We are deep enough into the offseason that we can now assess the job Joe Douglas has done in establishing the roster. We can figure out what Joe’s true expectations are with the team and what providence or problems may lie ahead for the Jets in the 2022 season. You can never be too optimistic as a fan of this team. Reality sometimes is callous.
I will stipulate that Joe Douglas has done a yeoman’s job on improving the Jets roster, and that expectations for the team are at near record levels now compared to the last decade. All those thoughts mean little in the grand scope of an NFL season. Nothing and I reiterate nothing ever goes as planned in an NFL season for any team. Situations will arise that no one could predict.
With that thought in mind, let’s look at the Jets offseason with a sober view of what has taken place and what we can expect. The Jets started the offseason among the leaders in money to spend in free agency. Problem is that you are always paying for players someone else didn’t want. There is always the argument that teams can’t keep everybody, but they always seem keep their best players; this is why most All-Pros never come to market until they are over the hill.
When you are a perennial loser you attract either secondary talent or aging vets who are looking for a last payday and no desire to build your franchise. They are cap eliminators who take up excessive cap space but give little in return. Then retire.
All contract and guaranteed contract info in this article is via Over the Cap.
To be totally honest there is a lot of good in the Jets offseason.
The Draft Class
The New York Jets Draft was probably the best they have had in their history. This is coming from a staunch, build your team from the bottom up Draft aficionado who has been evaluating prospects for the past three decades. This year’s class rivals the year 2000 Draft when the Jets had 4 first round picks and selected DE Sean Ellis (#12), DE John Abraham (#13), QB Chad Pennington (#18), Anthony Becht (#27), and Laveranues Coles (#78). There were three other players who combined to play in 32 NFL games in their careers. After that draft the Jets (who just lost Bill Parcells as a coach) had only 3 losing seasons in the next 12 years including 6 playoff appearances.
So 2022 was a great Draft. In fact the Jets say they selected 3 of their top 8 graded players in the first round and 4 of their top 19 graded players with their first 4 picks. You rarely get that lucky in a Draft season even when you have a lot of Draft capital. You can quibble about the grades, but anyway you look at it the Jets came away with a treasure trove of talent. They even got lucky as they tried to trade up from pick #35 pick to the #15 pick so they could select Jermaine Johnson II. They continued trade up attempts but were rebuffed until pick #26 when they were able to make a trade to select Johnson. The fact it took so long only helped the Jets as it saved them valuable draft capital. If the Eagles at #15 had agreed to trade then the Jets would have lost at least the value of the #55 pick (the difference between Picks #15 & 26) which would have drastically affected the Draft this year and possibly the next year as well.
As it is I believe the Jets did an outstanding job in the draft as they drafted my #1 receiver, my #1 corner, my #1 RB, my #2 tight end, and my #2 edge rusher (and he was the #2 only by a whisker). I was also very high on their two other picks in Max Mitchell and Michael Clemons. I had both rated well above where they were drafted. This is the only time in my life I have been on board with every single pick the Jets made in a Draft year.
The Cornerback Position
The Jets have done an excellent job of turning a yearly defensive sore spot into a position of strength. With Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed the Jets have two solid corners with Bryce Hall a great backup and/or nickel corner. With Michael Carter II in the slot the Jets can actually guard some receivers while the edge rushers get after the QB.
The Edge Rusher Position
The edge position for the Jets has been a wasteland since John Abraham was traded in 2006. I also liked the fact that the Jets doubled up on edge rushers in the draft. Carl Lawson is still an unknown commodity after his injury so not leaving things open to chance is a positive move. It helps a lot that both drafted players should be productive NFL players. The Jets also have Vinny Curry, Bryce Huff, Jacob Martin, and Jabari Zuniga who will probably not make the team. If they were smart they would move the former 3rd round pick in Zuniga for a late round pick now; no way he sees the field with those ahead of him.
I singled out Breece Hall because of the foresight shown by Joe Douglas to select a work horse type of running back with skills in the passing game as well. Hall was by far my #1 RB in the draft because of his three down ability and his ability as a runner.
I realize that Hall will not be used as a true workhorse, but he could be used that way if necessary. To have that type of threat in the backfield will help Zach Wilson quite a bit since the defense must now be worried about a solid running game. I take nothing away from Michael Carter, but he is not the same talent as Hall. Defensive coordinators will feel the same way too. I expect Hall to get 60 to 65% of the workload in 2022 with Carter sprinkled in as a change of pace back.
Hall will keep the linebackers from getting quick drops in the passing game plus he is very proficient in pass protection which will help Zach Wilson out a lot. Both Hall and Carter are quality receiving threats that defenses must be aware of. This allows Mike LaFleur to use them to space the defense or as a safety valve for Zach Wilson to dump the ball off.
With improved blocking, better receivers, and a solid running threat the Jets offense is set to be the most dynamic they have been in years. This is also just the beginning as more weapons and player development over the next few years should increase that offensive effectiveness to a very high level.
NFL Free Agency
To be honest this is a mixed bag.
Laken Tomlinson OG 6’ 3” 312 lbs 30 years old
Tomlinson was drafted by Detroit but spent the last 5 seasons in.... (you guessed it) San Francisco where he had coaches named Saleh and LaFleur. Tomlinson signed a three year, $40 million contract, including $13.9 million fully guaranteed at signing. His 2023 base salary ($12.7 million), guaranteed for injury only right now, becomes fully guaranteed next March. His 2022 salary cap hit is only $ 5,380,000 in 2022 which leaves a lot of salary for the next two years for the Jets to absorb.
