By Jason Keidel
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Everyone agrees the Jets need a jolt in the backfield. Chris Johnson, who comes with more watts than most backs in league history, visited Gang Green on Tuesday and left without a contract.
Johnson, 28, is clearly on the back-nine of a fine career, which includes rushing for over 1,000 yards in his first six seasons, making him one of only six players in NFL history to do so. From 2010 through 2012, Johnson rushed for 1,364, 1,047 and 1,243 yards. Last year he rumbled for 1,077 yards and six touchdowns.
Even if he barely scrapes the 1,000-yard mark these days, that’s enough for the Jets, who still must brand themselves a run-first, nudge-the-chains endeavor until they have more potency at quarterback.
But despite his diminished skill set, Johnson’s still explosive and exponentially better than anyone the Jets have now, including oft-injured Chris Ivory. Johnson averaged 8.2 yards per catch in 2013, fifth-best among NFL running backs. And Johnson knows he must rewrite his price tag, and won’t get close to the $8 million the Titans owed him before they cut him.
The Jets have some expendable income and need to give their fans some optimism. Jets fans were understandably excited this offseason. The team finished a relatively robust 8-8, despite almost universal agreement that they’d win four or five games.
It’s become sad to see their commercials imploring people to buy tickets when the NFL is the hottest ticket in team sports. It’s easy to blame DirecTV, RedZone Channel and the ethereal HD, 3D home TV experience for sagging ticket sales. But the Giants have no problem selling out the same building. And with New York City just a few fly balls east of your stadium, you won’t find a more fertile or well-heeled demographic.
I was called all manner of moron for chiding the Jets when they signed Eric Decker as the centerpiece of their free-agency binge.
“It’s just a few days in, idiot!” I was told. “Give them some time!”
Well, it turns out that Decker was indeed their lone, notable signing other than Michael Vick. They didn’t make a run at DeSean Jackson despite needing speed at skill positions. The cynics will assert that the last thing the Jets need, in light of the Santonio Holmes disaster, is another mouthy, me-first wideout who can cripple a locker room. But volume is pretty much pro forma for a gifted wide receiver.
If the Jets break the huddle on 2014 with Decker as their best player on offense, then you’re looking at 2013 redux, a stout defense with an anorexic offense and more sore necks from gazing up at the Patriots.
The Jets have copious cap space, a cluster of draft picks and a dearth of decent talent on offense. Yet would anyone be surprised if they hoarded more cornerbacks? Rex Ryan has always seen scoring as incidental, unless his beloved defense provides the points.
The Jets have holes at wide receiver, running back and tight end. And a shell game under center, with Geno Smith and Vick pining for the starting QB gig. Every team has needs before the draft. The salary cap has planted an eternal turnstile at every team’s front door.
But the Jets are missing something you can’t find in the first or third rounds. An identity.
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