NFL Draft preview: Jets upgrade on offense
Updated On: Apr 28 2014 04:57:26 PM CDT
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets will field an NFL-quality offense this season, which means they will not only find out if Geno Smith is an NFL-quality starting quarterback, but also have alternatives if he's not.
General manager John Idzik deviated from his usual methodical, bargain-hunting nature in signing a trio of free agent big names during a month-long span.
The Jets signed wide receiver Eric Decker to a five-year deal on March 12, nine days before they agreed to terms with quarterback Michael Vick to a one-year contract. Idzik further bolstered the Jets' offense on April 16, when he signed former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson to a two-year deal.
All three players visited only with the Jets and signed during or shortly after their trips to the Jets' facility in Florham Park.
And while each player is accompanied by question marks -- Decker built his resume with Peyton Manning as his quarterback, Vick has not played a full season since 2006 and Johnson's performance has steadily decreased over the last few years -- they were arguably the best offensive players available in free agency.
Decker, Vick and Johnson also provide Idzik and the Jets short-term solutions as they try to build off last season's surprising 8-8 finish while also searching in the draft for the franchise's first homegrown All-Pro skill position player since Keyshawn Johnson, who was drafted No. 1 overall in 1996 and made the Pro Bowl in 1998 and 1999.
The instant upgrades offered by Decker and Vick will be particularly obvious at a pair of positions that were historically bad at times in 2013.
The Jets' leading receiver was slot receiver Jeremy Kerley, who missed four games and finished with 43 catches for 523 yards -- the fewest catches by a team leader since 1979 and the third-fewest yards by a team leader in franchise history, respectively. With Decker in the fold, the solid but unspectacular Kerley can slide back into the No. 2 spot for which he is better equipped.
"Having Eric, it brings another dimension as far as route-running and leadership," Smith said when the Jets began their offseason program on April 21. "Being over there in Denver and winning games and catching many touchdowns from Peyton Manning, it just brings a lot to our offense."
So will Vick, who will provide the competition Smith didn't face last season, when he made 16 starts mostly because the Jets did not have anyone else to whom they could turn. Smith was solid in directing the Jets to a 3-1 mark in their final four games, but immediately prior to that he endured a nightmarish 18-quarter stretch in which he threw eight interceptions and no touchdowns.
The Jets are hopeful Vick, who played for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg when the two were in Philadelphia, can serve as a veteran mentor and sounding board for Smith, who has made it clear he welcomes Vick but that he expects to win the job.
However, unlike incumbent backup Matt Simms and former No. 3 David Garrard -- the latter of whom never suited up for the Jets last season -- Vick is capable of either beating out Smith in training camp or becoming the starter should Smith stumble during the regular season.
"I think it will make our team better; I'm all for competition," Smith said. "I am going to compete no matter who (the Jets bring) in. I think we got a good guy in Mike, who brings something extra to the table as far as veteran leadership into our quarterback room."
Johnson will also bring something extra -- namely, proven consistency and durability -- to the one area of the Jets offense that wasn't an eyesore last season.
Running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell each showed flashes of brilliance while combining to average 4.3 yards per carry in a true timeshare (Ivory had 182 carries while Powell had 176 carries).
But Ivory received only 34 carries in the Jets' first six games as he recovered from a pair of hamstring injuries. Powell, meanwhile, racked up 226 of his 697 yards in the first three games, including 149 yards against Buffalo on Sept. 22.
Johnson is not the runner he was in 2009, when he rushed for 2,006 yards. But he has missed just one game as a pro -- he played most of last year despite a meniscus tear that required surgery following the season -- and gives head coach Rex Ryan the chance to employ the type of backfield he did in 2009 and 2010, when reliable veterans Thomas Jones and LaDainian Tomlinson were the lead rushers in the ground-and-pound attack.
"He understands that we feel great about him," Ryan said of Johnson. "I feel great about Chris Ivory and I feel great about Bilal Powell as well. That's what he knows. I know Chris Johnson is a guy that's very confident in his abilities. I think he likes the makeup of this football team and I think he's excited to be a Jet. And I know one thing: We're excited to have him here."
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