Commentary

Next challenge: Keeping Gang together

After second straight AFC title game defeat, Jets could look very different next year

Updated: January 24, 2011, 2:55 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

PITTSBURGH -- Now what?

The New York Jets loaded up for a title run in 2010 and once again came one win shy of the Super Bowl after losing Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, creating big questions as they start planning for 2011. They took a short-term approach last offseason, acquiring players in the final year of their contracts -- and now they have to deal with the fallout.

Unlike last offseason, when they were severely restricted by free-agency rules and relied on trades to improve the roster, the Jets will be heavily involved in free agency. Mostly, they will be trying to keep their own due to an inordinate number of potential unrestricted free agents.

[+] EnlargeBraylon Edwards
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaBraylon Edwards had a good season for the Jets, but he might not be back in green in 2011.

They made pre-emptive strikes by locking up Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson in 2010, but the remaining A-list is daunting -- David Harris, Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. It will be virtually impossible to keep them all.

Other key free agents will be Brodney Pool, Shaun Ellis, Tony Richardson, Drew Coleman, Eric Smith, James Ihedigbo, Nick Folk, Steve Weatherford and Kellen Clemens.

Obviously, the landscape could change, depending on the outcome of the league's labor negotiations. This free-agent list is based on four years' experience, the requirement under the current collective bargaining agreement.

It looms as an expensive offseason with tough decisions, and that doesn't include the non-financial decisions -- more specifically, Mark Sanchez's throwing shoulder and whether he will need some form of surgery to repair cartilage damage.

The most pressing personnel issues:

The WR situation: The Jets have said they're interested in retaining both, but league insiders say the Jets have prioritized Holmes over Edwards. This isn't a cut-and-dried decision. Holmes is faster than Edwards, but Edwards was their most consistent receiver and came on strong late in the year.

Both have off-the-field issues; in fact, Edwards has a drunken-driving charge hanging over his head. The Jets are likely to insist on provisions in any new contract that protect them if either player messes up again. The cost of re-signing both might be prohibitive.

"I could end my career here, but I'm not going to play here for a pittance just because I like it here," Edwards said recently. "At the end of the day, it's still a business, but I do truly love it here."

[+] EnlargeLaDainian Tomlinson
Michael Hickey/US PresswireLaDainian Tomlinson slowed down as the season progressed -- how much he has left in the tank is open to debate.

The multipurpose Brad Smith is an organization favorite, but he will be hard to keep because he could be looking for Josh Cribbs money (more than $6 million per year), a hefty price for a non-starter.

The LT question: Can they squeeze another productive season out of LaDainian Tomlinson? He has one year, $2.4 million remaining on his contract, but he's turning 32 and faded over the second half of the season. He perked up in the playoffs, complicating the decision. Rex Ryan said last week that he'd like to have a one-two-three punch with Tomlinson, Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight.

Tomlinson brings a great attitude to the locker room and probably could be effective in a No. 2 role, as a third-down back. The organization will have to determine if keeping him will stunt McKnight's development.

Getting younger on D: Five of the front-seven starters are over 30. That doesn't include pass-rusher Jason Taylor, 36, who may retire, and injured nose tackle Kris Jenkins, 31, who has missed 25 of the past 32 games. Jenkins, due to make $5.5 million, will have to take a significant pay cut to stick around.

Ellis, who will be 34 in June, could fall victim to a youth movement after a season in which his production dropped. He could return in a backup role, but he can forget about big money. Former No. 1 pick Vernon Gholston has run out of chances and it looks like he won't see the end of his contract.

The defensive front needs an infusion of youth and speed, especially on the edge. The lack of a speed rusher really hurt the overall pass defense.

The Jets can't afford to lose Harris, who, despite a slip in regular-season production, would be a hot commodity on the open market. Harris, the only member of the Core Four still looking for a new deal, is seeking at least $10 million per year.

Cornering the market: Everybody knows how much Ryan values cornerbacks. Right now, only one of his top three is under contract -- Revis. Cromartie and Coleman could hit the market, which wouldn't be a terrible thing if Kyle Wilson had shown more as a rookie. But he was a disappointment, increasing the need to keep Cromartie.

Oakland Raiders star Nnamdi Asomugha is slated to become a free agent, fueling speculation of a Revis-Asomugha dream tandem. It's fun to think about, but it would be an enormous financial commitment to only one position.

Another Revis deal: Yes, that's right, the two sides could be headed back to the bargaining table. The four-year, $46 million contract he signed in September, after a long holdout, was a compromise because they couldn't agree to a longer deal. They might give it another try, especially with Revis due $25 million in 2011 -- money the Jets would like to spread out over a long-term deal. After a slow start due to a hamstring injury, Revis was back to being Revis by the postseason.

Line tweak: They will have to make a decision on right tackle Damien Woody, who ended the season on injured reserve. Woody is an excellent player when healthy, but age (33) and salary ($3.75 million) could make him vulnerable. Problem is, they don't have a clear-cut replacement. Vladimir Ducasse, whose rookie season was basically a redshirt year, is a major question mark.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE