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The Jets, They Are A-Changing

With 20 free agents come some tough choices

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 27: David Harris #52 of the New York Jets is introduced against the Washington Redskins during their preseason game on August 27, 2010 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** David Harris

    After the Jets lost to the Steelers on Sunday night, defensive tackle Sione Pouha expressed sadness about the changes coming to the locker room.

    "That's the most heartbreaking thing," Pouha said, "to know that this room is not going to be the same anymore."

    That's true of every team in every sport every year, but it is particularly true of this year's Jets team. With 20 of 53 players from Sunday's active roster not under contract for next season and changes coming, one way or the other, to the way the league operates after the labor battle coming this offseason, the Jets are going to look very different when they next take the field.

    You can't discount the Mike Tannenbaum factor either. The Jets general manager has made a habit of making big moves in trades and free agency and those moves usually spell the departure of other players. We won't get into that discussion now as the aforementioned labor fight is almost certainly going to push back the start of the shopping period and instead we'll focus on some names from the Jets and their future with the franchise.

    David Harris: He's a free agent and he should be the first priority of the front office. The front seven is old and largely underproduced in 2010, but Harris is an exception on both fronts.

    Antonio Cromartie: On the one hand, he's a loose-lipped player whose bark is often worse than his bark. His promise to be Al-Cro-Traz across from Revis Island never came true and he got beaten a fair amount this year. On the other hand, corners with his ability don't grow on trees and he's very good when he's on his game. Unless there's some way to wedge Nnamdi Asomugha into this roster, it's difficult to endorse getting rid of a guy who cost you a second round pick.

    Santonio Holmes: There are some who dislike his desire to be a big part of the offense because they think his complaints come at the expense of the running game that should be the Jets' priority. That's ridiculous on both fronts. Holmes isn't Terrell Owens, his effort never flagged because he was upset about the lack of passes his way and he vented in the painful moments just after a loss. A little perspective never killed anyone. Moving forward, the Jets offense has to become more than just the blessed ground and pound. Mark Sanchez is ready and he needs a playmaker like Holmes to help him keep climbing the ladder.

    Braylon Edwards: In a perfect world, he and Holmes are both back next year. In the real world, it will come down to one or the other and Holmes is a bit more versatile and a bit harder to replace than Edwards. If Edwards does walk, don't be surprised if Plaxico Burress gets a look as a big target in the red zone. Remember how good he made Eli Manning look when the Giants quarterback would fire high and wild back when the Giants were making the playoffs.

    Jason Taylor: He certainly can't come back under his current contract, which calls for a $10 million roster bonus. He didn't earn that, not by a long shot. The Jets need to be much better rushing the passer next season and it is hard to imagine Taylor, at 37, can help them do that.

    LaDainian Tomlinson: His contract calls for a reasonable $2.425 million next year, something that makes it a little easier to swallow the way he slowed down toward the end of the season. It's clearly time for Shonn Greene to be the first back in any rotation and a third back -- either Joe McKnight or someone else -- would be a nice addition to the mix, but there's still a place for Tomlinson on this team.

    Brad Smith: His impact is sometimes overstated as he's mostly a good kick returner whose use as an option quarterback was inconsequential more often than not. That said, he's a very good returner and he's a favorite of the coaching staff. If Cromartie is back and McKnight steps up, however, you replace his return skills while a rookie of similar resume might be able to pick up his role in the offense. It's a money call, basically, as you can't invest too heavily on a player like Smith.

    Brodney Pool/Eric Smith: Both of them had their bright moments in the playoffs, but both of them also had seriously dark moments in the regular season. With Jim Leonhard coming back and money needed elsewhere, there's not much chance both safeties are back. If the Jets can find a more dynamic option, both of them could go without too many tears rolling down cheeks. If you had to choose one, it would probably be Smith but there's not a huge difference.

    Tony Richardson: A great man who is beloved by his teammates, but age and the presence of John Conner add up to the end of his run with the Jets. If he doesn't want to keep playing and wants to be a coach, the Jets should find a spot for him. 

    Shaun Ellis: One of the toughest choices the Jets will have to make all season. He's done fine work since coming to the team in 2000 and proved in the postseason that he's still got plenty gas in the tank. The team needs to get better and younger up front, but Ellis's leadership and consistency are awfully valuable. The heart wants him back, but the head says he's the kind of guy this Jets regime deems expendable.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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