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Mock Off-Season: The Sam Darnold Edition

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Disclaimer: This is a hypothetical scenario that could play out. This is not necessarily what I’d do or expect the Jets to do.

Hope

The 2018 draft brought such hope. When the Jets made the move with the Colts to jump three places to guarantee they got the QB they wanted, we all thought that maybe, just maybe we’d found the guy we’d been looking for.

There have been flashes of real talent, moments where you start thinking that maybe he could be the answer, but I think we can all agree that the first three years of the Sam Darnold era hasn’t really gone to plan.

Now I fully accept that the Jets haven’t helped him. They’ve put him behind a poor offensive line with questionable weapons. Saying that Sam hasn’t helped himself. He’s still making the same mistakes he was making in year one, still throwing into double and even triple coverage and still missing wide-open receivers by not working through his progressions.

Over three years he’s thrown for 8,097 yards for a poor completion percentage of 59.8% with 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. He was ranked in the bottom third of nearly every statistic in 2020 and the Jets. Deciding whether to stick with Darnold or not becomes a little murkier when you consider that in March this year, the Jets will need to decide if they’re willing to pick up his 5th-year option, which equates to around $25 million in 2022.

The Jets could elect to not pick up the option and still run with Sam, if he plays well they could then work out an extension, and if he plays poorly you can move on. In this scenario we’re going to run it back with Darnold.

The Cuts

The Jets are currently in a very good situation with the cap. They are set to have around $63.4 million available according to OTC. Joe Douglas can free up even more space by making a few cuts to the roster.

Here are the cuts I’d be looking to make if I were the GM:

Henry Anderson - Moves the cap to $71 million

Alex Lewis - Moves the cap to $75.5 million

Ryan Griffin - Moves the cap to $76.7 million

These three make a lot of sense. Anderson is probably the easiest cut you could make considering his performances. Alex Lewis didn’t play a great deal and when he did he was decidedly average and although Ryan Griffin is a good run-blocker, he has limitations in pass blocking and doesn’t offer a great deal in the passing game. I think you can easily replace him.

I made several other small cuts to players on the fringe of the roster which opened up around another 5-6 million.

Signing Our Own

In his end of season press-conference, Joe Douglas made it clear that a priority for the Jets was to re-sign Marcus Maye, their star safety who finished 2021 as a premier player at his position and one of the best cover safeties in the NFL. In a passing league, you can’t afford to let him go. The good news for the Jets is that Marcus Maye wants to return and has said as much.

Maye is going to want to be paid and it’s not going to be cheap. He’ll be looking for a similar contract to the one the Arizona Cardinals handed out to Budda Baker (4 years and $59 million), which means around $14 million of that cap space will need to go towards keeping our star safety in town, money well spent if you ask me.

Sign Marcus Maye to a four year $59 million contract

Maye isn’t the only player in our secondary that we should fight to keep. Brian Poole signed a 1 year $5 million deal with the Jets for 2020 and despite missing time, he was our best corner by a significant margin. Slot corners are valuable commodities with the amount of 3 or 4 wide receiver sets we now see. He’s going to turn 29 in the 2021 season so I’d be looking to try and tempt him back with a two-year deal that pays him around $6 million/year.

Sign Brian Poole to a two year $12 million contract

Neville Hewitt is another player I think we should try to re-sign before he hits the open market. He’s been a bright spot on this defense this year, especially when it comes to defending the run. 12 QB hits, 5 sacks and 209 tackles over the last two years, he continues to improve and at 27 he has a few years of productivity ahead of him. I don’t think the Jets are going to get him for $2 million again this year like they did in 2020, but I’d offer him a 2 year $8 million contract.

Sign Neville Hewitt to a two year $8 million contract

Jordan Jenkins is another player who probably signed for a little less than expected in 2020 when he agreed to a $3.75 million contract. He took a big step back in 2020 in terms of his pass-rush ability, recording just 2 sacks as opposed to 8 in 2019 and 7 in 2018. He also recorded only 6 QB hits as opposed to 13 in 2019 and 15 in 2018. The Jets aren’t going to throw the money at Jenkins, but I think it’s worth trying to get him back in 2021 on a similar contract, good for the Jets and good for Jenkins to try and rebuild his value before hitting free agency again in 2022.

