The New York Jets: Most Important Off-Season in Franchise History
Part 2 of 3
This is a three-part series discussing what will be the most important off-season in the history of the New York Jets.
There are two ways teams in the NFL build successful teams nowadays – surrounding a young, cheap quarterback with expensive pieces, or surrounding a top-tier quarterback with inexpensive talent.
The Rams are a perfect example of a team surrounding a young QB with a lot of talent. With Jared Goff on his rookie contract, the team was able to acquire Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh, and Brandin Cooks among other players to solidify the roster.
The Saints are a good example of a team surrounding a top-tier quarterback with cheap talent. According to spotrac.com, Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Michael Thomas, and Alvin Kamara – four of the team’s most important players – combine to take up less than 5% of the salary cap. For reference, Drew Brees takes up 13.52% of the cap.
Teams with a quarterback on a rookie contract can spend money elsewhere. They can fill up on short-term, more expensive contracts to surround the QB with as much talent as possible.
The New York Jets already have who they believe will be their franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold and are armed with the third overall pick in April’s draft and nearly $100 million in cap space for the 2019 season. The Jets have a chance to go from worst to first in the AFC East, something that two teams – the Texans and the Bears – did this year.
It is worth noting that both the Bears and Texans have a quarterback on a rookie contract.
Tom Brady cannot play forever, and both the Dolphins and Bills have plenty of uncertainty on their roster meaning the AFC East will be wide open in the upcoming years. The right moves this off-season will position the Jets to be the team to beat in the division for years to come.
Bell, Brown, and the Big Apple
Free agent running back Le’Veon Bell has been linked to the Jets for almost a year now. Bell has been vocal about getting guaranteed money in his upcoming deal and was willing to leave over $14 million on the table when he held out the entire 2018 season. If the Jets are willing to pay, Bell will come. There are some concerns will Bell, starting with the fact that he hasn’t played in over a year, but he could be worth the risk. A dynamic player who will help alleviate the pressure off a young quarterback, Bell will help in the running and the passing game.
Yes, Bell would be able to help Darnold immediately but is he worth the money and the risk? He has an injury history and two drug suspensions to date. Not to mention he will be a valued commodity and has been linked to many other teams including the Colts; who have plenty of cap space, a more developed offense, and play inside of a dome.
Antonio Brown has voiced his displeasure with the Steeler’s organization and rumors have been swirling about a possible trade out of Pittsburgh. If the Steelers are serious about trading Brown, they will have plenty of possible suitors, including the Jets. A generational talent, Brown would pose an immediate upgrade over the current wide receivers of the Jets.
What would the Steelers want in return for Brown? That’s ultimately what matters. Other interested teams, including big players in the NFC, may be willing to give up more to get him.
Bell and Brown would greatly help Sam Darnold’s development, but it is unlikely that either will be in NY next season.
With the second most cap space in the league, the Jets can surround Darnold with talent to help his development. Free agency, along with the development of homegrown players and the right trades, can help this team improve greatly in just one off-season.
The 2019 free agent class is deep at the wide receiver position, but there are plenty of things to be concerned about. Kelvin Benjamin and Martavis Bryant are two big name receivers with character concerns. Benjamin hasn’t been able to make it work with any quarterback he has played with and Bryant has a long history of off the field issues. Although both would improve the Jets offense, are they work the headache?
Veterans Randall Cobb and Golden Tate are all slated to become UFA this off-season and would contribute both on the field and in the locker room. Although Cobb is younger (29), it seems as though Tate (31) has more left in the tank. His abilities after the catch would make him one of Sam Darnold’s favorite targets.
Some names that make the most sense for the Jets to look at include De’Anthony Thomas, Kevin White, Cordarrelle Patterson, John Brown, and Corey Coleman.
Thomas is young speedster whose role in Kansas City has diminished since the emergence of Tyreek Hill.
Kevin White is a dark horse in this race, as injuries have hindered his potential and made him a forgotten man in Chicago. Both Thomas and White will be cheap options with great potential – low risk, high reward options for the Jets.
