The Jets’ roster is mostly set for 2020, but there are some potential changes that could come between now and Week 1. There are numerous players who held starting roles a year ago who are not locks to be on the team once the season begins. Let’s look at some of the them.
I think it is too early for there to be many valid criticisms of Joe Douglas at this point in his tenure. One of the few that seems fair to me is he did not handle the kicker situation well in 2019. After bringing in no competition for shaky kickers in training camp, Douglas’ acquisition of Kaare Vedvik for Week 1 against Buffalo was a disaster. Vedvik’s dreadful performance contributed to a one point loss.
A week later Vedvik was out, and Sam Ficken was signed. While Ficken got off to a decent start, he ended the season making only 70.4% of field goal attempts and 88.5% of extra point attempts. Neither of these numbers is very good.
Ficken remains on the roster, but the Jets signed former Cowboys kicker Brett Maher to challenge him. There is always the possibility somebody else could be brought in. Either way Ficken will likely need to improve to start 2020 as the Jets’ kicker.
I think the general perception among Jets fans is that Austin was a shutdown corner as a rookie in 2019 aside from one hiccup against the Steelers. As I mentioned in the deep dive article I wrote a few months back, the truth was more nuanced.
Austin benefited from being given simple assignments in constricted zones and struggled when asked to take on more difficult responsibilities. That said, having any kind of success as a rookie sixth round pick is promising. Austin has had more time to heal from the serious knee injuries that limited his playing time in college.
Austin’s 2020 possibilities have a high degree of variability. There isn’t really any outcome for him that would surprise me. He could easily win a starting job as an outside corner opposite Pierre Desir. Still the additions of Bryce Hall and Quincy Wilson along with internal competition from Arthur Maulet and Nate Hairston leaves a crowded room at cornerback. If Austin has a big training camp and preseason, he likely will earn a lot of playing time. If he struggles, he might find himself on the practice squad.
When the Jets signed Greg Van Roten, many of us assumed it was the end of Winters’ Jets career. That isn’t entirely clear now. Van Roten’s contract is just north of $3 million annually, which might be the type of money the Jets could live with paying a backup. The Jets also haven’t committed to starting Van Roten. Signs point to a training camp competition for the starting right guard job.
Even if Winters loses out, it isn’t entirely clear the Jets would cut him. While he is a frequent target of criticism, he would likely be one of the better backup guards in the NFL, even if his $7.2 million cap number would be high. The Jets’ approach to free agency in 2020 involved a lot of one year contracts. This suggests Joe Douglas might be looking to gain compensatory picks next offseason. The more players a team loses in free agency, the more likely the team is to gain a compensatory pick. By holding onto Winters through this final year of his contract, the Jets would increase their odds of adding another pick.
On the other hand, with the unknowns of how the COVID-19 pandemic might affect the salary cap, the Jets might prefer financial flexibility. Any unused cap space can be rolled into future seasons, and the Jets could save that $7.2 million by cutting Winters according to Over the Cap.
There were rumors all offseason about the Jets cutting Williamson, but he remains a member of the team.
The case for keeping Williamson is that he is a good player, and the Jets need more good players, not less.
The case for letting him go begins with his $8.5 million cap hit, $6.5 million of which would be saved if he was cut according to Over the Cap. That is a lot of money for a linebacker, and it isn’t really clear how much the Jets missed him last year. The defense was very good without him. His specialty is stopping the run, and that’s where the defense excelled. While the Jets linebackers struggled in coverage, that isn’t a strong area for Williamson. The Jets were also active in the offseason at the position signing Patrick Onwuasor from Baltimore and bringing back backups Neville Hewitt and James Burgess. The team also has Draft pick Blake Cashman returning from injury.
The decision might ultimately come down to the same factors we discussed with Winters. Do the Jets value maximizing their cap flexibility given the uncertain financial future of the league or gaining compensatory picks? Williamson is also in the final year of his contract and would count towards the compensatory pick formula. The Jets are likely to be active in signing players in free agency in 2021 so every departing player who counts toward the formula matters.
You might have heard a thing or two about him.