By Vincent Fodera @Fodera80
It’s no secret that rookie General Manager Joe Douglas has his work cut out for him in his first full off-season with the team. The Jets have a myriad of holes to fill on both sides of the ball due to a combination of lack of talent, free agent departures, and some likely cap saving cuts. Luckily, Douglas will have nearly $60 Million in cap space to work with, potentially up to $80 million depending on which cuts are made, and this year’s free agent class aligns nicely with some of New York’s most pressing needs. Continuing on with the latest installment of this New York Jets Offseason Primer series, let’s take a look at some external options the Jets can add to improve this roster.
The Team Needs
Before we take a look at who is out there for the Jets to sign, let’s examine what positions the team is actually in need. The list is long, but first and foremost it begins with overhauling the offensive line- the whole thing. We’re not talking about adding a piece or two and calling it a day, Joe Douglas needs to fill a starting role at all five positions: LT, LG, C, RG, and RT. Now, it’s unlikely and unreasonable to assume thi will be done entirely through Free Agency, the NFL Draft will likely be an equally important source as an infusion of new talent. The only offensive linemen on the team under contract for 2020 with tangible NFL experience are 2019 Rookie Tackle Chuma Edoga, backup Center Jonotthan Harrison, and oft-injured starting Guard Brian Winters- who will likely be cut for cap space as he has not lived up to his contract. Edoga and Harrison received somewhat significant playing time as injury replacements, and while okay, did nothing to convince the team to hand them starting jobs in 2020. If the team is serious about contending and protecting their franchise QB, they’ll overhaul the unit and let those two serve as primary backups.
The team is also expected to part ways with CBs Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts as both are paid like starters, but neither have played like it. Even before those cuts, the team was devoid of starter level talent at position, but they will likely also now be devoid of much depth as well. 2019 Rookie Bless Austin had a positive season last year, and deserves an opportunity in 2020, but the team can’t rely on him to hold up the entire unit, especially with probable departure of impending free agent Brian Poole. On the other end of the defense, the Jets severely lack a pass rusher- as they have every year since 2006 when they traded away John Abraham. That’s right, it’s been nearly 15 years since the Jets had a player on the roster that could be considered a starter-level pass rusher off the edge, and no- I do not know how either. Really, this is more than just one need. Every successful team in the NFL today has multiple edge rushers, the Jets really need to find at least two guys to fit this hole.
Going back to the offensive side of the ball, Sam Darnold is going to need some more weapons at his disposal. The situation isn’t as dire as his offensive line (at least not as long as they don’t trade Le'Veon Bell), but they’re going to need to either re-sign or replace free agent Robby Anderson and add depth at RB and WR. They also need to find a competent backup QB, as Darnold is currently the only one under contract and we saw for 4 weeks that Adam Gase couldn’t cover up the likes of Luke Falk in an emergency.
If I were to arbitrarily rank the Jets needs for brevity’s sake, it would look a little something like this: LT, EDGE1, CB1, RT, C, LG, RG, WR1, CB2, EDGE2, WR4,RB2, QB2, RB3, Depth OL3, Depth OL4. I wouldn’t spend much effort looking at interior DL or off-ball linebackers this Spring, they’re really solid at those positions and have good depth already.
Top of the Market Targets
OG Brandon Scherff, Washington Redskins - Scherff is the best interior lineman on the market this year. The 28 year-old 3-time pro bowler would represent an immediate impact upgrade to the Jets offensive line. He’s seen his season cut short by injury a handful of times in his career, so there is some risk here- but there is no Guard on the market that matches his talent. Look for Scherff to command a contract around $13 Million per year.
RT Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans - On the edge of the line, Conklin is this year’s top free agent Tackle. At just 25 years old, Conklin is viewed as an ascending talent, having just spent the year clearing lanes for Derrick Henry’s career year. A team signing Conklin can do so long term and not have to think about the position for the next half-decade. The young Tackle is expected to sign for around $15 Million per year.
OG Joe Thuney, New England Patriots - Thuney is a 3-time starter at Guard on a Super Bowl offensive line. While some may be leary of the “Scarnecchia Effect” (where former Patriot Offensive Linemen quickly regress without the coaching of OL coach/guru Dante Scharnecchia), Thuney is a safe bet to continue his solid play through a balanced combination of proper technique and play strength.
OG Andrus Peat, New Orleans Saints - Continuing on with this strong Guard free agent class, Peat has been a pro bowler the past two seasons. While he had a rough playoff game versus the Vikings this season, Peat is still just 26 and has shown some very solid play on a great Saints offense. The issue with Peat has been his inconsistency and tendency to crumble in high pressure situations. If a team with a strong offensive line coach can work on cleaning up those issues, then a team may have a steal on their hands.
