Now that the 2011 season is officially behind us, it's time to look ahead to how 2012 will shape up before the New York Jets and every other NFL team hits the field in September. The Jets should be particularly busy in March as the free agency period opens, as they are looking to upgrade at a few key positions before the draft in April.
Later this month, starting on the 22nd and running through the 28th, the NFL will conduct it's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis. Several hundred top prospects will gather to be judged on speed, agility, how high they can jump, and many more factors that are each specific to the positions they play. The Jets will get their first look outside of college play at two key prospects, both from Alabama, strong safety Mark Barron and outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw. It goes without saying the Jets need a pass rushing presence, a disrupter of play, and Upshaw fits the bill, while Barron would give the Jets someone who could more physically match up with the hybrid style tight ends of the league, and just an overall more athletic upgrade in the back half of the secondary.
Next month, on March 5th, the Jets will have to designate one player with their franchise tag who would have otherwise become an unrestricted free agent as of 4 p.m. on March 13th, when free agency fully starts. The player who get the Jets franchise tag will receive a one year contract that will be worth the salary cap percentage average for players at this position he competes at. In looking at all the Jets free agents, the one that makes the most sense to franchise, especially if a long term deal cannot be hammered out, is Sione Pouha. He is a rock in the middle of the line and despite his age, 33, he is coming off his best season to date. A second choice for the franchise tag would have to be safety Jim Leonhard, though it may be a hard choice to keep him because of his season-ending injuries.
In April, running the 26th through the 28th will be the annual college selection special, also known as the 2012 NFL Draft. The Jets hold the 16th overall selection in the first round of the draft, as well as a pick in all seven rounds this year. In the second round they are slotted at pick number 47, and the third round at pick number 78. That gives them three picks well inside the top 100 players to be chosen in 2012 draft and a very good chance to get starting or near starting talent at all three selections.
The path to shaping the New York Jets into making a return trip to the playoffs in 2012 begins in Indianapolis this month and ends in New York in April. After that, once all the new talent along with returning veterans starts their off-season conditioning and OTA's then we can really begin to see how it will all take shape, and hopefully crystallize into a championship caliber contender once again.
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