Sione Pouha is one of the New York Jets' biggest free agents this offseason. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Sione Pouha, LaDainian Tomlinson and Plaxico Burress are the biggest free agents for the New York Jets this offseason.
Following a year of unfulfilled promise in the form of an 8-8 regular season and a failure to reach the postseason for the first time in three seasons, the New York Jets enter the offseason with a lengthy list of roster decisions to be made.
Entering the offseason, 16 Jets were set to be free agents. That number fell to 15 once wide receiver Patrick Turner signed a one-year, $875,000 contract in early February. Turner was set to become a restricted free agent on March 13, when free agency begins.
The Jets also restructured the contract of left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson this week, according to the New York Daily News, in a move that creates an extra $7.5 million of salary cap space. Previous reports had the Jets at or near the expected 2012 cap.
For the remainder of the Jets' free agents, check out the list below including a recap of how each player fared this season and some thoughts about the chance for a return in 2012. Also, don't miss our look at the New York Giants' free agents from Thursday.
Restricted Free Agents (4)
Teams can offer free-agent tenders of varying values to restricted free agents, so if another team would like to sign the player, they must offer a certain level of compensation. The player's original team can then choose whether to match the offer. For the highest free-agent tender, if the player's original team does not match the offer, the other team must surrender a first-round pick.
TE Matthew Mulligan: 5 receptions, 59 yards (11.6 avg.), 0 TDs (473 snaps played)
Mulligan spent the 2011 season as a reserve tight end, contributing very little in the way of receiving numbers. Pro Football Focus graded Mulligan at minus-9.8 for the season and noted that he especially struggled in pass protection (minus-3.4 grade). With Dustin Keller, Wayne Hunter and Vladimir Ducasse still under contract, the Jets can afford to let Mulligan walk this offseason.
LB Aaron Maybin: 11 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 4 forced fumbles (239 snaps played)
In 2011, Maybin reversed his career outlook from first-round bust to an up-and-coming player who's still only 23 years old after playing just two seasons at Penn State. Maybin was drafted 11th overall by the Buffalo Bills in 2009, but in his two seasons with the team, recorded only 24 tackles, zero sacks and one forced fumble in 27 games played (and just one start).
Last August, the Bills waived Maybin after their first preseason game and he was subsequently signed by the Jets shortly thereafter. In early September, the Jets cut Maybin, who had just survived the roster cutdown to 53 players, in favor of signing backup quarterback Kevin O'Connell. At the end of the month, he was re-signed.
Maybin eventually took the field in Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens, recording one sack. He appeared in each of the Jets' remaining games, 13 in total. PFF gave him a plus-4.6 grade for the season and evaluated him at plus-7.5 as a pass rusher.
Friday morning, reports surfaced that the Jets plan to use a first-round RFA tender on Maybin, meaning he will be entitled to a salary of approximately $1.3 million. The Jets will have the opportunity to match any offer Maybin receives from another team, and if he does sign elsewhere, the Jets will receive a first-round pick.
LB Jamaal Westerman: 32 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble (411 snaps played)
In 2011, Westerman set career highs in tackles, sacks and games played (16). The latter statistic might be most impressive, given reports from earlier this month that Westerman played the season with a torn groin that bothered him since training camp. Westerman had surgery in January, and is reportedly recovering as planned. Westerman also was critical in replacing Bryan Thomas (see below) after he tore his Achilles tendon.
The Jets had to have liked Westerman's production in just his third season (PFF grade of plus-1.8, 18th among outside linebackers in 3-4 defenses) and figure to attempt to bring him back in 2012.
CB Marquice Cole: 11 tackles, 0 interceptions, 0 forced fumbles (51 snaps played)
Another third-year veteran, Cole appeared in 14 games in 2011 but did not meet his levels of production form the previous season. In 2010, Cole played in 12 games but recorded 22 tackles, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and five pass defenses (he had zero in 2011). Cole also plays special teams, and could be brought back for those purposes.
Unrestricted Free Agents (11)
These players are normal free agents, as they are free to sign anywhere for as much as a team can offer.
QB Mark Brunell: 1-for-3, 27 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 67.4 rating (23 snaps played)
After 19 seasons, Brunell could be headed for retirement this offseason. He spent his last two seasons with the Jets, completing 8-of-16 passes for 144 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The Jets very well could bring in a quarterback to provide Mark Sanchez with some competition, though a move of that sort would likely have little impact on Brunell.
QB Kevin O'Connell: DNP
O'Connell wrapped his second stint with the Jets in 2011 without taking a snap. He was originally signed by New York in 2009 after the New England Patriots drafted him in the third round of the 2008 draft -- the highest pick the Pats had spent on a quarterback since they drafted Drew Bledsoe No. 1 overall in 1993. O'Connell appeared in only two games for New England before he was released. The Detroit Lions signed him in September 2009 and traded him to the Jets not long after for a seventh-round pick in the 2011 draft.
A torn labrum in O'Connell's throwing arm cut short his 2010 season, and he was eventually cut two separate times. After a brief stint with the Miami Dolphins, O'Connell was claimed off waivers by the Jets on Sept. 4. He seems likely to continue what has been a bit of a journeyman career thus far, though possibly not with the Jets.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson: 75 carries, 280 yards (3.7 avg.), 1 touchdown; 42 receptions, 449 yards (10.7 avg.), 2 touchdowns
In a season that eventually spiraled downward into a mess of discontent, Tomlinson was one of the Jets' most vocal leaders. After the season, Tomlinson labeled the team's locker room "dysfunctional" and admitted it was one of the worst he's seen in his 11-year career.