EDGE Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville Jaguars - Just 24 years old with all four seasons having 8 sacks or more, Ngakoue is the premier pass rushing talent on the market this year. He is expected to cash in on a deal worth nearly $18 million per year. The only issue here is whether or not he’ll actually make it to Free Agency. Ngakoue has made it pretty clear he does not intend to return to Duval county, but that doesn’t mean the Jaguars won’t slap him with the franchise tag.
EDGE Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Barret spent last offseason looking for his long term home after a promising career start in limited reps as a former undrafted rookie in Denver. He didn’t get that offer, so he signed a 1 year “prove-it” deal in Tampa. Barrett took that opportunity and churned out an insane 19.5 sack season with 6 forced fumbles and an interception for good measure. The problem teams are going to have is deciding if 2019 is Barrett’s new norm, or if he’s a one year wonder. Even if he never approaches 20 sacks again, his history suggests he should be capable of averaging around 10 sacks per year. The question is- will one team fall in love with his 2019 and pay him as an elite edge rusher?
EDGE Jadeveon Clowney, Seattle Seahawks - It feels as though Clowney’s been in the league for a decade, however he’s just 26 years old. He’s an elite talent at what he does, and will be paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million per year, but he’s going to be more valuable for a team looking for a rusher from the defensive end spot, rather than from an outside quarterback spot. His sack total is pretty underwhelming, but he makes up for it with his ability to pressure the QB and collapse the pocket, along with his nose for knocking the football loose.
EDGE Matt Judon, Baltimore Ravens - One of the few starters the Ravens are set to lose in 2020, Judon is coming off a career year with 9.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. Judon also seems to be an ascending talent, in a comparable situation to Za’Darius Smith last year. Expect a similar deal for the 27 year old Judon.
WR Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys - Cooper has been an absolute superstar since arriving in Dallas last year, finally realizing all of the talent the Oakland Raiders thought they would reap the benefits of when they drafted him 4th overall in 2015. Cooper represents a true #1 WR threat and is expected to sign for nearly $20 million per year. Teams will have to decide whether or not investing that kind of money into the WR position is worth it, but some team out there is going to make their QB very happy.
CB Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys - Jones switched from Safety to CB last year and immediately became an impact player at the position. He’s a superior athlete with great durability, and is particularly sticky in coverage. The only problem- he doesn't force turnovers, Despite having top tier coverage skills, he hasn’t had a single interception in two years as a full time CB. Rumor has it that he’ll command a deal that makes him the highest paid CB in the NFL, but GM’s will have to decide whether or not his defensive prowess is enough to deserve that kind of investment without a history of creating turnovers.
CB James Bradberry, Carolina Panthers - Bradberry is poised to see a nice payday this off-season. He’s one of the few CBs on the market that can solidify a starting spot as boundary corner for a team. He’s stated he’d like to be a career Panther, and has a former Head Coach he admires greatly in Washington with Ron Rivera, so any team outside of those two may face an uphill battle to gain his interest.
The Consolation Prizes
OT Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay Packers - Bulaga is a bit on the older side and has had some durability issues in the past, however he’s been above-average starter for quite some time in the league. A team in need of a Tackle that misses out on Conklin may look to Bulaga as a stop gap option to solidify the position for a year or two.
OT D.J. Humphries, Arizona Cardinals - The 26 year old Left Tackle finally played a full healthy season this year and will likely be in demand. He finally began to play to his potential this year, so he’s viewed as an ascending talent. Humphries has expressed a desire to return to Arizona and be a long term piece to what’s being built there, so outsiders may be at a disadvantage trying to lure him away from the desert.
OG Graham Glasgow, Detroit Lions - Glasgow has been a perfectly capable starter for the Lions the past few years. He doesn’t do anything particularly special, but he’s far from a liability and still on the right side of 30. Glasgow should provide value for a team not looking to splurge on one the bigger target Guards.
OG/C Connor McGovern, Denver Broncos - In a weak free agent class for Centers, McGovern is likely the top option. McGovern may actually be a better value at Guard however. He’s a good option for a team looking to bring in competition for a lowly starter, but I’d be worried about handing him an uncontested starting role.
C Ted Karras, New England Patriots - The grand-nephew of Hall of Fame DT Alex Karras carved himself a nice starting role as the Patriots Center this season after 3 years as a backup swing lineman. He was solid in his first year as a full-timer, but not great. The question is whether or not Karras can build on this year, or if this is just the player that he is. If a team thinks they can mold him and further develop him, he may get a bigger deal than expected. I have my doubts, as I feel like this is just another case of Dante Scarnecchia making making a sub-par backup lineman look passable.
