the Jets to take Leonard Williams last year at the six spot, so if a top corner falls, they might be forced to take a chance on him.
New York Jets OUTLOOK
Another year of playing mostly all of the same guys with each other will help build continuity and chemistry that elite units need to succeed. A few complementary pieces added via free agency and either Marcus Williams or Buster Skrine thriving in their new number two corner spot, will be all the Jets need to make this a top ten unit next season. A couple of surprise contributions from guys like Milliner and Gilchrist and who knows, we might be looking at the best unit in the league next season! Okay, so maybe that part is a little too optimistic, but a guy can dream can’t he?