For the Jets, it’s time to Joe.
General manager Joe Douglas has spent his first year and a half with the team trying to clear bad contracts and acquire draft capital to rebuild. Now, It’s time to stop planning and start doing.
The Jets enter free agency with the second-most salary cap space in the NFL, $69.2 million. Their roster is filled with holes that showed up every week in a 2-14 season last year. Douglas wants to build through the draft, but he can’t fill every hole that way. He is going to have to plug some through free agency, which begins Monday, when teams and agents can begin negotiating. Players can’t officially sign until 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
The Jets could make a splash signing early in free agency, but don’t expect a spending spree like two years ago, when former GM Mike Maccagnan signed C.J. Mosley, Le’Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder to big deals. Douglas will pounce when he sees value, but he is not going to overpay.
“Obviously, we’re better positioned than we were this time last year,” Douglas said. “I would say that our philosophy and stance has not changed, however. I think our goal and our plan is to be, like I said earlier, a team that really builds this through the draft and hitting on draft picks, obviously using free agency to supplement our roster. If the opportunity and the value meet, that’s going to be the point where we’re going to be aggressive and get someone that we feel good about, helping this team not only on the field, but with the culture and inside the building. While we are positioned better, I think our philosophy has stayed the same.”
Douglas learned at the foot of Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, who rarely spends in free agency. That is the system Douglas wants to emulate. However, he also knows he needs to give new head coach Robert Saleh some players.
Fans should not expect the Jets to spend every dollar of cap space they have. They must reserve money for their nine draft picks, for in-season spending, and they will want to keep some cap space to roll over into next year.
Though we always focus on cap space, actual cash spending also is a huge consideration. For example, the Jets’ two first-round picks will get about $30 million in signing bonuses. Douglas must factor that into the equation when he is deciding what to spend in free agency.
That being said, Douglas has the Jets well positioned to strike for players they feel are values, and there should be some this year, with the salary cap shrinking and some teams finding themselves in cap trouble.
Edge rusher is a position to watch for the Jets. They have not had a dominant one since John Abraham left in 2006. Players like Shaquil Barrett of the Buccaneers, Yannick Ngakoue of the Ravens, Matthew Judon of the Ravens and Trey Hendrickson of the Saints might have been franchise-tagged in other years. But now they are hitting the market, and the Jets could be in the market for two edge rushers to help Saleh’s defense.
Wide receiver is a similar position. The Lions did not use the franchise tag on Kenny Golladay, and he will be the top receiver on the market. He may be too pricey for the Jets, but there are other good receivers out there like Will Fuller of the Texans and JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Steelers.
Whether the quarterback is Sam Darnold, Zach Wilson or Joe Namath in 2021, he will need some more targets to throw to.
The Jets’ offensive line has also been a weakness recently, but the team is hoping the coaching change will improve it. They are happy with tackles Mekhi Becton and George Fant, as well as center Connor McGovern. They may to look to upgrade at guard, where the Patriots’ Joe Thuney could be a target. The Jets would have been in on Thuney last year if New England had not used the franchise tag on him. The Jets have interest in Thuney again this year, but will be cautious if a bidding war breaks out.
As for other areas of need, like cornerback and running back, this free-agent class is weaker, and the Jets likely will wait until the draft to fill those holes.
“I think Joe and his staff have done an awesome job with regards to setting the organization up,” Saleh said. “Now it’s just a matter of being able to piece the whole thing together and have fun doing it.”