The New York Jets are set to have over a dozen unrestricted free agents this offseason. A good portion of those are fairly important players.
Also, the Jets have three players who are restricted free agents. One, in particular, most Jets fans have been clamoring for the team to keep.
Before diving into who the Jets’ three restricted free agents are and what the Jets should do with each one, let’s review how restricted free agency works.
Once a player (mostly undrafted free agents) has three accrued seasons of NFL experience, they are eligible for restricted free agency. A player qualifies for an accrued season when they record at least six regular season games in a year.
As a restricted free agent, your club from the last season has the ability to assign one of four different tenders (first round, second, original, right-of-first-refusal), all of which are one-year contracts worth an allotted amount. The player can just play the year out on the tender. They also do have the opportunity, while on the tender in the offseason, to negotiate and agree to a contract with another team. However, the team that assigned the tender has the opportunity to match the contract and retain the player.
So, in the end, the Jets do have fairly good control over all three of their restricted free agents. Let’s take a look at who they are and what the Jets should do with each one.
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2023 New York Jets restricted free agents:
Bryce Huff, EDGE:
Easily the most important restricted free agent, the Jets, have is Bryce Huff. One could even argue he is more important than all of the unrestricted free agents that the team has.
The edge pass rusher now has three years of accrued NFL experience as the Jets first added him as an undrafted free agent in 2020. Huff came in that year as a rookie and showed some flashes once he got an opportunity. Huff recorded two sacks and four quarterback hits in the 14 games he played that season (295 snaps).
Huff built on his encouraging first year when Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich came in. In nine games played in 2021, Huff again recorded two sacks but doubled his quarterback hit amount, finishing with eight. Saleh highlighted Huff as one of the team’s most improved players. The Jets’ pass rush noticeably fell off when Huff got hurt in his second year, the Jets’ pass rush noticeably fell off.
Finally, in year three, Huff broke out. Despite being a healthy inactive the first three weeks, Huff, in 14 games (191 snaps), recorded a ridiculous 36 pressures. His sack (3.5) and quarterback hit (10) totals both increased yet again. Huff had one valuable third down, two-minute situation role for the Jets’ fourth-ranked defense.
He provides a fast first-step get-off, a variety of pass rush moves he can win with, incredible bend at the top of his rush, and closing speed.
Huff turns just 25 in April. He is simply a player the Jets have to keep in not just 2023 but beyond.
So, how do the Jets keep him? The correct approach is placing the second-round tender on Huff. Per Over The Cap, the projected price tag for that tender is $4.308 million, a bargain for the Jets.
Not only that, but realistically, for another team interested in Huff, they would not only have to pay him a multi-year contract worth at least $5 million per year on average but have to part ways with their second-round pick. Assigning this tender puts the Jets in the driver’s seat.
Should the Jets put the original round tender on Huff, a team would absolutely be willing to give up a day-three pick and pay him.
The Jets and Huff can negotiate a multi-year deal as well. To start, though, they must assign the second-round tender, ensuring that Huff stays a Jet.
Jeff Smith, WR:
Jeff Smith is one of the Jets’ longer-tenured players. He first joined the team in 2019, signing as an undrafted free agent. The reason Smith, with four years as a Jet, is a restricted free agent (as opposed to three years) is because most of his rookie year was spent on the practice squad, not accounting as an accrued season.
Smith only turns 26 in April, and he is someone that the Jets would be wise to keep.
For starters, the depth at wide receiver is a current unknown. Corey Davis and Braxton Berrios are both viewed as cap casualties who could be released. Should they be, after Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore, the Jets are only left with Denzel Mims.
Smith, as a fifth or sixth receiver, offers blazing 4.3 speed, experience as a Jet (36 games), gadget-ability, and can contribute on special teams (187 snaps the last four years).
The Jets would likely only have to place the original round tender on Smith to keep him. That tender is projected to be worth $2.629 million. If the Jets, tight up against the budget, feel that price is a bit too steep, they can possibly look to just re-sign Smith on a one-year deal.
They can do that at a lesser price by giving Smith more of a guaranteed amount than the restricted tender, which is non-guaranteed, so Smith does not have to worry about being released prior to the regular season.
Smith is a serviceable backup with versatility, speed, and years of experience with the Jets, who they should have an interest in keeping.
James Robinson, RB:
What a confusing two-month tenure James Robinson just had with the Jets. Following the crushing season-ending injury to Breece Hall, the Jets immediately acquired Robinson to help aid the devastating loss. Robinson went on to play in just four games.
He averaged 2.9 yards per carry, was on the injury report going into just his second game with the Jets, and did eventually vent some disappointment after weeks on the inactive list.
After this, almost everyone would assume that the Jets allow Robinson to hit the market instead of paying him the $2.629 million that the original round tender costs.
The only two reasons the Jets would look to keep Robinson are the unexpected timetable for Hall’s return and the fact that the Jets will have a new offensive coordinator in 2023.
Including Hall, the Jets have an exciting and talented running back trio with Michael Carter and Bam Knight. All three will be 24 or younger next season.
Robinson is a gifted runner who has executed at a high level in the past. You never know exactly how things could play out here. Maybe, the Jets internally still like Robinson? However, until proven otherwise, one would have to think that the Jets do not allocate over $2.5 million to Robinson, given their current cap situation.