The new league year won’t start for nearly two months (17th of March), but that won’t stop us thinking ahead to what the Jets will look like come 2021.
While we think of the big fish like Thuney, Robinson and a potential trade for Deshaun Watson, I’d expect there to be a fair few new faces in NY come the start of next season as the Jets try and build a consistent winner in the image of their new head coach Robert Saleh.
With Saleh coming over from San Francisco, I took a look at potential free agents who could be joining him. In total the 49’ers have 27 players who are about to become unrestricted free agents, it’s a good bet that a couple of them will make their way east.
One name that I was going to touch on today was Ahkello Witherspoon, a 3rd round cornerback out of Colorado back in 2017.
The Jets will almost certainly look to upgrade at that position in the off-season. With slot corner Brian Poole being a free agent and an inexperienced CB room awaiting the new coach, you can almost guarantee it’ll be a position of interest for Joe Douglas.
Some of the Jets young corners did admirably last year, Bryce Hall flashed coverage potential, Javelin Guidry had a very good pass coverage grade filling in for Poole, but outside of those two there isn’t a lot to write home about. Lamar Jackson really struggled in coverage (45.8 coverage grade) allowing a passer rating of 128.4 into his coverage and 5 TD’s. Blessuan Austin and Arthur Maulet didn’t fair that much better.
The 49’ers have Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Wuan Williams, Richard Sherman, Jamar Taylor, Jason Verrett and Dontae Johnson all hitting the open market. All of them cornerbacks and it's likely the Jets may look to the veteran Sherman to fill a role, or they could elect to try and tempt K’Wuan Williams. Witherspoon isn’t really getting much attention.
Witherspoon's career has been a bit of a roller-coaster so far. He was heavily praised as a rookie as he played 660 snaps and came out with a coverage grade of 73.7 and brought down 2 interceptions.
Unfortunately, he experienced a sophomore slump in 2018 and just as he was starting to turn the corner at the end of the year, he got injured and missed time. It was a similar story in 2019, was starting to play better and then he got injured missing multiple games, when he came back from the ankle injury he looked a shell of his former self. He was benched in the post-season after struggling against Minnesota.
Coming into a contract year, Witherspoon seems to have returned to his best in 2020. Despite being benched for 3 games, his attitude was applauded by Kyle Shanahan after he sought out Robert Saleh’s help to improve his game, and he ended up finishing the season with a coverage grade of a career-best 80.9.
At 6’2 and 200lb with 4.45 speed, Witherspoon has the natural ability to play on the outside and at only 25 he has a good chance to be a very good corner at this level, what he needs to find is consistency. He’s never been able to string the good games together over an extended period of time, whether that’s due to form or due to injury.
Over the course of four years, Ahkello has appeared in 47 games and started 33 of them. He has 24 pass defenses and 4 interceptions. In 2020 he allowed just 2 touchdowns into his coverage and missed one tackle, as opposed to allowing 6 TD’s in 2019 and missing 5 tackles. He played a physical brand of football last year that Shanahan again complimented, all gas, no breaks.
Like with everything this off-season, it all comes down to how much money he’s going to be asking for. If the Jets can get him on a reasonable deal to come and play with Saleh then it may be a low risk/high reward type signing. The 49’ers don’t have a huge amount of cap space to work with and as mentioned earlier, they have to make decisions on around 27 (I think they have close to 40 when you count RFA’s etc) of their own players before looking at the market in general.
I’m always wary of a player who’s performances peak just before they’re due to be a free agent. It indicates to me that the talent has always been there, but maybe the motivation hasn’t. However, I can’t help but be intrigued by Witherspoon. I liked him when he was at Colorado, I liked him as a rookie and from what I saw in 2020 he looks to be getting back to his best. He certainly shouldn’t be a priority, but I could see the Jets kicking the tyres on a short term high incentive deal.