The NFL’s “legal tampering” period is currently set to begin on Monday, which is the first time teams will be allowed to negotiate with free agents. Ahead of the start of free agency, here are a few pieces of advice I have for the Jets.
Make Re-signing Kelvin Beachum the Top Priority Before the Start of Free Agency
To state the obvious, the Jets need to add quality players on their offensive line. There is only one credible offensive lineman with who the Jets can exclusively negotiate prior to the start of free agency. That is Kelvin Beachum.
Beachum isn’t an exciting option, but he was the best offensive lineman on the Jets in 2019. While memories of him getting destroyed by Myles Garrett against the Browns stand out, Beachum has been a solid player at a position of maximum importance for three years. He won’t fare well against the elite edge rushers in the league, but he does his job most weeks.
Should the Jets be at year four of a stopgap player at left tackle? No, but they cannot fix the mistakes of the past. Should the Jets draft a long-term solution this year? Yes, but having a stable veteran will help matters in 2020.
Stop Setting the Market
Under Mike Maccagnan, the Jets were one of the biggest spenders in free agency. In some ways this was unavoidable. A lack of quality Draft picks meant money that would have been earmarked for the second contracts of many players was left unspent. Free agents had to fill the void.
Maccagnan’s free agency record was ultimately a failure for many reasons. One of those reasons was undoubtedly his propensity to give out big money deals. His signings frequently were awarded salaries at the top of their position in the NFL.
Many players get game-changing superstar money in free agency. Few of them are game-changing superstars, though. The franchise tag gives teams the opportunity to prevent their genuine difference-makers from ever hitting the open market.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say big money deals never work out in free agency, but there are far more Trumaine Johnson signings than there are Stephon Gilmore signings.
The deals that tend to work out in free agency are more modest contracts. Smart teams find players who are undervalued for some reason and are able to get more production than they are paying for. (Admittedly Maccagnan also failed to properly identify these players. His more moderate free agent deals were also largely failures.)
People frequently ask me who I want the Jets to sign. For the most part, I would be happy with any player at a certain price and unhappy at a certain price. The Jets need to do a better job identifying that point under the new general manager.
The Only Exception
I will make one exception to what I said above. I have no issues if the Jets spend big on the top offensive linemen in the free agent class.
The Jets have a huge need at offensive line, and the list of available players who could genuinely move the needle is small. The laws of supply and demand dictate those players will get big money.
This team absolutely needs to start investing Draft picks on the offensive line. There just aren’t enough resources to only use the Draft or free agency. This is such a pronounced problem that the Jets need to use both.
The outsized impact giving Sam Darnold better protection could have on this team could make it worth spending elite money on the Jack Conklin/Joe Thuney types, even if it means setting the market.
Enough With the Linebackers
One of the most confounding aspects of Maccagnan’s free agency strategy to me was his focus on linebackers. During his tenure David Harris, Avery Williamson, and C.J. Mosley all got big money deals early in free agency. The team also reportedly pursued Kwon Alexander heavily and agreed to terms with Anthony Barr (who at least would have seen some time as a pass rusher).
You might say, “What’s the problem? These are all good players.”
Building a good team isn’t about collecting a bunch of linebackers. It’s about setting priorities.
Linebacker is probably the least important position on a defense in today’s NFL. While cornerstone spots were largely ignored under Maccagnan, the team had a laser focus on linebackers.
The Jets were decimated by injury at linebacker. You saw the games. Do you think it hurt the team much at all? They were still an elite run stopping defense playing with a bunch of scrap heap guys.
Sure I’d rather have good linebackers than bad linebackers, but finding adequate players at the position doesn’t require the use of a ton of resources. Adding players here certainly shouldn’t come at the expense of neglecting other, more important positions as it did under Maccagnan.