New York Jets: Efficient Free Agency Creating Draft Flexibility

Geoff Magliocchetti
New York Jets, Joe Douglas
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – SEPTEMBER 08: General Manager Joe Douglas of the New York Jets in action against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium on September 8, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

The New York Jets missed out on some of their top targets, but they’ve filled major needs and created flexibility at the draft and beyond.

The New York Jets’ free agency yield to date is a lot like a child receiving fancy clothes, school supplies, or a toothbrush for Christmas…these aren’t necessarily the ones you want, but they’re what you need.

Patience has been the name of the game thus far as the Jets seek reinforcements for their quest to end a playoff dright approaching a decade. They’re not blessed with the surplus that led to the additions of Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley. But cap space funds, to the tune of circa $46 million, give Joe Douglas room to work with in his first offseason as general manager.

The Jets have the flashy toys everybody wants, particularly on offense. Bell is working alongside Sam Darnold, set to enter his third year as the Jets’ most legitimate savior at quarterback in who knows how long. In essence, however, the Jets bought themselves a pair of Cadillacs while ignoring the mold damage in their basement.

That latter, lingering problem has long personified by the offensive line meant to pave the way for Darnold and Bell. Darnold has shown progress over two seasons, but who knows how much potential is stifled by the fact he’s running for his life every Sunday. In two seasons, he has been sacked 63 times. 2019 backups Luke Falk and Trevor Siemian were brought down on an additional 18 occasions while Darnold sat with an illness for three games (all Jets losses). Meanwhile, Bell was forced into the lowest tallies of his career (789 yards, 3 touchdowns, 3.2 average).

The Mike Maccagnan era was defined by its negligence on the offensive line. Prior to taking Chuma Edoga in last year’s third round, the Jets hadn’t chosen a lineman during the draft’s first two days since 2010 (the forgotten Vlad Ducasse). It was the Jets’ big ticket players that wound up paying the price.

Getting offensive line help isn’t one of the more desirable tasks in football. Blockers, in general, may be the most unappreciated group in the major North American sports. Tackle-eligible plays and fumble recoveries in the end zone notwithstanding, there’s little chance to end up in the box score. It’s rare to see fans don the high numerals of linemen on their game day jerseys (Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson were welcome exceptions). The networks don’t cut to draft day parties to show fans going crazy over the selection of a lineman (a vocal few, in fact, jeered the choice of Ferguson as it ensured Matt Leinart would not wear Jets green).

But the early stages of the Joe Douglas era show that a new stanza of Jets history has begun. One of his first moves, for examples, was convincing Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil to come out of retirement. That move didn’t work out, but it set the stage for a changing of the guard.

With these needs being addressed, they can indulge in new fantasies dominated by skill players.

The earliest portions of 2020 free agency were dominated by the “same old Jets” narratives and tweets. One by one, the Jets’ favorite targets went off the board. Jack Conklin went to Cleveland. Joe Thuney was franchise tagged by the Patriots. Graham Glasgow joined up with Denver. It appeared the Jets would be forced to deal with their makeshift pieces for 2020. All the while, fellow AFC East competitors Buffalo and Miami got better, at least on paper.

Patience, however, was the name of Douglas’ game. It’s a virtue that has followed him from Pennsylvania. Super Bowl-winning general manager Howie Roseman couldn’t help but admire the patience and persistence Douglas, then the Philadelphia Vice President of Player Personnel, showed when they collaborated on the Eagles’ drafts that eventually led to victory in Super Bowl LII.

“We’ve put egos aside,” Roseman told The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Zach Berman leading up to the 2017 draft. “Since he’s been here, have we done everything I’ve wanted to do? No. Have we done everything he’s wanted to do? No. But have we done everything right for the Philadelphia Eagles? Yes.”

“We want to do whatever it takes to bring a winning product to this city.”

Roseman’s comments could’ve well applied to the 2020 Jets. They missed out on their top targets, but they found serviceable veteran replacements. Their first addition was Seattle tackle George Fant. Tuesday brought about not only the return of solid substitution Alex Lewis but also the arrival of new center Connor McGovern.

New York Jets, Connor Mcgovern

Oct 1, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos guard Connor McGovern (60) against the Kansas City Chiefs at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Additionally, the Jets filled another need by giving cornerback Brian Poole another year at an affordable $5 million.

Suddenly…the Jets have freedom and flexibility, especially when it comes to the NFL Draft.

New York mock drafts in recent years have been dominated by offensive linemen, but these predictions have often been proven wrong with “best player available” selection that didn’t make sense with the team so far from the Super Bowl. Plenty of draft study has since been dedicated to likes of blockers like Jedrick Wills and Tristan Wirfs.

Now, the Jets have more room to work with when it comes to the 11th overall pick. A draft full of strong receiving talent like CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs is now open to them, or at least more open when it comes to comfort at the pick and position. Further opportunities are there to perhaps even trade down and acquire more capital in the process.

Furthermore, the Jets’ remaining cap space (circa $25 million after the McGovern contract) can now be dedicated to, once again, needs beyond the line. Robby Anderson’s situation is currently in limbo, but the Jets have more needs that need fulfillment. Darnold could use a veteran mentor backup. Spell back Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery could hit the open market. Special teams needs might need an overhaul if Lac Edwards departs.

The Jets and their fans might’ve missed out on the gifts they really wanted…the Conklins, the Thuneys, the Dante Fowlers…but, at least on paper, this is a better team than the one that left the New Era Field gridiron with a meaningless win over the Bills.

In the end, that’s the greatest gift of all, at least at this time of the year.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags