FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The good news for the New York Jets is, for a change, they don't have to worry about the quarterback position in the offseason. If Sam Darnold develops as they expect, they should be set for at least a decade. The rest of the roster is another story.
Armed with a high draft pick (again) and $100 million in salary-cap room (again), the Jets have the resources to make significant strides if they spend wisely and make intelligent football decisions. They're beholden to free agency because of past mistakes in the draft. It's hardly the ideal position, but maybe they can figure it out and get back to respectability in 2019.
Five moves that will help them get there:
1. Make a serious run at Le'Veon Bell: The No. 1 goal on offense is to improve Darnold's supporting cast. He has a couple of keepers in wide receiver Robby Anderson and tight end Chris Herndon, but he needs a game-changer who can galvanize the entire unit. That player is Bell, a dual threat who will be one of the most sought-after free agents.
Players of Bell's caliber usually don't hit the open market, but this is an unusual circumstance because of his season-long contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers. There's some risk involved, and the cost will be enormous (figure $60 million over four years), but this is a move the Jets can't afford not to make. His presence would change the dynamic on offense, which would benefit Darnold. General manager Mike Maccagnan is known to be smitten with Bell, so expect the Jets to be among his most ardent suitors.
2. Build a wall for Darnold: The Jets should copy the Indianapolis Colts, who revitalized and maybe saved Andrew Luck's career by rebuilding the offensive line. The Jets' line needs a total makeover, but replacing all five positions in one offseason is difficult. The priorities should be center and left guard. Sure, a franchise left tackle would be nice, too, but there won't be one in free agency, and this is a bad year for tackles in the draft.
Maccagnan can start by revamping the interior, as the Jets have averaged only 3.8 yards per rush up the middle (18th) and have scored a league-low one touchdown on those plays, per ESPN Stats & Information. Spencer Long hasn't worked out at center and can be released with no cap ramifications and a savings of $6.5 million. The top center in free agency probably will be Mitch Morse of the Kansas City Chiefs. Somehow, they must find the next Nick Mangold.
The offensive line has to be a priority for Maccagnan, who has neglected it in the draft. Only two of his 28 picks (four drafts) have been linemen, including right tackle Brandon Shell, who is recovering from knee surgery. This isn't rocket science: If you want to protect your most valuable asset (Darnold), invest in the offensive line. It also would make them more attractive to Bell.
3. Put Leonard Williams on the trading block: After four years, the Jets know what kind of player he is. He never misses a game, plays tough against the run and makes four to six sacks per year. Every team needs players like that. Problem is, Williams is due to make $14.2 million next season (the amount of his fifth-year option), and his production doesn't justify a $14 million salary (guaranteed for injury only). So now it's decision time.
The Jets can sign him to an extension, let him play out his deal or try to get something for him now in a trade. If they can get a second-round pick for Williams, the sixth overall pick in 2015, they should do it. It would allow them to recoup the second-rounder they sent to the Colts in the trade that yielded Darnold. The reality is, it will be tough to move Williams because of the bloated salary. But, hey, it's worth a try.
It gets risky if they kick the can down the road for a year. By then, the franchise-tag amount for a defensive end will be at least $18 million, which seems prohibitive in this case. Williams is a solid player, just not the star the Jets envisioned in 2015. The next draft is loaded with top defensive linemen, and the Jets can replace Williams with a top-five pick. You hate to trade former high picks, but it would be good business if the right deal comes along.
4. Live life on the edge: One of these years, the Jets will add a legitimate edge rusher to the roster, whether it be a rush linebacker (in the current scheme) or a 4-3 defensive end (if they switch schemes). The free-agent class will include DeMarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark, Dee Ford and Dante Fowler Jr. It's an an exciting list, right? Problem is, the only one who figures to reach the open market is Fowler, a former top pick already on his second team. They tried to trade for Fowler before the deadline, so there's interest.
Guaranteed a top-five pick, the Jets might be able to address the void in the draft. The top edge players are Nick Bosa (the likely No. 1 overall choice), Clelin Ferrell and Josh Allen. There's no excuse for them to come up empty again.
5. Add another pair of hands for Darnold: Anderson is having a strong finish, but he still can't be counted on as a No. 1 receiver. The Jets should give him a one-year tender as a restricted free agent, then re-sign Quincy Enunwa (unrestricted) to a one-year, prove-it deal. They need a third receiver, but the free-agent market is thin and it would be a mistake to pay No. 1-type money to a player such as Devin Funchess.
They should explore the trade market. Call the Cincinnati Bengals to see if they'd be willing to move A.J. Green, who has one year left on his deal at $12 million. In the meantime, the Jets should draft a receiver with the ability to separate quickly. Darnold had that kind of receiver in his breakthrough 2016 season at USC -- JuJu Smith-Schuster, who knew how to create space in an instant.