Jets want to re-sign Bilal Powell, but AFC East foes could be lurking

Fifth-year running back Bilal Powell could be a free-agent target for other AFC East teams, including Buffalo and Miami. Al Bello/Getty Images

With free agency set to begin March 9, we'll examine the New York Jets' top free agents.

Player: Bilal Powell

Position: Running back

Age: 27

Previous contract: One year, $2 million.

2015 stats: He missed five games due to injuries, but still set career highs with 47 catches (tied for 10th among running backs) and 388 receiving yards. As the No. 2 runner, backing up Chris Ivory, Powell rushed 70 times for 313 yards, a 4.5 per-carry average. He totaled three touchdowns, including two as a receiver.

The case to keep him: Did you watch the last game of the season? The offense struggled without the injured Powell, who had emerged as a dependable No. 3 option in the passing game during the stretch run. Coach Todd Bowles is a Powell fan; he named Powell and left guard James Carpenter as the two biggest surprises of 2015. Powell has value because of his diverse skill set. He can catch, block and play on special teams. He never was known as a threat in space, but he appeared quicker last season, enabling him to make more plays with the ball. In fact, he averaged 9.11 yards after catch, seventh among running backs, per ESPN Stats & Information.

The case to let him go: Powell is a solid player, but not dynamic. He has only nine total touchdowns in five seasons, showing he's not a home run threat. His 4.5 per-carry average jumps off the page, but it's somewhat misleading because 45 of his 70 carries came with three or four wide receivers on the field. In other words, most of his yardage came against "light" boxes, so he's not really a No. 1-caliber back. He's the classic complementary back.

Crystal ball: In a weak market, Powell is arguably the top pass-catching back under the age of 30. He will have suitors if he hits the open market; the Miami Dolphins could be one of those teams. VP Mike Tannenbaum, formerly the Jets' general manager, drafted Powell in 2011 and could be looking to rebuild his backfield. Former Jets coach Rex Ryan also is a Powell admirer, so don't be surprised if the Buffalo Bills check in. Because of cap restraints, the Jets might have to make a choice -- Powell or Ivory. Powell will be cheaper (about $3 million per year), increasing his chances of re-signing.