- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Now that the NFL's labor dispute is ending, the New York Jets finally get the chance to put their money where Rex Ryan's mouth is.
GM Mike Tannenbaum and his staff face several critical free-agent decisions that could determine whether the Jets make good on Ryan's Super Bowl guarantee. The coach also likes to brag that every red-blooded professional football player in America should want to play for the Jets; we're about to find out if he's right because there's a lot of talent up for grabs.
The top questions facing the Jets:
1. Can the Jets re-sign wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes?
Don't bet on it. It will be difficult -- perhaps foolhardy -- to pay No. 1-receiver money to two receivers. And make no mistake, both players are looking for No. 1 money. Because of his speed and versatility, Holmes is widely regarded as the better talent, and the Jets are expected to make a strong push to re-sign him before he hits the open market. If he walks, they'll focus on Edwards.
2. If Holmes or Edwards bolts, is Randy Moss a possibility?
Yes, he is. This would be a controversial signing, considering Moss' history of bad behavior and lousy 2010 performance, but Ryan loves the vertical dimension he brings to an offense. As for the character issues, the Jets have the utmost confidence in Ryan's ability to handle the baddest of bad apples -- or, in this case, a "Slouch," as Darrelle Revis once called Moss.
Know this: Moss and Holmes have the same agent, Joel Segal. One-stop shopping, anyone?
3. Will Cro fly?
The Jets need two shutdown cornerbacks for Ryan's man-to-man scheme, and we already know they have the best in the business in Revis. Antonio Cromartie surrendered a team-high seven touchdown passes last season and frustrated the coaches with his reluctance to play physical, bump-and-run coverage, but he teases with his rare physical talent.
Because former No. 1 pick Kyle Wilson didn't develop as quickly as hoped last season, the Jets are in a tight spot. They can't call themselves a legitimate Super Bowl contender with a question mark opposite Revis, but it would be costly to retain Cromartie because he figures to be seeking at least $8 million a year. Ultimately, it could come down to how much they believe in Wilson.
4. What about Nnamdi Asomugha?
Yes, Asomugha would be an upgrade over Cromartie (duh), and the Jets haven't ruled him out, but let's be real: We're talking fantasy football.
The former Raiders star will be the most coveted free agent and, with teams like the Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles rumored to be interested, the bidding will get crazy. The Jets might make a phone call or two, but unless they're willing to lose Holmes and Edwards (and, of course, Cromartie), it's hard to imagine them finding the cap room -- and cash -- for Asomugha.
5. Is Brad Smith an unaffordable luxury?
Unfortunately, that might be the case. Smith is a wonderful, jack-of-all-trades player, but it would be hard to pay a lot more than $5 million in guarantees (the amount they offered to Leon Washington two years ago) to a player who touched the ball only 95 times last season. Wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, drafted in the fifth round, is the heir apparent.
6. Should the Jets re-sign graybeard Shaun Ellis?
Didn't you watch the playoff game against the Patriots? Hello! Ellis was dominant on the defensive line, showing he still has some gas in the tank. If Ellis, 34, is amenable to a cap-friendly, short-term deal, he'd be good to have as a hold-the-fort starter until No. 1 pick Muhammad Wilkerson is ready for a full-time role. Word has it that Ellis, a Jet his entire career, doesn't want to go anywhere else.
7. How will the safety dance play out?
Jim Leonhard (broken leg) was recently cleared by his doctors to resume football activities, good news for the secondary, but the two players who shared time alongside him -- Brodney Pool and Eric Smith -- are free agents.
The sexy replacement would be Dawan Landry (Ravens), who played with Leonhard and under Ryan in Baltimore, but he'll cost semi-big money and the Jets don't like to spend much at the safety position. Chances are, they'll try to re-sign Pool, who improved late in the season.
8. How are they going to create cap room for all these moves?
Good question. The Jets reportedly are $1.3 million over the $120 million cap, which means they have to do some trimming. They can make space by restructuring Mark Sanchez's contract ($16.5 million cap figure) and signing David Harris to a long-term deal, which would lower the cap number on the one-year contract he signed in the amount of his franchise tag -- an estimated $10.4 million.