NFL DRAFT: Jets prepare while fates of Fitz, Mo uncertain
NEW YORK (AP) Mike Maccagnan and the New York Jets head into the NFL draft without answers to a few major questions.
And that's before they even go on the clock Thursday with the 20th overall pick.
Ryan Fitzpatrick remains unsigned, leaving the Jets' quarterback situation unsettled. The 33-year-old Fitzpatrick threw a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes last season, but is a free agent looking for a big payday.
He would like to be back, and looked pretty chummy with Jets wide receiver Eric Decker and center Nick Mangold, among others, at a Rangers NHL playoff game at Madison Square Garden earlier in the week. The Jets have also said they'd like Fitzpatrick to return, but the sides remained locked in a contract stare down.
The question is: Who'll blink first?
Or, will the Jets operate under the increasingly real possibility Fitzpatrick will still be a free agent by the time New York starts building its future through the draft?
The status of Pro Bowl defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson also remains uncertain, with rumors swirling the Jets could look to deal him to move up and maybe take one of the top quarterbacks available.
Wilkerson has yet to sign his franchise tag tender, worth $15.7 million, and won't attend voluntary workouts as he seeks a contract extension. He's also rehabilitating from a broken right leg, but should be ready for the start of the regular season.
With the situations involving Fitzpatrick and Wilkerson still hanging over them, here are a few things to look for from the Jets on draft day:
QB OR NOT QB?: With Jared Goff and Carson Wentz almost certain to go within the first two picks, Paxton Lynch's stock could rise. While the Jets still have Geno Smith, he's scheduled to be a free agent after this season and has been shaky at best in his opportunities. Bryce Petty, a fourth-rounder last year, is still considered a work-in-progress. So, even if Fitzpatrick returns or a veteran free agent such as Brian Hoyer is signed, the Jets might see their quarterback of the future in Lynch, who threw 28 TD passes and just four INTs as a junior at Memphis.
TRADER MIKE?: It appears unlikely that Lynch will last until No. 20, so Maccagnan might have to get creative to move up. That's where Wilkerson comes in. If a team picking inside the top 10 is willing to give Wilkerson the huge deal he covets, the Jets could swap him and some picks. New York went after a franchise-type QB in 2009, when then-GM Mike Tannenbaum moved from No. 17 to fifth overall in a draft-day deal with Cleveland to select Mark Sanchez.
SEARCHING FOR SACKS: Both Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles stressed the need to get faster all over the field, and getting a pass-rushing outside linebacker to strengthen a formidable D-line - even without departed nose tackle Damon Harrison - could be a priority. If the Jets opt to draft a defensive player in the first round for the seventh straight year, Georgia's Leonard Floyd, Ohio State's Darron Lee, Alabama's Reggie Ragland and Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence could all be near the top of New York's board.
BIG BOYS UP FRONT: The Jets quickly filled the void created when left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson retired by trading for the oft-injured Ryan Clady, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who missed 30 games the last three seasons. Still, New York lacks O-line depth, with center Nick Mangold (32) and right tackle Breno Giacomini (30) aging, and left guard James Carpenter the only projected starter signed beyond the 2017 season. Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker could be an attractive option.
CORNERING THE MARKET: The Jets' secondary was a mess two years ago, so they brought back Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie and signed Buster Skrine last season. This year, Revis is coming off wrist surgery, but should be ready for the regular season. Cromartie was released, meaning Skrine could be pressed into starting outside rather than the nickel role for which he is better suited. Marcus Williams, who led New York with six INTs last season, and the disappointing Dee Milliner, a first-rounder in 2013, could see increased roles. But the Jets might look for a starting-caliber cornerback, perhaps Ohio State's Eli Apple or Miami's Artie Burns, in the first two rounds.
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