New England's two-headed tight end monster of Aaron Hernandez and Ron Gronkowski exposed the Jets in 2011, leaving them no choice but to seek reinforcements.
Jim Leonhard, the team's defensive signal caller, suffered devastating leg injuries the past two seasons and is currently an unrestricted free agent. With the Jets looking to get younger and faster at this position it's a distinct possibility Gang Green will move on from their cerebral yet injury prone safety.
The Green and White Report takes look at the top three safeties hitting free agency in 2012 and how they would fit into Rex Ryan's plans this upcoming season.
1. Tyvon Branch
Despite not being a household name, Branch has ascended into the upper echelon of safeties in the NFL. Stout against the run and the perfect combination of speed, agility and physicality, Branch would provide a facelift to an already formidable Jets defense. As a rookie in 2008, Branch played under Rob Ryan (Rex Ryan's twin brother) making for a seamless transition to the schemes utilized in New York. Selected in the fourth-round (100th overall) by the Oakland Raiders in the 2007 NFL draft, Branch was a premier kickoff returner at the University of Connecticut, leading the Big-East Conference averaging nearly 29 yards per return. The Jets would benefit from a prolific returner given their struggles finding a reliable one in 2011. While Branch played cornerback at UConn, his exceptional ball skills and tremendous range necessitated a shift to the safety position in the NFL. For the Jets, Branch would likely be their No. 1 choice, that is of course if the price is right.
2. LaRon Landry
Finesse is not part of Landry's vocabulary as his specialty is delivering jarring hits to any opponent that enters his territory. His bruising style has taken its toll as he was placed on season-ending injured reserved the past two seasons suffering injuries to his left Achilles tendon. At the end of the 2010 season doctors recommended Landry have surgery, but instead he opted for alternative medicine, receiving platelet-rich plasma treatments. One year later, and another Achilles injury later, Landry underwent stem cell treatment, otherwise known as Biological Matrix in a measure to avoid surgery. While Landry is hopeful the most recent treatment will do the trick, if his Achilles still shows signs of damage he will need to undergo surgery in the next six to eight weeks. While Landry's toughness and pro bowl caliber talent cannot be questioned, his durability issues are a cause for concern as he enters free agency.
3. Michael Griffin
Playing alongside teammate Tyvon Branch in Oakland, Griffin's talents may have been overshadowed in spite of his outstanding playmaking ability. A former Texas Longhorn standout, Griffin has established a reputation for hard-nose tackling and stellar ball-hawking coverage skills. While Griffin possesses great quickness and agility he pales in comparison to Branch's breakneck speed and relentless motor. Griffin excels against the running game bringing down ball carriers with a vengeance, but his discipline in pass coverage has raised eyebrows. Rex Ryan's system demands versatility and Griffin's ability to play both at the line of scrimmage and in the defensive backfield would suit him well with the Green and White.
Stayed tuned to the Green and White report for a position by position breakdown of the top free agents hitting the open market in 2012.
Rick Laughland covers the New York Jets for Greenandwhitereport.com