The NFL’s legal tampering period is on the horizon.
The 2021 free-agent class has been expected to be robust and flooded with an unprecedented amount of talent since around this time last year when the COVID-19 pandemic began taking over the world. The league’s lack of income throughout the 2020 season and the dropping number in cap space would result in good players hitting the market that wouldn’t have in a more financially stable offseason. Teams such as the Rams and Saints are left scrambling to release or restructure contracts just to break even.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas saw this opportunity and took advantage of it, saving and carrying over $26.7 million in cap space to spend this offseason. The team recently parted ways with defensive end Henry Anderson, clearing $8.2 million in cap space with more cuts expected. This sets the Jets up to open the new league year with $69.2 million in their pocket, the second-highest cap total behind the Jaguars and ahead of the Patriots.
After laying low in an underwhelming 2020 free-agent class, all signs point towards an active offseason for Joe Douglas and the Jets. In a press conference with head coach Robert Saleh last week, Douglas told reporters “We’re better positioned than we were this time last year… 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.”
Well, now, in 2021, the opportunity and the value meet.
So, what should you know heading into this week? Here are my positional breakdowns heading into the legal tampering period.
Positions to address: Offensive line, receiver, edge rusher, linebacker, defensive back, tight end, running back.
Top-tier: Jamaal Williams, Marlon Mack, Chris Carson
Mid-tier: Kyle Juszczyk, Mike Davis, James White, Matt Breida, Jerick McKinnon, Brian Hill, Tevin Coleman
Chris Carson seems unrealistic due to his demand and market value, along with Aaron Jones, who I scratched from my list. A running back is too easy to find in the draft to pay big money on one in free agency. Jamaal Williams and Marlon Mack are two underrated starting-caliber players who are 1a and 1b on my big board. The two are both more than capable of heading a running back committee. Players like Matt Breida, Jerick McKinnon, and Tevin Coleman who have ties to new head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur from San Francisco could look to reunite with a familiar offense. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk is someone to keep an eye on; he has ties to Saleh and LaFleur from San Francisco and Joe Douglas from Baltimore.
Top-tier: Curtis Samuel, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Corey Davis, Will Fuller V
Mid-tier: Zach Pascal, Nelson Agholor, Rashard Higgins, Kendrick Bourne, John Brown, Emmanuel Sanders
It’s hard to see the Jets sitting out of the top-tier receiver market, so the mid-tier options here are irrelevant. My big board goes in order as follows: Curtis Samuel, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Corey Davis, and Will Fuller V. Everyone’s rankings are opinionated. I happen to like Curtis Samuel’s “gadget” ability in this offense and believe his abilities are underrated by many. Kenny Golladay would be my first target but his demand and market value were enough for me to scratch him from the list and move on to the next top option. I expect the Jets to come away with one of the four top-tier options listed.
Top-tier: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Gerald Everett
Mid-tier: Trey Burton, Jordan Reed, Jared Cook, Jacob Hollister, Mercedes Lewis
Tight end will be one of the more intriguing positions that we get to watch Joe Douglas handle. Chris Herndon flashed towards the end of the season and while still on a rookie deal, the Jets aren’t in a rush to replace him. That being said, they should still look to upgrade and/or add reinforcements. In my opinion, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are too good to not pursue aggressively. Obviously, there is a walk-away number, but I would hope Joe Douglas keeps an eye glued to those two and their markets. Other options include Trey Burton, who has ties to Joe Douglas from their time in Philadelphia, and Jordan Reed, who spent last season in San Francisco with Mike LaFleur and Robert Saleh.
Top-tier: Joe Thuney, Kevin Zeitler, Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler, Jon Feliciano, Austin Reiter
Mid-tier: Trai Turner, Austin Blythe, John Miller, Richie Incognito
Potential trade/cut: Raiders’ Gabe Jackson, Jaguars’ Andrew Norwell
Need proof of an unprecedentedly robust free-agent class? Look no further than the flooding pool of offensive linemen. Some big-name tackles–Trent Brown, who has been traded from the Raiders to the Patriots, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, who were just recently released by the Chiefs, Rick Wagner, who was released by the Lions, and Darryl Williams, who signed an extension with the Bills just days before the tampering period–are already off the market. The offensive line class is stacked, to say the least.
Joe Douglas’ first, second, and third phone call on Monday should be to Joe Thuney and his agent. Center Connor McGovern has experience playing guard but has seen his most successful field time at center. The Jets need to find themselves a true guard. I would consider signing Corey Linsley, but I would prioritize him after Thuney, Kevin Zeitler, and both trade/cut candidates.
Top-tier: Carl Lawson, Yannick Ngakoue, Romeo Okwara, Trey Hendrickson, Bud Dupree
Mid-tier: Melvin Ingram III, Kerry Hyder Jr, Ronald Blair, Denico Autry, Solomon Thomas
The Jets may look to sign one of the many mid-tier options with ties to Robert Saleh if they decide to add another edge rusher early in this year’s draft, but if Joe Douglas wants to gift Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich with a star at the end of their defensive line, he doesn’t necessarily need to look any further. This free-agent class showcases five great players who could take on that job. I believe the Jets should walk away with one of the five top-tier edge rushers.
Top-tier: Jayon Brown, Nicholas Morrow, K.J. Wright, Denzel Perryman, Kwon Alexander
Mid-tier: Jarrad Davis, Alex Anzalone, De’Vondre Campbell
The Jets’ new defensive scheme run by Jeff Ulbrich is 4-3 based, which means three linebackers on the field. C.J. Mosley will be returning at inside linebacker and Blake Cashman can play the weak side linebacker role, but the Jets should look to replace him due to his inability to stay on the field. This means Joe Douglas will be in the market for coverage linebackers to play the strong and/or weak-side role and may look to address these positions in both free agency and the draft. Nicholas Morrow and KJ Wright are two top-tier options the Jets could look to bring in. Kwon Alexander has ties to Robert Saleh from their time in San Francisco as well as De’Vondre Campbell with Ulbrich in Atlanta.
Top-tier: Shaquill Griffin, William Jackson III, Richard Sherman
Mid-tier: K’Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon, Keanu Neal, Michael Davis, Chidobe Awuzie
The cornerback class is very top-heavy here and may be addressed in the draft. Shaquill Griffin would be a dream in the new zone scheme but will likely be in high demand and attract a large market. Richard Sherman would make the most sense in this situation. The 32-year-old zone corner is a well-respected veteran among the league and has the ability to help implement a new culture with his beloved former defensive coordinator. Ahkello Witherspoon is also a potential target due to his past with Saleh along with K’Waun Williams, who is a prime target to replace Brian Poole. If the Jets decide that both Marcus Maye and Ashtyn Davis are both free safeties and unable to play full-time at strong safety, Keanu Neal, who has ties to Ulbrich from Atlanta, could be a potential target.