The lockout is finally over and NFL teams are going to be moving fast and furious in the next few days as they start filling out their teams for the 2011 season.
Every team has big decisions to make about how to allocate their resources, but few of them have as obvious a first step as the Jets in the days to come. They must re-sign Santonio Holmes to be their top wide receiver or run the risk of making Rex Ryan look like he's full of hot air long before the AFC Championship Game.
Holmes changed the team's offense upon his arrival from Pittsburgh last season. While they still featured a fairly conservative, run-heavy attack, Holmes gave the team a superior playmaker in the passing game.
That made life easier for Mark Sanchez and it opened up the field for other players as defenses had to key on Holmes to stop him from beating them all by themselves. That led to better balance and a more dangerous scheme that made the team able to pull off miraculous comebacks during the regular season and go on the road to win playoff games in Indianapolis and New England.
If Holmes does not return, the team could bring back Braylon Edwards and/or sign other wideouts like Randy Moss or Plaxico Burress to round out the offense. None of those options have the same dynamism all over the field as Holmes, however, and all of them would force the Jets to rework an offense that found its rhythm last season and plans on being more expansive this season.
They can't do that without Holmes. The Redskins are expected to make Holmes a priority and other teams will likely target the receiver as well, but the Jets have to be the one that gets the signature or a third straight run deep into the playoffs will be a lot less likely.
Holmes is the biggest name, but the Jets have other big tasks in front of them.
Figure out right tackle - The Jets cut Damien Woody, who said he wants to return or retire, and say they are confident in second-year man Vladimir Ducasse's ability to handle the job. Given the importance of the spot to the team's running game, they have to, at the very least, be willing to explore other options or re-sign Woody to cover themselves in case Ducasse flops.
Keep Antonio Cromartie? - Nnamdi Asomugha's name comes up with the Jets, but he probably will be too expensive for them unless they forego Holmes. Cromartie isn't perfect opposite Darrelle Revis, but he's pretty good and the Jets need to find out if he'll re-sign quickly. If not, they should go after Jonathan Joseph of Cincinnati, Ike Taylor of Pittsburgh or Carlos Rogers from Washington to fill his spot.
Find some pass rush - The Jets added two defensive linemen in the draft, but neither one seems like a sure bet to jolt an often sleepy pass rush to the level it needs to be. Bryan Thomas is a potential cap casualty and the Jets would do well to replace him with an outside backer skilled at getting after the quarterback.
Restructure Sanchez's contract - A $16.5 million cap number isn't workable with a $120 million cap, so the Jets need to ask the quarterback to give a little back now for the good of the team. It's hard to imagine Sanchez wouldn't make that move, especially with the potential back end benefits of playing for a team loaded with talent.
An eye on special teams - Brad Smith is going to be tough to keep and punter Steve Weatherford is also a free agent likely to garner interest elsewhere. Even though the Jets used the kicking game to great advantage last year, they can afford to lose both as long as they give the excellent special teams coach Mike Westhoff strong candidates to replace them.