As NFL free agency gets underway, the New York Jets have plenty of needs, some more imperative than others.
While sports have crawled to a standstill, the NFL rages on in the form of its free agency proceedings. The New York Jets and their brethren have started making moves in their never-ending quest for a Super Bowl title. Gang Green has many needs as they look to end a playoff drought that is nearing a decade. Some needs, however, are more imperative than others, as they enter a crucial point on the franchise timeline.
1. Offensive Line
The Jets are in the midst of an exciting period in franchise history where they have two potential backfield saviors. With that great power comes great responsibility, as Sam Darnold and Le’Veon Bell need protection. Thus, blocking becomes by far their biggest need as the transaction period of the NFL calendar begins. As things get underway, a pair of serviceable outside starters (Kelvin Beachum, Brandon Shell) are up for free agency. Guard Brian Winters has been somewhat reliable, but the Jets would save just under $7.3 million in cap space if he is let go. It’s probably time to pull the plug on the Ryan Kalil experiment, but competition may nonetheless be brought in at center for Jonotthan Harrison. The Jets signed Connor McGovern to compete with Harrison in 2020 on Tuesday afternoon. They also signed tackle, George Fant, who will slot in as a primary protectant for Darnold.
2. Wide Receivers
Every great quarterback has reliable receivers attached to him, and the Jets need to take care of this now with Darnold still developing. The Jets can gain a lot of clarity on their future once the Robby Anderson situation is resolved. Anderson will likely be looking for his market value (likely at least $11 million) so the Jets (currently working with just under $45 million in cap space) might make a few budgetary cuts if they’re going to keep, by far, their most prolific receiver since 2016. The free-agent market is slightly bare with the potential exception of Amari Cooper now that the Dallas Cowboys have franchise tagged Dak Prescott.
3. Edge Rushing
In the NFL, empires can rise and fall with the play under center. Thus, opposing defenses need to make sure that quarterback is as uncomfortable as possible. The Jets have had major trouble in that department in recent years. They’ve ranked 20th or worse in sacks in three of the past four seasons, and pressure will be absolutely necessary when dealing with a mobile threat like Josh Allen in Buffalo for the next several seasons (and a potential multi-talented thrower like Tua Tagovailoa possibly coming to Miami and/or New England). Brandon Copeland and Jordan Jenkins are the Jets’ current free agents on the edge, and keeping them becomes somewhat imperative after Chris Jones and Shaq Barrett were respectively tagged by Kansas City and Tampa Bay.
Two special teamers represented the Jets in the 2019 Pro Bowl, but both kicker Jason Myers and returner Andre Roberts each departed last offseason. The Jets went through four different kickers after Myers left, and neither Ty Montgomery or Braxton Berrios was able to fill the void Roberts left behind. They were able to lock up long snapper Tom Hennessy through 2024, but punter Lac Edwards is also up for free agency this spring. Brant Boyer could be looking at a very different unit come training camp.
The Jets’ future is perhaps defined by the antics of Jamal Adams, but he’s going to need some help. New York sorely lacks in secondary depth, something that came to the forefront when injuries took out several key names. Many Jets fans are going to going to celebrate the departure of Trumaine Johnson, but it’s going to eliminate another potential starter. Brian Poole is one of the Jets’ biggest impending departures, and they must bring him back. Bless Austin turned out to be a day three gem in his first, abbreviated year.
6. Interior Defense
Last season saw the Jets drastically upgrade their interior help, adding inside linebacker CJ Mosley in free agency and drafting tackle Quinnen Williams third overall. There could be cap casualties in the interior group, like Avery Williamson ($6.5 million in savings), Steven McLendon ($2.5 million), and Henry Anderson ($1.3 million). Still, there are serviceable, affordable options on both fronts. Former Eagles front office man Joe Douglas could look into a reunion with, say Nigel Bradham, and other interior options include Nick Vigil or a perhaps a reunion with Kevin Pierre-Louis could be in the cards. Affordable free agent tackles include another Eagle, Timmy Jernigan.
For the umpteenth year in a row, the Jets are looking for help at quarterback, but not in the way you’re accustomed to. Darnold is undoubtedly the Jets’ future on offense, but the fact remains that he has missed six games over the past two seasons…all Jets losses. Losing Darnold should not mean that the operation folds entirely. Thus a veteran backup would be a wise investment, especially because Darnold repeatedly spoke wonders about the impact Josh McCown had on him during his rookie season. The Jets had the right idea in picking up Trevor Siemian last season, but the former Denver starter is slated to hit free agency after an injury ended his New York tenure after one half.
8. Running Back
Douglas’ biggest accomplishment during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis was firmly declaring that the Jets had no interest in trading Bell, whose name was brought up at the trade deadline and almost immediately after the 2019 season. This clarity allowed the Jets to fully assess their offseason plan to build around he and Darnold. Spell options may be necessary, however, as both Montgomery (who never truly found a slot in the rushing rotation) and Bilal Powell are hitting free agency.
9. Tight End
Chris Herndon is set to return in 2020, and the Jets certainly hope he duplicates the production and potential he displayed in his rookie season. In the meantime, the Jets were able to find depth in the form of veterans Daniel Brown and Ryan Griffin (a late summer addition who later inked a four-year deal). There’s certainly a place for fourth-round sophomore Trevon Wesco as well, potentially even as a fullback.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags