- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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The news that wide receiver Brandon Marshall will be playing for Miami this season has prognosticators ranking the four AFC East teams after a flurry of offseason moves.
The New York Jets may still come out on top. But the fact they must face Marshall twice a year could change the way the Jets are looking at their first-round pick, No. 29 overall, when the NFL draft gets under way on April 22.
Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum usually says he likes to go for the best player on the board, but it's a rare GM who is candid about trade intentions. In recent years Tannenbaum hasn't waited around. Last year he traded up to address a need at quarterback and plucked Mark Sanchez, then did the same to snatch running back Shonn Greene. A year earlier he traded up for a second first-rounder in Dustin Keller. Darrelle Revis became a Jet in the same way.
With the Marshall trade, the Jets need a free safety.
The Jets are still talking to Jason Taylor, whose agent said the Dolphins linebacker plans to make a decision before the draft. If he opts to become a Jet and fill their pass-rushing need, the defensive backs need to be addressed.
A receiver like Marshall makes solidifying the contingent in the backfield that much more important. Kerry Rhodes, who was the top player at free safety for the Jets last season, will be playing in Arizona. The Jets brought in Brodney Pool this offseason but, with some question about Pool's durability after concussions, will need another safety.
If the Jets could trade up, two free safeties would be a good fit for the team. USC's Taylor Mays could be available in the 20s, or the Jets could reach up a little higher for Texas playmaker Earl Thomas.
The top safety in the draft, Eric Berry out of Tennessee, is projected to go as high as the fifth or sixth pick and would likely be out of reach for the Jets. Nate Allen out of USF is an option who could be available at the Jets' natural spot.
The Jets are pretty well set up elsewhere in the secondary.
Strong safety Jim Leonhard, brought by Jets coach Rex Ryan from Baltimore, is another strong component, and the Jets have reliable veteran strong safety Eric Smith on the roster. James Ihedigbo, a special teams player, can fill in too.
As for corners, the Jets' defensive star maroons top receivers on Revis Island for entire games. The Jets brought in Antonio Cromartie in the offseason to shore up the weak side and the two could be formidable. In addition, the Jets have Dwight Lowery for a third year and Drew Coleman signed his tender offer Wednesday.
Corner Lito Sheppard, a free agent who wasn't paid a bonus due to stay with the Jets, is visiting Detroit this week according to a ProFootballTalk report. But that's a solid squad even so.
With all the contracts set to expire after this season, the Jets are built to win now. One of those one-year players, tailback LaDainian Tomlinson, said as much last night while talking about the acquisition of wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
"The Jets have proven that they want to win now and they're bringing in guys that are big-play guys and guys that can help them win now," Tomlinson said.
The pieces are in place for the most part. And if the Jets want to compete, they need to be able to stop the teams in the AFC East, including the Dolphins and Marshall. After shoring up the pass rush and adding a free safety through the draft, the Jets should have the components they need.
With Brandon Marshall in Miami, the Jets should think safety first at the NFL draft.