Gentlemen, start your checkbooks

The Jets' actions (or non-actions) in free agency will tell us a lot about what they think of their recent drafts. By that, I mean they have a few needs that could be filled in-house -- if they're willing to promote former draft picks that have been waiting in the wings. That's the way it's supposed to be done, the cost-effective way, but we know the Jets have a tendency to throw money at problems.

The dilemmas:

RT Vladimir Ducasse -- Most Jets fans groan when they hear his name, but here's the reality, folks: The front office still holds him in high regard and will give him every opportunity to be the starting right tackle (regardless of what GM Mike Tannenbaum said in a recent interview about incumbent Wayne Hunter).

I was sitting in Tannenbaum's office last season when he told me Ducasse, despite his obvious struggles, will have a "great" career. We'll see if that's just lip service because, if the Jets go out and sign a veteran right tackle, they'd basically be admitting they wasted a second-round pick on Big Vlad.

RB Bilal Powell -- Remember when everyone was scratching their head last April when the Jets drafted another running back? Well, this is the reason why. LaDainian Tomlinson (free agent) isn't coming back, and they need a backup for Shonn Greene.

So it's decision time: Give the job to Powell or hit the free-agent market for stop-gap player like Ronnie Brown. (Joe McKnight apparently is viewed as a better third-down candidate.) Powell's rookie year was basically a red-shirt (13 carries for 21 yards), so there's not much to go on. But they thought enough of him to pick him in the fourth round; now we find out if they have the courage of their convictions.

NT Kenrick Ellis -- We already know what the Jets think about the former third-round pick because the Jets just gave incumbent Sione Pouha a three-year contract. Ellis, out of tiny Hampton (Va.), was overmatched as a rookie. His transition to the NFL will take some time.

QB Greg McElroy -- The Jets won't have to draft a developmental quarterback because they still believe in McElroy and plan to make him the No. 3. It would be too risky to make him the No. 2, so they'll have to seek a veteran such as Chad Henne.

FREE-AGENT BUZZ: Most of the speculation has focused on LaRon Landry (Redskins), but the safety-needy Jets also could make a run at Brandon Meriweather (Bears). They showed interest in Meriweather at the end of last preseason when he was released by the Patriots. He signed a one-year deal with the Bears early last September.

BT EXPRESS: Longtime Jets LB Bryan Thomas, an unrestricted free agent, told the Star-Ledger of Newark that his rehab from Achilles'-tendon surgery is "right on schedule." Thomas could be a fallback option for the Jets at OLB.

"I talked to my agent, I asked, ‘Am I in the plans (for the Jets)?’ He’s going to talk to them," Thomas told the newspaper. "Like I said, I’d love to be back. I appreciate the game, but when you are watching it and not being able to be out there for the first time ever, you appreciate it so much more."

SPEND MONEY: The Jets are expected to be about $14 million under the cap, not counting Pouha's contract.