Jets say hello again to tight ends, goodbye to Austin Seferian-Jenkins?

The Jets should look to retain Austin Seferian-Jenkins instead of looking to shop on a weak open market. AP Photo/Ron Schwane

With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing each position on the New York Jets' roster and examining possible upgrades:

Position: Tight end

2018 cap hits of top returnees:

Pending free agents: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Chris Gragg, Neal Sterling (restricted), Eric Tomlinson (exclusive rights).

Key stat: The Jets made a big discovery in 2017 and realized that league rules allow teams to throw to the tight end. Under the previous offensive regime, the tight end was considered a sixth offensive lineman. Consider: They caught a league-low 26 balls in 2015 and 2016 in Chan Gailey's spread offense. In 2017, the number ballooned to 68 under first-time offensive coordinator John Morton, who was fired after the season.

Money matters: The Seferian-Jenkins negotiations are the biggest money matter. The Jets want to re-sign the 25-year-old, who made an inspirational comeback last season after nearly ruining his career because of a drinking problem. The trick is finding common ground. Based on comparable tight ends, Seferian-Jenkins should be in the $6 million-a-year neighborhood, but the Jets reportedly offered only $4 million per year. If they don't get him locked up, he will draw considerable interest on the open market.

Big picture: New offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who will install a West Coast system, needs an athletic tight end who can threaten the middle of the field. Seferian-Jenkins can be that guy if he produces the way he did in the first half of last season. He made 31 receptions (39 targets) over that span, but he caught only 19 balls (34 targets) in the second half. Part of that can be attributed to the quarterback change in Week 14. Leggett is viewed as a younger version of Seferian-Jenkins, but the 2017 fifth-round pick is way behind after missing his rookie year due to a knee injury. Tomlinson is solid as a blocking tight end.

Free-agent market watch: Jimmy Graham, Trey Burton, Tyler Eifert, Antonio Gates and Luke Willson.

Also could become available: Eric Ebron, Dwayne Allen, Brent Celek and Marcedes Lewis.

The game plan: They can't rely on Leggett (yet), so they need a veteran to hold down the No. 1 spot -- and that means re-signing Seferian-Jenkins. Failing that, they'll be forced to explore a weak market. Graham still is a beast in the red zone (10 touchdown catches), but do the Jets want to pay $10 million-a-year for a 31-year-old? Probably not. Burton, 26, would fit nicely in the long-term plan. They'd be sacrificing some in-line blocking -- he's only 235 pounds -- but he'd be a nice chess piece because of his ability to move around the formation. And if you need someone to throw a pass on a trick play at the goal line, he's your man.