The NFL is light-years ahead of the other major professional sports leagues in terms of its parity. Football is nothing like the NBA, for example, where only 5-10 teams can consider themselves realistic contenders to win a championship. With that being said, however, every NFL offseason, general managers need to ask themselves a question: Are they a Super Bowl contender and a few pieces away from winning? If so, they should take advantage of the offseason to add key players, usually veterans, who can be plugged in and improve their team immediately.
Conversely, if teams consider themselves to not be in the midst of a title window, they need to become sellers. They should look to move on from expensive established players in favor of cheaper, younger options, who may not be able to make them winner right away but who have the potential to develop in the future.
This fork in the road is where the New York Jets currently find themselves, and their situation is tricky. On the one hand, it is easy to look at them as being a few pieces away from being a Super Bowl contender. They compiled a 10-6 record and barely missed a playoff spot, with the consensus that they could have done some damage in the postseason had they gotten it. They have one of the top wide receiving tandems in the league who still have at least a few years in their prime. They owned a top five defense that was second best in the NFL against the run.
On the other hand, the Jets could be prime for a rebuild. Two of their most important cornerstones on offense, center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’brickashaw Ferguson, are aging rapidly. Darrelle Revis is likewise in the tail end of his prime. Most of all, the Jets still have a question mark at quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick is still a free agent, and will likely command a deal with an average of 7 to 12 million per year. How the Jets decide to view themselves will define their attack plan this offseason, including how they handle Fitzpatrick.
Should the Jets decide that they are in fact title contenders, their number one priority should be finding a quarterback? This most likely means signing Fitzpatrick to a short term deal (barring a very outside possibility that Brock Osweiler falls into their lap) and attempting to restructure the contract of Ferguson to save money. They would then also need to look for a replacement for right tackle Breno Giacomini, either through the draft or a low cost free agency, bring back RB Bilal Powell and search for another running back duo to replace Chris Ivory and Stephen Ridley. Finally, they would have to look for a linebacker in the draft to replace the slowfooted combo of David Harris and Demario Davis (who most likely will be replaced by Erin Henderson).
If, however, the Jets decide that they are more than an offseason away from being a contender, their first move would be to move on from both of their tackles in favor of younger options. They would also shop the newly franchise tagged Mo Wilkerson for a collection of picks (likely a 2nd and a later round pick) and draft a quarterback to develop alongside Bryce Petty and eventually compete for the starting job. The Jets would then try to develop their young players in time for a run while Decker and Marshall remain under contract and in their prime.
I believe that the Jets have the tools on their roster to be a legitimate playoff contender if they are smart. Tagging Wilkerson gives them one more year with the best defensive line unit in the league, regardless of whether or not they resign NT Damon Harrison. They should make bringing Fitzpatrick back a top priority, and look to reload their running back and line backing corps with preferably younger, quicker players. GM Mike Maccagnan will have his work cut out for him due to a tight cap situation, but some smart maneuvering will allow the Jets to become a major player in the AFC next season.
Note: ACCORDING TO ADAM SCHEFTER OF ESPN: “It is no sure Thing, that Ryan Fitzpatrick returns to the Jets, it’s the same Scenario as Broncos QB Brock Osweiler, a deal is on the table, but if everything was a straight guarantee, they both would have signed already, they are going to negotiate with other teams, but the teams looking to bringing them back, better look for a Plan B just in case”.