If not for a much-improved defense under coordinator Donnie Henderson, the Jets would not have been a very good team, much less a playoff team. Defense was the name of the game in New York, with the speed-invigorated unit ranking fifth in the league against the rush.
An aggressive defensive scheme masked some liabilities in the defensive backfield, but for the most part, 2004 was a successful season for the upstart Jets.
The blame is placed solely on the inefficient overall offensive scheme of former offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. Despite having the league’s leading rusher in Curtis Martin, Hackett was predictable in his play-calling, and there was an obvious difference of opinion between head coach Herm Edwards and Hackett regarding the utilization of players within the scheme.
Despite adding wide receiver Justin McCareins in the offseason to team with Santana Moss, the Jets were not a vertical threat on game day. Opposing defenses did not respect the passing game of the Jets (Chad Pennington's shoulder injury was somewhat a factor in the equation), but the offense was not vertical prior to Pennington's injury. Relying on a dink-and-dunk passing game, Jets players did not buy into the philosophy and welcomed change in New York.
That change comes in the manner of former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger. Under Heimerdinger, the running game is expected to remain the focus of the offense, but the passing game will undergo a significant transformation. Heimerdinger uses a vertical version of the West Coast offense, which should be a welcome addition in the New York locker room. The change should result in a potentially strong offense and a scheme which should get Martin his carries with much less contact throughout the season.
The Jets' front office and coaching staff did a very good job in transforming a slow and aged Jets defense into a much quicker and athletic unit. Heading into the 2005 season, the Jets again will face some significant work if they are to build on their 2004 success. The team would like to retain unrestricted free agent nose tackle Jason Ferguson to keep the strong interior of the defensive line intact. Backup tackle Josh Evans is also a free agent, and depth is a concern for the Jets.
The secondary was an area of concern at times. The Jets lack a true cover cornerback and are aware of the physical limitations of Reggie Tongue and Jon McGraw at safety. Due to the strength along the defensive line and the speed of the linebackers, the limitations of the Jets' defensive backfield have been masked, but neither Tongue nor McGraw can be considered dependable starters. All signs point towards the team seeking a safety to line up alongside 2004 surprise Erik Coleman.
Running back Curtis Martin is coming off his best season in New York and the question remains how long can he play at that level. LaMont Jordan, Martin’s backup, is an unrestricted free agent and is expected to field substantial offers once he hits the open market. The Jets would like to retain Jordan, but are not in the position to offer him a starter-quality contract at this time.
Expect the Jets' offense to have a new look in 2005. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger loves to throw the ball downfield and attack the defense. Returning wide receivers Santana Moss and Justin McCareins should make plays in Heimerdinger's offense, and the team remains intrigued with the notion of adding a dynamic playmaker like Derrick Mason or Plaxico Burress to the mix. In a new twist, the Jets will spread the field in three- and four-receiver sets to attack the defense.
The offensive line could be an issue. Mainstay right tackle Kareem McKenzie is expected to depart via free agency, leaving a gaping hole on the right side of the line. There are numerous, reasonably priced veterans available through free agency (Victor Riley, Stockar McDougle, and Fred Miller). Also, the Jets may take a look to Adrian Jones or Jason Fabini to replace McKenzie.
SALARY CAP STATUS:
Approximately $8.5 million dollars under league-mandated 2005 salary cap.
Safety – Jon McGraw was slowed by injury throughout the 2004 season and may lack the ability to remain healthy. Veteran Reggie Tongue was exposed with regularity last season. Having lost a step, the Jets need an aggressive, athletic compliment to 2004 draftee Erik Coleman.
Tight end – With the potential departures of Anthony Becht and Chris Baker, the Jets are seeking an athletic tight end to fit into their new vertical West Coast scheme.
Quarterback – The return date of starting quarterback Chad Pennington from shoulder surgery is not known, and the Jets are expected to be cautious with him when he does come back. Backup Quincy Carter is an unrestricted free agent and is not expected to remain in New York. The Jets are expected to bring in a veteran quarterback.
Wide receiver – The Jets sport a nice starting duo in Santana Moss and Justin McCareins, but they lack a dynamic, consistent playmaker at the position. The team was in the hunt for Randy Moss and has spoken at length with the Washington Redskins regarding former Jets receiver Laveranues Coles.
Cornerback – Improving the quality and depth of this position will be a priority if the Jets release Ray Mickens. Coach Herm Edwards has always wanted a true cover cornerback, but, despite their solid salary-cap status, the Jets are not expected to be a major player in free agency for this caliber of player. Fielding a strong defensive unit remains a desire of Edwards, especially with the addition of the offensive-minded Heimerdinger to guide the offense.
FREE AGENCY / OFFSEASON:
KEY ACQUISITIONS: None.
KEY DEPARTURES: None.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: DE John Abraham.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: CB Terrell Buckley; DT Josh Evans; TE Anthony Becht; QB Quincy Carter; NT Jason Ferguson; P Toby Gowin; LB Jason Glenn; RB LaMont Jordan; RT Kareem McKenzie; LB Kenyatta Wright.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: TE Chris Baker; WR Jonathan Carter; OL Jonathan Goodwin; DT Alan Harper.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: RG Brandon Moore.