BGA: The Expendables – Free Agent Special

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Every year, teams have to let some players go. Even though the Jets brought back Sione Po’uha, Bryan Thomas and Nick Folk, they chose not to bring everyone back. Since preseason, I’ve been keeping track of the progress on the guys who left so we could at least start to form some views on whether letting any of these guys loose was a mistake or a smart move. If you missed any of these updates, go here, here, here and here.

By popular request, I’m now going to turn my attention to some of the players that the Jets could have had. Rather than being former Jets that were considered surplus to requirements, these are guys that the Jets could have signed or drafted during the offseason, but chose to go in another direction.

Click here if you missed the details from the 2012 season for each of the potential Jets draft picks contributing elsewhere. This week, we are focusing on players who were targeted in free agency but not signed.

Dwight Lowery, FS, Jacksonville

As an ex-Jet, Lowery makes his return to the expendables after the Jets targeted him in the offseason, but he accepted a more lucrative offer (4yr, $13.6m) to remain with the Jags. Since moving to Jacksonville in 2011, Lowery has been playing exclusively as a deep safety, a role the Jets only really used him in following Jim Leonhard’s injury in 2010. He played pretty well in 2012, but struggled to stay healthy, missing seven games. He wasn’t matched up in direct coverage very often, but when he was he gave up just eight catches for 63 yards and did a good job as the last line of defense with only four missed tackles to go along with 33 tackles, three passes defensed and an interception.

Jarrett Bush, DB, Green Bay

The Jets were rumored to be looking at Bush as a potential conversion project. He’s mostly played as a slot cornerback, but the Jets might have been interested in turning him into a free safety, where he had filled in sporadically in the past. In the end, he signed a 3yr, $5.25m deal to stay with the Packers. Bush started the first game at cornerback, but was beaten for five catches, 67 yards and a touchdown, as well as getting called for a penalty. The rest of the way, he only played more than five snaps in a game once, giving up a short TD and a 30-yard gain on the only other times he was targeted.

Brandon Meriweather, FS, Redskins

The Jets showed some interest in Meriweather early on in the free agent process, before Meriweather settled on a 2yr, $6m deal with Washington. After injuring his knee prior to the season opener, he was set to make his debut in week four, only to collide with a teammate in pre-game warmups and miss a couple more months. When he finally made his debut, it would be his only appearance of the year, as he tore his ACL. Up to that point, he had been playing really well, with an interception, a pass breakup and some good tackling limiting the three catches he gave up to just 13 yards.

Drew Coleman, CB, Detroit

The Jets were thought to be interested in bringing back Coleman to compete for time in the slot corner role, but he ended up signing a minimum salary contract to join the Lions. Coleman suffered a season-ending injury in preseason and is now a free agent again.

Drew Stanton, QB, Indianapolis

Stanton was a free agent who the Jets targeted and did actually sign, but then chose to trade him away for a late round pick following the Tim Tebow trade (and wasting his $500K signing bonus in the process). He did not play in 2012.

Benjarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Cincinnati

The Jets reportedly considered signing Green-Ellis in the free agency period, but he ended up signing a 3yr, $9m pact with the Bengals. Green-Ellis ran for just under 1,100 yards at just under four yards per carry and scored six times. He also caught 24 passes, but for less than 100 yards, and gave up two sacks in pass protection. Inevitably, having never fumbled for the Patriots, Green-Ellis would fumble three times within his first month or so as a Bengal, losing two.

Jarret Johnson, OLB, San Diego

The Jets were linked with Johnson early in the free agent process, before bringing back Bryan Thomas for the veteran’s minimum instead. Johnson signed a backloaded 4yr, $19m deal with the Chargers. Johnson started 14 games, missed one and played 34 snaps in the other. Overall, his season was a bit of a disappointment. Never much of a pass rusher, he managed 1.5 sacks and three QB hits. In the running game, where he was expected to make more of an impact, he had just 27 solo tackles despite playing over 500 snaps. He also had some struggles in coverage, giving up 11 catches on 13 targets.

Reggie Nelson, FS, Cincinatti

Nelson visited the Jets and was weighing up an offer for a while before settling on a 4yr, $18m deal with the Bengals. Was he worth it? Perhaps. He started 14 games, playing 100% of the snaps five times and racked up 84 tackles, three interceptions and four passes defensed. When targeted in coverage, Nelson held oppposing quarterbacks to a QB rating of less than 60. He did miss nine tackles though.

Jerricho Cotchery, WR, Pittsburgh

Before deciding to re-sign with the Steelers, Cotchery was another former Jets linked with a possible return to Florham Park. He ended up signing a 2yr, $3m deal and caught 17 passes for 205 yards. He only played more than 15 snaps five times and didn’t manage to record any 25-yard plays. He only dropped two passes and had a 65% catch rate though.

Jameel McClain, ILB, Baltimore

The Jets considered adding McClain to their linebacking corps. He plays a similar role to that of Bart Scott in the Ravens defense and the Ravens ultimately re-signed him to a 3yr, $10.5m deal. McClain’s season ended prematurely when he suffered a horrific-sounding spinal cord contusion in week 14. Prior to that, he had been the starter alongside Ray Lewis on the inside (other than when Lewis was injured), but the defense has actually been better since Dannell Ellerbe took over that role and has made it to the Super Bowl without McClain. While he was in, McClain did record 75 tackles in 753 snaps, but graded out poorly in the running game overall. He also missed seven tackles, gave up 28 catches for 367 yards in coverage and failed to record a sack.

Donnie Avery, WR, Indianapolis

The Jets brought Donnie Avery in for a visit back in March, but he eventually went on to sign a one-year, $615K deal with the Colts. Avery thrived with Andrew Luck throwing him the ball and caught 60 passes for 781 yards and three touchdowns. That included four games where he had a 40-yard catch. The reception and yardage totals were career highs. Avery is now a free agent, but will have significantly increased his asking price.

OJ Atogwe, S, Philadelphia

Although the Jets were rumored to have had interest in the former Redskin, he signed with the Eagles late on in the free agent process and did not make their team. He is currently out of the league.

Chad Henne, QB, Jacksonville

Henne signed a 2yr, $6.75m deal to be the Jags’ backup, an amount considered too rich for the Jets, who had expressed an early interest. When Blaine Gabbert was injured, Henne made some initial noise with a 354 yard, four touchdown performance against the highly-rated Houston Texans. However, he completed less than 50% of his passes in that game and the Jags blew a big lead. Overall, Henne completed less than 54% of his passes and had a QB rating of just 72.2.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about whether the guys highlighted above would have represented an upgrade or a waste of money. If any of these guys did well is that a good sign (because it shows they were targeting a good player) or a bad sign (because they failed to close the deal on that guy)? Conversely, if they were targeting a guy who struggled, what should we read into that? Discuss in the comments…