The New York Jets have plenty of positional problems to solve on both sides of the ball. But which issues should take priority?
If 2020 proved anything, it’s that the New York Jets have plenty of problems to solve.
But, even with the second-highest cap space in football, the Jets probably won’t be able to solve all these issues thie offseason. So, with March’s free agency festivities approaching, which position groups should they prioritize with the cap space surplus?
1. Offensive Line
One could argue that the Jets must resolve their quarterback situation before embarking on new offseason endeavors. But think of it this way…if the Jets were to gain, say, Deshaun Watson, while failing to address their blocking corps, the Clemson alum would more or less be stuck in the same situation he faces in Houston: running for his life in an attempt to pull off miracles in what likely amounts to a lost cause.
It’s impossible to fully grade Joe Douglas’ tenure as the Jets’ general manager, but his willingness to address the offensive line is admirable and cannot be denied. Douglas’ first moves at the helm were to convince Matt Kalil out of retirement and to bring Alex Lewis in through a trade with Baltimore. In his first draft, Douglas passed on name-brand receiving talents to take Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall pick. The Louisville product became the first blocker chosen with the Jets’ top pick(s) since the legendary combo of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in 2006. Douglas also went splurging on blocking help through free agency, namely in the form of Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, and George Fant, among others. The veteran haul proved mixed results, but most of them have single-season outs (with only McGovern in a secure state for 2021). It’ll be interesting to see who stays and goes as the Jets prepare for what will likely be an offensive overhaul.
Becton was a great start as we clearly saw last season, but more is needed to truly fortify the wall in front of the quarterback, be it Watson, Sam Darnold, Russell Wilson, or a draftee.
Even if it means sticking with Darnold. the Jets need to resolve their quarterback situation as soon as possible. Expanding on why that’s important would be regurgitating almost every football cliche in the book, but the Jets need to gain clarity one way or the other.
As of now, the only guarantee is that the situation is guaranteed to be settled by April 29…the first day of the 2021 NFL Draft, where the Jets own the second overall pick in the NFL Draft in Cleveland. Many assume such a pick will be used on one of the quarterback prospects the Jacksonville Jaguars don’t take, and yet, the Jets have seemingly been connected to every disgruntled elite quarterback that wants a change of setting. The Jets are nowhere near a mindset where they can improvise on draft day. Having a concrete plan is so crucial moving forward for a team so embedded in a perpetual rebuild. Whatever the Jets do, be it Darnold, a new franchise man through free agency/the draft, or even a stopgap thrower like the Colts did with Phillip Rivers, they have to have a plan.
3. Wide Receiver
Obviously, the Jets should not aim for a roster setup that serves to please the fantasy football owner. But, the fact of the matter is, the modern NFL is one that does embrace high-scoring games, as stat ledgers occasionally rival Arena Football League contests. Since Brandon Marshall left after the 2016 season, the Jets have mustered only 15 occasions where a receiver has hit triple digits in receiving yards. Eight of those tallies were earned by Robby Anderson, who was allowed to leave the metropolitan area without much of a fight. Draft Becton was obviously the right move to make, but it came at the cost of passing on elite receiving talent. Shortly after the Becton choice, Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson found their respective homes.
Even though his rookie season was plagued by injuries, the Jets have high hopes for second round choice Denzel Mims, but he can’t do it alone, and the Jets could use some veteran assistance to help oversee his first NFL seasons and his presumed ascension to the top of the receiver depth chart. There’s plenty of elite veteran help available this offseason, and the Jets should not only focus on getting some big play assistance but on gaining some catching continuity as well. To put things in painful perspective…no wide receiver from Darnold’s rookie season was on the roster last season.
The secondary is by far by the Jets’ most desperate defensive area, one that may be glad that the Jamal Adams saga is over, but has a long way to go in terms of filling the talent void left behind in his wake. All signs seem to point toward the team franchise tagging Marcus Maye, but it’ll take far more than an expensive tryout season under Robert Saleh to fully fix the unit. There is a lot of young potential to work with, like that of Bryce Hall, Ashtyn Davis, and Bless Austin, but medical absences prevented them from making a true impact last year.
Right from the get-go, it was clear that last season was going to a problem for the Jets, as C.J. Mosley (understandably) opted out and hopeful sophomore Blake Cashman endured another injury-riddled season. Several depth options came up big (Neville Hewitt, Tarell Basham), but they’re up to hit the open market. Mosley’s (presumed) return should help soothe the blow a little bit, but the Jets still need to do their due diligence, particularly on their edge rush that’s likely dealing with Josh Allen (and possibly Tua Tagovailoa) twice a year for the foreseeable future.
6. Tight End
The Jets are certainly inspired by the re-emergence of Chris Herndon and hope he’ll be able to emerge as a top target for whoever the quarterback may be next season. They could certainly use some refreshing in the area, especially with blocking option Daniel Brown hitting the market, but unless they find some themselves in a comfortable spot to take Kyle Pitts early (potentially through a draft day trade?), they’ll probably hope that Herndon’s rebirth was not a fluke, but rather a return to form.
7. Running Back
If there’s one guarantee about the aftermath of the Le’Veon Bell saga, it’s that it’s going to be a long, long time before the Jets shell out a big contract to a running back. They likely view La’Michael Perine as a bit of a long-term project, but upcoming free agents Ty Johnson and Josh Adams proved their NFL mettle in the latter stages of last season…provided when their carries weren’t being taken by Frank Gore. Had the Jets given Johnson and Adams a brighter shot, the running back slot could’ve ranked lower on this list. Now, they have to scour both the free agent wire and the latter days of the draft to bolder the current package.
8. Special Teams
With an offense trapped in renovations, special teams are crucial for the Jets moving forward, whether it’s to provide good starting field position, to end a drive with points via reliable field goal kickers, or to pin the opponent deep when the drive fizzles out. The Jets might have two of those three areas settled through Braden Mann punting and a combination of Braxton Berrios and Corey Ballentine returning, but they need to resolve their kicking situation after Sam Ficken struggled after an injury last year.
9. Defensive Line
Even with the release of Henry Anderson, the Jets are relatively set on their front group, energized by the redemption season of Quinnen Williams, though this area could quickly shoot up the last if the former No. 3 pick’s biggest nightmare comes true and the Jets opt to ship him off in an aforementioned quarterback hypothetical. The departure of Anderson is soothed by the potential return of Kyle Phillips, who impressed as an undrafted rookie but missed all of last season with an injury.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags