Despite the additions of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, the New York Jets' secondary was among the worst in the league, statistically. The two safeties experienced rookie growing pains, but the bigger issue was a deficiency at cornerback.
After landing Trumaine Johnson, arguably the top corner in free agency, Todd Bowles is smiling -- well, maybe a half-smile. He's not the giddy type.
"Since I've been here, it's probably the most athletic and versatile secondary that I've had going into the season," the coach said at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Florida.
Johnson changes the dynamic of the secondary because it allows the Jets to move Buster Skrine into the No. 3 role, covering the slot. He's better in that position, compared to starting on the outside. Johnson and Morris Claiborne, who re-signed on a one-year contract, project as the CB1 and CB2, respectively.
Bowles said all three corners can play on the outside, but it probably makes sense to limit Skrine's exposure on the perimeter because he's undersized (5-foot-9) and penalty prone. He committed 13 penalties last season, an AFC high among defensive backs, per ESPN Stats & Information.
Quite simply, the Jets must get better play out of their base defense (four defensive backs), especially since they're in base personnel so much. Bucking the league-wide trend, they ran only 393 plays (run and pass) with five or more defensive backs on the field, tied for the league low, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Last season, their pass defense was significantly worse in the base, compared to nickel (five DBs). Check it out:
Now, with a deeper group of corners, defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers may feel comfortable using more nickel packages. At the same time, Johnson's presence as an every-down corner on the outside should improve the overall play of the base defense. He's an "elite player," according to Bowles. For $72.5 million over five years, including $34 million guaranteed, he'd better be elite.
"We don't want him to change anything with what he's been doing from a playing standpoint," Bowles said. "He can play man, zone, off or on [in coverage]. He's tall, long, physical, understands how to play."
There was a lot of hype surrounding the secondary in 2015, and the group fell short of expectations. You remember that spending spree, don't you? The Jets re-signed Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, signed Skrine to play nickel and signed safety Marcus Gilchrist to play alonside Calvin Pryor. Some of the players predicted great things for the revamped secondary.
As it turned out, Revis and Cromartie -- 30 and 31, respectively -- were on the decline, and Pryor proved to be a first-round bust.
Johnson and Claiborne are 28, and Skrine will be 29 next month. Adams is 22, Maye 25. If this secondary falters, it won't be because of age.
"We've got three good corners," Bowles said. "You can never have enough corners. I've had five at one point, and all five played. Depending on matchups, they'll be all over the place. We can use five DBs and have all three of them start, or we can use two, so it's a multi-flex. I look at all three of them as starters, personally."