Patterson and Brown are both veterans in this league and have worked in different systems. Brown’s role in Baltimore was reduced when Lamar Jackson took over as the team became more focused on the run game.
Coleman is a huge question mark. A former first round pick, Coleman hasn’t lived up to his draft selection. A recent resurgence – if you can call it that – with the Giants put him back on the radar for some NFL teams.
The Jets took a step in retaining their own targets when they signed Quincy Enunwa to a 4-year, $36 million deal during the season. Keeping one of Darnold’s other main targets – Robby Anderson – should be high on the team’s to-do list.
Although there are some notable names from the running back position becoming free agents this off-season, if the Jets are not bringing in Le’Veon Bell they would be better off addressing the position via the draft.
They may not be a Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliott in this year’s draft, but there are great options that will help Darnold and the Jets offense. The Jets can wait until day 2 or 3 of the draft to address the position and still be fine.
According to ProFootball Focus, the Jets had the 26th ranked offensive line in 2018. When a QB has no time to throw, he will always look worse.
The offensive line should be addressed in the draft, although the Jets can find some help in free agency. Either way, it is clear that the Jets need help up front and how Mike Maccagnan decides to address the position will dictate much of Sam Darnold’s development.
Expect the Jets to hit the defensive side of the ball hard in free agency. There are some huge names on defense in this year’s free agent class.
The Jets have played a 3-4 defense under their two previous coaches, but new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams uses a 4-3 scheme. Because of this, there will be plenty of personnel changes on that side of the ball.
At DE, the Jets can eye game changers like DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Ansah, and Brandon Graham. All will command a big-time salary and multiple years.
If the Jets are looking for veterans on shorter deals, Cameron Wake, Julius Peppers, and Chris Long will be UFA this off-season. All are nearing the end of their careers and have contemplated retirement. Due to their age, the Jets may be able to get these players for a less expensive deal.
The Jets should be prepared to spend big on a pass rusher this off-season. The two most important things in today’s NFL are protecting your quarterback and getting after the opposing team’s quarterback.
There are other big-name FA that can solidify the defensive line. Ndamukong Suh, Bennie Logan, and Grady Jarrett all have more years of good football ahead of them.
The secondary definitely needs some help. Jamal Adams is a great safety, but besides him the secondary has been spotty at best. The Jets could pair him with LaMarcus Joyner, Tyrann Mathieu, or Landon Collins and have a formidable force at the back-end of their secondary for years to come. If they really want to splurge, they can target Earl Thomas to pair with Adams.
The best way for the Jets to get better quickly would be to spend more of their money on the defensive side of the ball. An ideal scenario would see the Jets bringing in Grady Jarrett and DeMarcus Lawrence to help out their defensive line and LaMarcus Joyner to help out the secondary. Pair these three with Jamal Adams and another defensive star selected with the third overall pick and the Jets defense has a core of players that can be their cornerstone for years to come.
On the offensive side of the ball, a lot can be addressed via the draft. The running back position and the offensive line can be fixed on days 2 and 3 of the draft. Bringing in Golden Tate on a short-term deal would help upgrade the receiving corps immediately. Other WRs, like Kevin White and John Brown, can be brought in on cheaper deals with less risk. Don’t rule out a trade or two for the Jets this off-season, especially with the third overall pick. Maccagnan moved up to select Darnold in last year’s draft. Teams looking for a QB would find the Jets to be great trade partners due to the fact that the Raiders, Buccaneers, and Giants own picks 4 through 6 and might be looking for a QB.
The Jets could move back, acquire more picks, and still end up with an elite defensive player, considering the fact that the draft this year is loaded with defensive talent. Depending on where they trade back (if they trade back), the Jets might even look to select the first OT of the draft to protect their franchise QB.
With all these decisions to be made, it is worth questioning whether Maccagnan is the right man for the job. This will be discussed in Part 3 of this off-season guide.