On the field, set career-lows in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, though he remained a productive receiver. PFF gave him a plus-1.1 grade, 50th among halfbacks. Though he likely has a couple productive years left, Tomlinson and the Jets seem likely to part ways.
WR Plaxico Burress: 45 receptions, 612 yards (13.6 avg.), 8 touchdowns
After his much hyped return to New York -- albeit with a different team -- Burress put together a relatively quiet 2011 season. PFF graded him at plus-0.4, 46th among wide receivers.
Though the Jets have had issues with another top receiver, Santonio Holmes, Burress seems unlikely to return to New York. Thursday, he returned to his former high school, Green Run High in Virginia Beach, VA, with Giants running back and close friend Brandon Jacobs. There, Jacobs told The Virginian-Pilot that Burress doesn't want to return to the Jets because of the locker room discord. At 34 years old, Burress doesn't figure to have too many years left in him, though some NFL teams may feel confident adding him as a third or fourth receiver.
OL Robert Turner: DNP
Turner began the 2011 season as the Jets' backup center and a versatile player who could play across the offensive line. But after breaking the fibula in his lower right leg in New York's preseason opener, he required surgery and was out for six weeks. Initially, head coach Rex Ryan said the team would wait to put Turner on injured reserve. But after being unable to determine if Turner would be able to play in 2011, the Jets placed him on injured reserve Sept. 26.
Presuming he's fully recovered, Turner could be re-signed by the Jets to provide further offensive line depth.
DT Sione Pouha: 58 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble (627 snaps played)
In his seventh season, Pouha continued his emergence as one of the league's premier nose tackles. PFF graded him at plus-30.1, second behind only the Cincinnati Bengals' Geno Atkins for nose tackles. His plus-27.2 grade against the run also was second in the league, behind the Denver Broncos' Brodrick Bunkley.
Pouha is considered arguably the Jets' biggest free agent, but given his age (he turned 33 earlier this month), he presents a tricky situation. Initially, Pouha was considered a popular target for the Jets' franchise tag, but according to Jenny Vrentas of the The Star-Ledger, Pouha is not expected to be tagged.
Sione Pouha, arguably Jets' most key FA, not expected to be tagged, source says. Jets tight on cap space, should go for multi-yr deal. #nyj— Jenny Vrentas (@JennyVrentas) February 20, 2012
With the Jets tight on cap space, a multi-year deal for Pouha could be more feasible.
LB Bryan Thomas: 14 tackles, 0.0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 0 interceptions (137 snaps played)
Entering the 2011 season, Thomas had spent all nine of his NFL seasons with the Jets. In all but two, he played in all 16 games (in the two he didn't, he played in 14 and 15 games).
However, against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, Thomas tore his left Achilles tendon and was placed on injured reserve five days later. In the immediate aftermath, right tackle Damien Woody -- who tore his Achilles the season prior -- indicated just how tough Thomas' situation will be entering the offseason as a free agent.
"It's a tough situation for Bryan Thomas going into free agency with an injury," said Woody. "And he's an older player, too, so teams are probably going to sit back and wait."
Thomas will turn 33 in June, making his recovery seem even tougher. It's very possible that the injury could end Thomas' career.
CB Donald Strickland: 39 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 0 interceptions (329 snaps played)
Strickland, who spent one year with the Jets in 2009, returned to New York in 2011 after spending one season with the San Diego Chargers. Though he appeared in 15 games, he was buried on the depth chart at left cornerback behind Darrelle Revis and Kyle Wilson. Strickland earned a minus-0.2 grade from PFF, which would have placed him 43rd among cornerbacks had he played the minimum number of snaps.
Depending on what else the Jets do in free agency, the 31-year-old Strickland could be brought back to a secondary that also has two safeties set to be free agents (see below).
S Jim Leonhard: 48 tackles, 0.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception (798 snaps played)
An underdog for much of his career (after walking on at Wisconsin, he went undrafted), Leonhard faces more adversity this offseason after tearing his right patellar tendon in December. Leonhard could begin the 2012 season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which would obviously complicate his re-signing.
Friday, Leonhard tweeted his progress in rehab and provided an optimistic outlook.
Update:10 weeks out from surgery and every day is better than the last. In the rehab world that's a win. Now I just need a new contract.— Jim Leonhard (@jimleonhard) February 24, 2012
In the 13 games prior to his injury, Leonhard was effective as usual. PFF graded him at plus-2.9 (16th among cornerbacks) overall and plus-5.7 in pass coverage (8th at the position). He also returned nine punts for 83 yards (9.2 avg.) with a long of 15 yards. According to ESPN New York's Rich Cimini, re-signing Leonhard is likely to be a low priority for the Jets this offseason. Given his injury, he doesn't figure to generate much interest elsewhere in the league.
S Brodney Pool: 36 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 1 interception (561 snaps played)
Pool was a late addition to the Jets' 2011 roster after starting 12 games for the team in 2010. He started six games and appeared in 14 this season, and PFF graded him 30th among safeties at minus-0.4. In the same article linked to above, Cimini believes the Jets will elect to "shake up" their safety corps, meaning Pool should also be considered unlikely to be re-signed.
K Nick Folk: 19-for-25 (76 percent), 51 yards long; 21.2 yards kickoff avg.
Signed to a one-year contract for a second season with the Jets, Folk was near the bottom of the league (28th) in converting 76 percent of his field goal attempts. His distance on kickoffs was also inconsistent, and it's hard to see the Jets making a hard run at re-signing Folk.