FLOWERHAM PARK, N.J. — Traditionally big spenders, the New York Jets are expected to dial back in free agency this year. They are dealing with less salary cap room than usual and their positional requirements are lower than in recent years.
They are also awaiting a decision on quarterback Aaron Rodgers, which will eat up $15.8 million in cap space under his current contract and $59 million in actual cash for 2023. There’s a good chance it will be restructured, but it will still have a significant impact on their off-season outlook. If not on Rodgers, they’ll spend it on another quarterback.
Looks like they have a two-pronged plan for free agency.
“As far as defense is concerned, [it’s] “Just making sure we can run it back with the guys we have,” coach Robert Saleh said. Then, aggressively, [it’s] To see if we can be judicious in our approach.”
As of Friday, the Jets were $1.5 million over the salary cap, according to the website Over the Cap, but that didn’t include the $5 million they saved to release wide receiver Braxton Berrios. Teams must be cap-compliant by March 15, the start of the league year.
They’ve already made an addition, after agreeing Thursday to acquire safety Chuck Clark in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. The trade won’t be official until March 15. The Jets now have two longtime starters under contract in Clarke and Jordan Whitehead, but they are at the same position – strong safety. This has fueled speculation that they could move on from Whitehead, but that’s probably contingent on them finding another safety in free agency.
After examining which free agents they can keep of their own, let’s project which free agents they can follow, breaking it down by position:
Center: With starter Connor McGovern set to hit the open market, the current offensive line resembles a bagel — it has a hole in the middle. Ethan Posic (Cleveland Browns) may be the best center in free agency, but a more cost-effective option may be 31-year-old Jake Brendel (San Francisco 49ers), who played 98% of the snaps last season. Ben Jones released by the Tennessee Titans is interesting because he played for new Jets line coach Keith Carter, formerly of the Titans. The point is that the 33-year-old Jones suffered two injuries last season and may be considering retirement.
wide receiver: If the Jets land Rodgers, names to watch are Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, a couple of his BFFs from the Green Bay Packers. The Jets could look for a third receiver to join Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore, depending on whether Corey Davis becomes a cap casualty. Lazard, 27, is coming off his best season (60 catches, 788 yards). At 32, Cobb’s best days are behind him, but the Jets are in need of a backup slot receiver after releasing Braxton Berrios. Worth noting: He reportedly attended Odell Beckham Jr.’s workout in Arizona on Friday. Overall, it is considered a poor free agent crop.
Security: The Jets need a ball-hawking, mid-field presence to complement Clarke. They could slide Whitehead into that role, but it’s not his specialty and with two strong safeties in the lineup the defense will be vulnerable in pass coverage. Free safety LaMarcus Joyner, 32, who led the team with three interceptions, is headed to free agency. Jimmie Ward (49ers), 31, would be a good fit as a hold-the-fort player. Saleh, formerly the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, was instrumental in Ward’s development, transitioning him from cornerback to safety. Ward, who had three interceptions last season, is worth watching.
Defensive Measures: The Jets only have two interior linemen under contract – Quinnen Williams and Tanzel Smart. This is a matter of concern. The problem is, really good defensive tackles don’t usually hit the market, and the ones that do tend to be pricey. One possibility is Larry Ogunjobi (Pittsburgh Steelers). The Jets showed interest one last off-season before landing in Pittsburgh, where he started 16 games. The Jets have three free agents of their own set to become the newbies, including Sheldon Rankins. They will be top priority.
Linebacker: There are some moving parts here. Quincy Williams and Kwon Alexander are pending free agents and CJ Mosley has a huge cap charge ($21.5 million) that needs to be brought down. The team is in talks with Williams to keep him off the market. As Saleh noted, the Jets will want to keep as many players as possible from a defense that ranks fourth in yards allowed. Tremaine Edmonds (Buffalo Bills) is a player Saleh has long admired — he once called him “a unicorn in the linebacker world” — but he’s only 25, a former first-round pick and The cost of obtaining it would be very high. Aziz Al-Shair (49ers), with 22 starts over the past two seasons, is another player Saleh is familiar with.