So if we started that process with around $82 million, we’ll likely end it with around $60 million of cap space available. Obviously, this is rudimentary numbers as salary can be front-loaded, back-loaded, roster bonuses, signing bonuses etc. However, for simplicity, we’re keeping it at a standard average yearly value.

NFL Free Agency

Every single year in the NFL free agency you have players that sign for more than was expected and players who sign for less. The 2021 NFL Free Agency period is going to be extremely interested. The cap is expected to shrink and there are a lot of teams in cap hell which could drive the prices down. Here are a couple of players I’d like the Jets to focus in on:

Sign Joe Thuney to a 4 year $56 million contract

Thuney hasn’t missed a single game over his 5-year career and has continually improved. He allowed 2 sacks and 2 hits on his QB in 2020 over the course of 980 snaps, that’s extremely good. I wouldn’t say he’s a premier run-blocker but he has good agility for a guard (he was an offensive tackle in college) and should work nicely in the outsize-zone scheme the Jets are expected to employ. We need guard improvement and he would not only improve that position but he’d help develop Becton as well.

Sign Allen Robinson to a four year $80 million contract

Let's go with Allen Robinson first, a legitimate #1 WR that the Jets have been craving. Despite uneven and inconsistent QB play, Robinson continues to put up big numbers. 1250 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns with Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles? 1 drop on 150 targets, 12.3 yards per reception. His route running is exceptional and he has superb hands, there is no reason why you wouldn’t want Robinson on your team going forward.

When looking at the potential contract, you have to look at the deal that Keenan Allen signed with the Chargers (4 years for $80 million). Are the Bears who are currently just $10 million under the cap going to go to that number? I don’t know, I’d be surprised and not surprised at the same time if Robinson breaks free.

Sign Trey Hendrickson to a 3 year $34 million contract

With the two signings above we may not get the premier edge player on the market, but I think we should look at Saints pass rusher Trey Hendrickson coming off a 14 sack season. He’s a pass-rush specialist who struggles against the run at times, but he is relentless in pursuit and he’s a difference-maker. The Jets haven’t had a good pass-rusher for a long time and while Hendrickson isn’t the complete player, he plugs a gap for the Jets. I have two players I’d like the Jets to look at on the edge, one is Hendrickson and one is Lawson from Cincinnati. I’d be happy with either.

Sign Cairo Santos to a two year $3.5 million contract

Jets kicking this year has been an absolute disaster, fortunately, when you’re a 2-14 team it doesn’t really cost you a lot, but if you want to build a winning franchise you can’t be missing 3 points on a regular basis, even decent kickers can cost you in the long run, just look at Doug Brien. Jets have a great kicker and they let him go, time to bring in an established guy. Santos hit 94% of his kicks in 2020 and showed an ability to connect on kicks of 50 yards+.

Sign Jaquiski Tartt to a two year $7 million contract

Robert Saleh will want to bring in someone he’s familiar with, someone who know’s his defense and someone who’s performed well in that defense. He’s a little inconsistent, but he’s also extremely athletic and extremely versatile. I think Davis can be excellent in this Saleh defense, but it doesn’t hurt to have comeone like Tartt there to help install it.

NFL Draft

Doing a mock draft is always a fools errand as everyone has players slated everywhere. You either picked someone too high, someone wasn’t going to be there, or a combination of the two. For this exercise I used PFF’s mock draft simulator and traded down with the Panthers picking up their first, second and third round picks.

There are a few things I wanted to do with this draft. Surround Darnold with talent, which explains the Waddle, Freiermuth and Harris picks. Ensure we build on the Thuney signing to protect him in the pocket, selecting outstanding centre Creed Humphrey and kicking McGovern over to RG, while also giving Saleh some defensive pieces to work with. Jabril Cox, Patrick Jones and Eric Stokes are all good scheme fits, and I believe Jaycee Horn has #1 corner potential. Garrett offered excellent value and Wiggins in a zone heavy defensive scheme offers good upside.

A lot of people will instantly write it off because it has Sam Darnold as the QB going into 2021, but again, just to reiterate this is not something I expect the Jets to do and it’s not sometimg I would personally want them to do, but more an idea of what it could potentially look like if that was the case.