By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
The list of unrestricted free agents on the New York Jets’ roster just got shorter by a name, as reported by ESPN’s NFL Insider, Adam Schefter:
Chris Ivory, who spent the past three years as the resident wrecking ball of the Jets’ backfield, is on his way to the Jacksonville Jaguars on a contract that is north of $6 million per year according to Ian Rappoport of the NFL Network:
The details of the contract have emerged and it is obvious why Ivory left town for Jacksonville. Jets’ beat writer for USA Today, Connor Hughes reports:
In his three years with the Jets, Ivory steamrolled and pin-balled his way to 2,724 yards on 627 carries (4.3 yd avg) and 16 TD’s, with 1,070 yards on 247 carries and 7 TD’s coming this past season. He added on 50 receptions for 350 yards and two TD’s, including 30 catches for 217 yards and a TD in 2015.
The 2015 season was by far the best of Chris Ivory’s six-year NFL career. He was finally awarded with the opportunity to carry the load for an offense, after playing in more of a part-time battering ram role for the first five years of his career.
Chris certainly came through, judging by his statistics, as he finished first in the AFC in rushing yards and fifth in the NFL. He also finished sixth in carries and seventh in rushing yards per game for the year. It was his first 1,000-yard season and his first time being selected for the Pro Bowl.
Unfortunately, as a product of his incredibly fearless and fiercely brutal style of play, Ivory spent a good deal of time on the sideline during the season, although he did officially start 14 games.
After playing in four out of the first five games, missing the Philadelphia game due to injury, Ivory was leading the league with 83 carries for 460 yards (5.5 yd avg), looking unstoppable in consecutive games against Miami and Washington, combining for 312 yards on 49 carries in those two games alone.
That is when the wear and tear really started to reveal itself, as Ivory went into a three game funk in which he totaled 55 carries for 84 yards, averaging an awful 1.5 yards per carry. He only had three good rushing performances the rest of the way, reaching 100 yards on the ground once, in Week 14 against Tennessee, when he got 101. In addition, Ivory only carried the ball more than 20 times on three occasions in his last 11 games.
Although Chris fought valiantly when on the field, as he always does, it was obvious that Ivory was not the same back after the Week 6 contest against the Redskins. He did flash his brilliance from time to time, break a big run here and there, and hammer his way through tackles at times, but overall, it just was not there.
It all finished up mysteriously in the Week 17 win-and-in game against the Buffalo Bills. With Bilal Powell out of the lineup, the Jets employed a bizarre offensive strategy, starting Stevan Ridley, who had 36 carries for 90 yards in eight games with the team, averaging 2.5 yards per carry.
Ivory only ended up with six carries in the all-important contest, despite the fact that he broke a huge run for 58 yards and totaled 81 yards in his limited work. He was clearly banged up. It’s either that or Bowles and Gailey needs to be evaluated by the team psychiatrist.
By no means would I attempt to say that the Jets are a better team without Ivory, but for the amount of money he signed for with Jacksonville, there was just no way the Jets were going to be able to go up that high. It’s a buyers’ market and the Jets are the guy who got robbed on his way to the auction.
Besides the clear financial reasons why Ivory is no longer a Jet, his style of play has clearly had an effect on his availability down the stretch of the season, which is when you really need your running backs at the top of their game.
That Jets’ front office and coaching staff were surely considering his durability in this process, along with the fact that Gailey prefers running backs that are true weapons in the passing game. Although Ivory did have a career high in receptions and receiving yards, it was more a product of the system than Ivory’s receiving skills.
Chris Ivory and his ruthless running style will surely be missed, especially if Powell jumps ship as well, but the Jets will find a way to replace them. It seems like every year, running backs come out of nowhere and steal the show. Maccagnan and company are going to find someone, and that player might be an even better fit in Chan Gailey’s spread offense.
Since the Jets’ current stable of running backs consists of Zac Stacy and Dominique Williams, they will certainly look to the free agency market to at least bring someone in to compete.
Stacy had a highly successful rookie season in 2013 with the Rams and is at least worth a look in training camp. Williams was an undrafted free agent with some upside, who will also be given an opportunity in camp, but neither one of them is making defensive coordinators lose any sleep.
They may even be able to grab one of the proven veteran HB’s available for a reasonable contract and hope to get a couple of years of prime football out of them as they groom a back they pick up in the draft.
Free agency is just beginning and we still have six months until the start of the 2016 season. Other teams will be cutting running backs and there are plenty of options already available in free agency as well as throughout the draft. There is no reason to panic just because Ivory is gone, or even if Powell follows suit. Neither of them are Barry Sanders and both are replaceable.
Maccagnan is definitely working as hard as he can to trade players they are considering letting go and restructuring the contracts of others to free up cap space as the Jets prepare for the official start of free agency.
The team will be cutting some players that they cannot find trade partners for and hopefully getting a few other players to rework their deals. The dust will clear, and the Jets will have a viable running back in their starting lineup, along with a solid backup before the season starts.
The search begins according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rappoport: