The New York Jets undoubtedly improved this offseason, but there are several areas of need to address as the calendar flips to April.
The New York Jets undoubtedly became a better team this offseason. Whether that’s a result of the Adam Gase era giving them nowhere to go but up or it leads to actual results on the field remains to be seen, but the Jets have laid down a solid foundation for the Robert Saleh era. Optimism reigns for an already star-crossed franchise coming off a two-win season through the signings of names like Tevin Coleman, Corey Davis, and Carl Lawson.
“There’s a lot of optimism, especially coming off a bad season, so I’m looking forward to working. I love the process,” Lawson said in video provided by the Jets. He compared the situation to franchise mode on the Madden NFL video game franchise. “I play Madden because I love building teams. I love franchise mode. Franchise mode hasn’t changed on Madden in like 15 years, but I’m never going to stop loving it because I get to build, I get to grow, I get to improve.”
Yet, as the calendar flips to April and the free agency frenzy mostly pacified, the Jets have several areas of need that have yet to be satisfied. Competing in the crowded AFC will probably be difficult with even the perfect offseason, but the Saleh era can get off to an optimally smooth start if the following areas are satisfied, preferably sooner rather than later…
Solving the offensive line issues was probably at the top of the Jets’ offseason to-do list, the necessity even outweighing the quarterback quandary. No matter who’s throwing the ball, he’s going to need protection.
Joe Douglas has shown he’s willing to make up for the blocking negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. His drafting of Mekhi Becton was a strong start, but his free agency signings failed to pan out. Several are set to return for another season, but the Jets missed out on the big targets (Joe Thuney, Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler), adding only interior man Dan Feeney from the Los Angeles Chargers. Another addition, tight end Tyler Kroft, has gained positive reviews for his blocking, but nothing that should dramatically change the Jets’ protection affairs.
An interesting gambit for the Jets would be to draft top blocking prospect Penei Sewell with the second overall choice and letting Sam Darnold work behind a revamped line, but the Jets’ due diligence at incoming rookie passing class hints that they’re headed toward that direction. But at least one of their early picks, namely the 23rd and 34th overall selections, should be used on a blocker if only to raise the heat on some of the incumbents. Veteran help from abroad, like Kansas City’s Austin Reiter, should also be considered. Reiter, set to turn 30 in November, was the Chiefs’ starting center in each of the last two Super Bowls.
After the spending frenzy in March, the Jets appear to have a plan in place when it comes to their safeties. Marcus Maye was granted the franchise tag, which basically serves as a $10 million “prove it” deal. On the strong side, the post-Jamal Adams era continues. Ashtyn Davis will get a de facto second rookie season after injuries marred his original and the Jets have brought in a strong mentor and veteran prescience in LaMarcus Joyner to help out. Elsewhere on defense, front seven newcomers Lawson and Jarrad Davis have experiences in the 4-3 scheme that Robert Saleh is reportedly hoping to implement.
But the cornerback depth is definitely concerning. Youngsters Bless Austin and Bryce Hall have shown flashes of brilliance in their infantile NFL careers, but they’ll probably need further development before fully embracing the starting roles. Newly signed Justin Hardee is listed as a corner but primarily works on special teams. The Jets also have a decision to make on one of their free agents, Brian Poole.
The 23rd pick, obtained from Seattle for Adams, can potentially be used on the top cornerbacks on the draft, namely Caleb Farley, Patrick Surtain, or Jaycee Horn.
The Jets have not had a quarterback start every game in a season since Ryan Fitzpatrick went all 16 in 2015. If Darnold stays, the Jets should be ready for the unthinkable again, as he has yet to play a full NFL season. Should the rookie arrive, some see Darnold as a safety blanket. But if Zach Wilson or Justin Fields make their entrance, Darnold still shouldn’t stay. There doesn’t need to be a quarterback controversy and the USC alum isn’t at the “veteran mentor” stage.
When Darnold got hurt last season, the Philadelphia-bound Joe Flacco did a serviceable job in relief. But with the Super Bowl XLVII MVP donning a new shade of green, they need to be prepared in case of an emergency. The draft can’t be an option, as the Jets have far too many needs to fill with their surplus and the fourth-round choice of James Morgan in last year’s proceedings remains puzzling. If they want a safety net that can win games, Saleh and Mike LaFleur’s Bay Area comrade Nick Mullens could be an option, while veteran mentors are available through Alex Smith, Brian Hoyer, or Blake Bortles.
Since Pro Bowler Jason Myers absconded to Seattle, the Jets have gone through six different kickers over the last two seasons. When you’re a team like the Jets, a team that struggles to get into the end zone, you need a reliable kicker to ensure visits to opposing territory end with at least some points. There appears to be a competition in place between two of those names (Sam Ficken and Chase McLaughlin), but the Jets need reliability and would be smart to showcase new talent.
The Jets haven’t used a draft pick on a kicker since Mike Nugent in the second round of the 2005 selections. There’s certainly no need to go that early this time around, but the selection of punter Braden Mann with their final pick last year shows the Jets won’t hesitate to address their special teams on draft weekend. Evan McPherson (Florida) and Jorge Borregales (Miami) are the top boots this time around.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags