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Initial thoughts on Jets free agent signings

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Jets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Here are some of my early thoughts on what the Jets have done thus far in free agency.

Signings I Like

Brian Poole

Most of the focus in free agency is on big names who get big money. A large percentage of those deals end up being mistakes. The mechanics of the NFL make it virtually impossible to build your team through splashy free agent signings.

The teams that succeed in free agency take a more modest approach. They find capable players who fill roles effectively.

That’s where Poole fits. Does his presence transform the Jets defense? No. Is cornerback still a major need even after this signing? Yes.

What Poole brings to the table is a capable slot corner who will not devastate the team’s cap situation. This is the type of deal teams should seek in free agency.

Connor McGovern

Last year all I wanted was a center. After two years of watching poor center play from Wesley Johnson, Spencer Long, and Jonotthan Harrison play a major role in sinking the Jets offense, I wanted to see Mike Maccagnan add stability to the middle of the offensive line. Instead we were left with an offseason of splashy moves and core needs neglected.

Fast forward a year, and the Jets have done that. Joe Douglas’ valient effort to address center with Ryan Kalil was ultimately a failure. Harrison provided more shaky play after Kalil went down with an injury.

Finally it feels like the Jets have a solid anchor on the offensive line. McGovern is not a top flight center, and more work needs to be done to fix this offensive line. Still, this feels like a big upgrade at a really important position. Those who don’t think center is a premium position should rewatch the Jets offense the last few years.

Neville Hewitt

Whenever the Jets sign a player who isn’t a big name, I hear the phrase “solid backup” even though the player often is anything other than a solid backup.

I think Hewitt actually fits the description. Hewitt played really well in the early going of 2019 in place of the injured Avery Williamson. His play eventually did fall off, but that seems like the essence of a hold the fort backup, somebody who can get you by in the short term when you need him.

He also played 10 special teams snaps per game in 2019.

Arthur Maulet

Maulet definitely would not fall into the solid backup category. In fact I think the Jets are in a lot of trouble if he had to see extensive playing time. Don’t let the handful games in late 2019 where he saw action against bad quarterbacks and seemed to hold up fool you.

What I like about this isn’t so much about Maulet. It’s more about the way the Jets approached the signing.

Maulet was a restricted free agent. For restricted free agents, teams have the option of offering these players a one year contract. Just by making this offer the team retains certain rights over the player. If the team does not make the one year offer, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. The player is then totally free to sign with any of the other 31 clubs.

The Jets did not offer Maulet that one year contract. He became an unrestricted free agent, and the Jets lost all rights to him.

Why did they do it? The cheapest one year contract that could be offered to keep those rights is for $2 million. Maulet isn’t worth that. Because they didn’t make that offer, they let him become an unrestricted free agent. Once that happened, they signed him to a contract which is presumably cheaper than $2 million.

Why am I pointing this out? It is a refreshing change of pace. Mike Maccagnan never did stuff like this. He always offered those overpriced one year contract to players like Maulet. Players with Maulet’s skill level are easy to find for the league minimum, but Maccagnan frequently overpaid because he didn’t want to risk losing them. It was totally illogical.

I am pleased to see Joe Douglas understanding concepts like value. Moves like this don’t seem like they are saving much money, but they do add up over time when you make enough of them.

Signing I’m Not Sure About

George Fant

I don’t think there’s any way you can say George Fant has been a $9-10 million player based on what he’s done so far in his career. That isn’t really the question, though. You don’t pay in free agency for what a player has done in the past. You pay him for what he is going to do in the future. If you sign a declining former star to a big money deal, you will regret it. If you sign an ascending player to a moderately priced deal, it could turn into a bargain if he hits his potential.

I think a lot of debate on Fant misses the mark. People criticize the signing because of always unreliable PFF grades. People praise the signing because of a handful of highlight reel blocks.

None of these really encapsulate the risk/reward ratio with Fant. His career to date has been up and down. The tools are there for a really good player if a team is capable of honing them.

To me a move like this is a barometer of your organization’s effectiveness. Can your front office and coaching staff work together to correctly identify somebody whose skills they can develop? Then can they actually do it? This is a new regime with the Jets so we just don’t know at this point. Fant will be an early test.

If Fant develops into a quality starter, this contract will be a steal for the Jets. If he doesn’t, this will go down as a big error and one that could have significant implications for Sam Darnold’s development.

A few people have commented that with the unknown Chuma Edoga on the team and a likely early Draft pick at the tackle position, the Jets might have been wiser to retain the higher floor, lower ceiling Kelvin Beachum to hedge their bets at the tackle position. I think there is a lot of logic to that argument.

With all of this said if you have a strong opinion on the Fant signing, you are probably overconfident. How this plays out is anybody’s guess. It could be good. It could be bad.

Signing I Don’t Like

Alex Lewis

I’m pretty confident in saying a lot of Jets beat writers don’t study certain aspects of the team in depth. It becomes obvious when they talk about the offensive line. Unless a guy is obviously terrible like Spencer Long, they pretty much say every offensive lineman is solid. See some of the past analysis of horrid Jets linemen like Ben Ijalana, Brent Qvale, and Jonotthan Harrison.

Alex Lewis is the latest in this long line. I’ll be fair. He’s better than the three guys I just mentioned, but his re-signing was met from beat writers with an almost unanimous chorus of, “He played well last year.”

Did these guys watch the Jets interior offensive line last year? Do they realize how profound the issues were? Lewis was a big part of the problem. The best thing I can say for him is that he was probably better the Kelechi Osemele, but that isn’t saying much. In an ideal world, Lewis is probably a backup. A good group of offensive linemen can probably hide his weaknesses, but he isn’t ever a player who will be a driving force behind offensive line success.

I don’t think this is the type of player you stretch to keep, and paying middle to low end starter money is stretching to keep Lewis. It’s not even so much the money. The contract makes it seem like the Jets view Lewis as a viable starter, which he is not.

There has been buzz that the coaching staff loves Lewis, and that might have played into the decision to keep him. Sometimes coaches overrate players they like, and I think that’s the case here.