WR A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals - Calling A.J. Green a consolation prize feels wrong, but the facts are he’s 32 years old and is coming off a season where he missed all 16 games. There are valid questions about what kind of player Green is going to be in 2020. If the Bengals don’t tag him, he’s likely to narrow his considerations to teams that give him a chance for a late-career ring.
WR Emmanuel Sanders, San Francisco 49ers - Sanders is another aging WR that still has some juice to his game. He’s a good option for a team needing a short term bolstering to complete a WR core.
WR Randall Cobb, Dallas Cowboys - Cobb saw somewhat of a career revitalization in his lone year with Dallas. He’s a good addition for a team looking to add to an already established WR core.
EDGE Dante Fowler Jr., Las Angeles Rams - Fowler is coming off his first ever double-digit sack season, realizing some of the potential he came out of Florida with in 2015. THe question is whether or not this is the real Fowler, or is he a product of playing next to Aaron Donald. Rumor has it that the Falcons are his preferred destination.
EDGE Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons - Speaking of the Falcons, Atlanta believed they had a superstar in Beasley after his phenomenal start to his career. The past few years haven’t been as kind. A team signing him will hope a change of scenery can spark a once promising career.
EDGE Robert Quinn, Dallas Cowboys - Another possible Cowboys departure, Quinn enjoyed a successful season in Dallas this past year. He’ll be entering his age 30 season, so he’ll likely be viewed as a finishing piece for a team in win-now mode, rather than someone to build around.
EDGE Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh Steelers - After 4 years of middling production, Dupree broke out for 11.5 sacks this year in his age 26 season. The Steelers scheme is designed to put outside linebackers in a position to succeed, so there’s a question to whether or not Dupree’s production is a true sign of his value. Either way, he’s starter-material on an NFL defense, but it will be interesting to see what kind of deal teams are willing to give him.
EDGE Markus Golden, New York Giants - Golden signed a prove it deal with the Giants last year, and held up his end of the bargain. He’ll look to cash in on the second double-digit sack season of his career. There’s some injury risk here, but he represents some potential good value for a team that misses out on the premier names on the market
EDGE Jamie Collins, New England Patriots - Collins looked like a potential star in his first stint in New England. Then he was traded to Cleveland. Things changed. Then he came back to New England and looked good again. It’s fair to question if he’s a product of New England’s system, and I’m sure plenty of NFL teams will have the same apprehension.
CB Chris Harris Jr., Denver Broncos - The soon-to-be 31-year old has been one of the premier slot corners in the league for the better part of decade in Denver. He can still be an effective player in an NFL defense, though his play has begun to degrade with age. A team in need of short-term fix would be best served by Harris’ talents.
CB Trae Waynes, Minnesota Vikings - The Vikings made Waynes the 11th overall pick back in 2015. Waynes never quite lived up to that billing, but provided Minnesota with an average starter on the outside for the past 3 years. I wouldn't feel comfortable adding him to a roster to be an unquestioned starter, but at 28 years old this July, he should have a year or two as solid play as depth and spot start duty.
CB Logan Ryan, Tennessee Titans - The New Jersey product is coming off what may be his best career season- at the hesitation-inducing age of 28. Going into his age 29 season, there should be some concern as to whether or not he’ll be able to sustain his production. A team who thinks they’re close should be his main suitors, as a team on a rebuild can't take that chance.
CB Bradley Roby, Houston Texans - Roby is a scheme-versatile, solid, but not spectacular corner. He can play inside the slot, or out on the boundary. He’ll give up his share of plays, and he’s going to start to slow down as he nears 28 years old, but he can still make plays that impact the game. He’s a corner that likes to take risks, so buyer-beware, but a team with an already solid DB core may be able to fully take advantage of the value he provides.
CB Kendall Fuller, Kansas City Chiefs - Fuller is one of the more intriguing players on the market this year. He’s a true slot corner, and still just 24 years old with 4 years under his belt. He was once seen as an ascending player in this league, but last year seemed to just completely fall off. A team might be able to get a steal if Fuller can find himself again and get back on track.
The Other Guys
The 30 players I’ve listed above are the ones I believe will be signed this March with the intention of being notable starters for the team that brings them on. Obviously there will be other signings, but the rest of the guys on the market are players I look at as depth and part-time role players. While these players do serve an important role for their teams, they’re in large part not players I view as making a notable impact for 2020.
Be on the lookout for the 3rd installment of my New York Jets Offseason Primer series, where I dive into which prospects best align with team’s needs in April’s Draft!