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Jets fill holes in free agency...SNY


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Team addressed key needs but missed Samuel

By Michael Salfino

In my offseason preview, I said the Jets desperately needed to fortify their offensive line at guard and right tackle and that an impact pass rusher was a top priority on defense.

The Jets have made dramatic improvements in those areas and imported a new nose tackle. They also shipped out some decent players who clearly were a bad fit for the 3-4 defense Eric Mangini is so stubborn about keeping.

If you would have told me the Jets would give more guaranteed money to Cardinals defensive end/outside linebacker Calvin Pace than would have been required to secure All-Pro cornerback Asante Samuel (now an Eagle), I would have thought the Jets blew it badly. Pace is still mostly projection and isn't a young player. Samuel is a sure-fire stud, who would have given the Jets the best CB tandem in football for the life of the contract. Perhaps Samuel preferred Philly. If not, this choice seems senseless.

I admit that the Jets needed a pass rusher more than they needed a corner. You can find guys like Samuel in the fourth round of drafts (where the Patriots originally drafted him). Impact pass rushers are much more difficult to get cheaply. But I seriously question whether Pace will be an impact rusher.

Let's start here before we analyze the Jets' other major offseason moves and speculate on how all this shapes the upcoming draft.

Pace was a good player last year, really his first year as a starter. But I don't like paying for projection when it comes to five-year veterans. Yes, there's room for him to grow. Last year was his first in the 3-4 defense and first as primarily an outside backer (who often plays as an end on passing downs in this style of defense). He got significantly better in the second half. But he still played at just a nine-sack level, even in his best half. That's not quite the impact rusher the Jets paid for, considering Samuel was signed for less (guaranteed, which is all that matters).

In fact, Pace's 2007 looks a lot like Brian Thomas' 2006, which got him a big contract extension. Thomas rewarded general manager Mike Tannenbaum's faith with two sacks in 2007. Thomas and Pace play the same position, unless Thomas can move to the strong side and play over the tight end. You usually need a real linebacker for that, not a hybrid, pass-rusher type like Thomas.

It looked like the Jets were a good bet to use the No. 6 overall pick (or a clever trade down) to get a pass rusher for their system. Usually at that spot, you can get the best tweener in the class. The reason why you play the 3-4 is so that you can get pass rushers relatively cheap (because you don't care if they're undersized tweeners like all those 4-3 teams).

Those plans now seem scrapped. They might use Pace and whomever they draft (say, Ohio State's Vernon Gholston or, after a trade down, Auburn's Quentin Groves) as a pass-rushing tandem at linebacker similar to how the Chargers employ Shawne Merriman and Shawne Phillips. But with Thomas still around and highly compensated, they'll likely give him a try first.

Thus all signs point to the Jets selecting Arkansas running back Darren McFadden in the first round. Some believe that he's the best player in the draft after running a 4.27 40-yard-dash in a recent workout. But running back is a position you can finesse in today's game. Drafting them high rarely works out given the number of guys who can be had much later in the draft (if they get drafted at all). Think of Green Bay's Ryan Grant, the Giants Ahmad Bradshaw or the Bucs Earnest Graham (just from last year).

Even if McFadden pops, you win the NFL by passing better than your opponents. There's zero proof, despite all the conventional wisdom, that running the ball well makes you pass it any better. Of course, you want to run it well whenever you run it and there's no denying that McFadden can be an explosive playmaker. But premium resources like sixth-overall picks are typically better spent in ways that more directly impact your ability to throw it or to stop the opponent from doing so.

Besides, with all the coin now spent on the offensive line, why not let someone like Leon Washington or the guy you paid so much for last year, Thomas Jones, run behind it?

Offensive linemen like Alan Faneca, whom the Jets made the NFL's highest-paid lineman, typically excel into their mid-30s. So that will likely turn out to be a good signing. I'm less optimistic about Lions-import Damien Woody, who was benched at guard before moving to right tackle for the last five weeks and playing okay. When unmotivated by the prospect of a contract, Woody has mostly been a fat underachiever since leaving New England.

On Thursday, the Jets added former Vikings fullback Tony Richardson, a run-blocker extraordinaire. It seems increasingly likely the Jets would like him to pave the way for McFadden like he did for last year's running back ing

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and how about this one?

On Thursday, the Jets added former Vikings fullback Tony Richardson, a run-blocker extraordinaire. It seems increasingly likely the Jets would like him to pave the way for McFadden like he did for last year's running back ing

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