Tomlinson is a player who disappointed as a 1st round pick but has developed into an above average player for his position. He fills a need as the Jets were pulverized by their right guard spot. Tomlinson will ultimately be used on the left side with 2nd year player Alijah Vera-Tucker moved to the right side. This is a slight overpay, but it fills a need on a less than established team. It’s a solid move for the need, but the remainder of the contract $34+ million will have to be absorbed in future years. That’s a lot for a left guard for two seasons.
D.J. Reed CB 5’ 9 178 lbs 25 years old
D.J. Reed signed a three-year, $33 million contract, including $10.5 million guaranteed at signing. His 2023 base salary ($10.5 million), guaranteed for injury only, becomes fully guaranteed next March.
I applauded this signing as I actually wrote an article with Reed as a player the Jets should look to go after in free agency before free agency began. The Jets could have negotiated a better set of terms with Reed as they could have set him up with guaranteed money over a longer period of time. You would want to have control of the player until his age 30 year. The Jets could have added an option year at a stated value to lengthen the contract at their discretion.
Jordan Whitehead 5’ 11” 195 lbs 25 years old
Whitehead signed a two-year, $14.5 million deal, which includes $7 million fully guaranteed at signing. His cap number for 2022 is only $4,223,382 which leaves the bulk of the contract of $10,455,882 for the 2023 Jets cap. This is not ideal, but the salary cap may rise $10 or 12 million in 2023.
Whitehead is not real big and not real fast but he is a solid player who the Jets will use in a Jamal Adams role. He was tutored by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles who did an excellent job of making Whitehead a quality player.
This was a move that was needed since the Jets have a bare cupboard at the safety position at the beginning of free agency.
Lamarcus Joyner 5’ 8” 190 lbs 32 years old
Joyner signed a one year contract with a cap number of $2,129,412. He brings a load of experience but a declining on field ability. He also is not real big or fast so the Jets would have to worry if he he is left alone as a single high safety. He didn’t make it a single quarter of a game for the Jets in 2021, but now we have to rely on him in 2022.
Nathan Shepherd 6’ 4” 315 lbs 28 years old
Shepherd resigned a one-year deal for the minimum salary ($1.03 million), plus a $50,000 signing bonus. Shepherd may not even make the team as he could be cut or traded for a late round pick. Shepherd is only a rotational player who started a grand total of 1 game in 2021. He is not very good, but at least has some size that the Jets need after the lose of Foley Fatukasi from the defensive line.
Dan Feeney 6’ 4” 310 lbs 27 years old
Feeney signed a one year contract for $3 million, all of it fully guaranteed. This is not good or bad. It’s just a depth signing for the interior offensive line position. I was hoping the Jets would draft Luke Fortner, but the Jaguars selected him with the first pick of the 3rd round. Feeney is a serviceable backup, but I was hoping for a replacement type young center to replace McGovern in 2023.
The Lack of Depth at Key Spots
Joe Douglas let us know his expectations for the year with his inability to make the Jets strong throughout the lineup. You can’t be competitive in the NFL if you don’t have quality backups, simple as that. Injuries will happen. They always do, some long term, some for a game or two, some for a few series in a game. You need that quality depth.
We all saw what happened last year when Mekhi Becton went down in game 1 and was lost for the year. The Jets would have been sunk if not for having Fant on the team to step in for Becton. He was able to step in because the Jets had Morgan Moses on the right side. I guess you can look forward to Chuma Edoga or Connor McDermott or maybe the rookie from Louisiana Lafayette Max Mitchell as your starting left tackle?
Mitchell has some value as he develops, but all the other tackles on the Jets roster are less than JAGs.
Moses was not only solid for the Jets, but he was a great teammate as well. He signed with the Ravens for 3 years late in free agency for $15 million total with a cap number in 2022 of only $2,580,000. Why did Joe Douglas not sign him to a contract?
The reason is he overspent on free agency. You can’t spend like a drunken sailor on shore leave when you have so many needs. It’s not like he signed a bunch of huge contracts, but he overspent on some the contracts he gave. I said it at the time he did it, and I was railed against because fans want players in free agency; period. They don’t realize all that spending will come back and bite you in the backside.
The Jets now barely have enough money to sign their Draft class. How can that possibly be when you have your QB on a rookie contract? The Chiefs have more cap room than the Jets, and they’re paying Patrick Mahomes like a king. His cap number is $35,793,381, and Chris Jones’ cap number is 29,415,666. Zach Wilson’s cap number is $7,988,791 for this year.
Also last year was considered a career year for George Fant. What if he cannot repeat that performance? What if he gets injured? What if Becton doesn’t come back at full strength and struggles? What if he gets injured again? The Jets have no one to replace these players. We sit on a precarious perch when you need both your tackles to play every snap of the year. To not have a viable backup in today’s NFL on the edges of your offensive line is testing fate. It’s borderline reckless, to have to rely on a Chuma Edoga, Conor McDermott or rookie Max Mitchell. It also is dangerous to the health of your franchise QB.
The Safety Position
The Jets had to sign two safeties this year because the cupboard is bare. Do you want Ashtyn Davis as a safety with his horrific 43.1 grade in PFF run defense? I realize that PFF grades are not near perfect, but they gives you an idea whether your eyes are lying to you. In this case they just affirm what you see. If the Jets had some cap space they could sign Jaquiski Tart 30 years old 6’ 1” 215 lbs who knows the Saleh system, but we have no money to do so.
I’m not necessarily pushing for the signing of Tart, but there are few safety options who can come in and do the job. It’s interesting that the Jets have little money to sign a safetym but then the Saints (who are in cap hell) sign former Jet Marcus Maye to a 3 year $28.5 million contract.
The Linebacker Position
The Jets also have no depth behind C.J. Mosley or Quincy Williams. Williams came to the Jets as a waiver wire pickup from the Jaguars. Where would the Jets have been without Quincy in 2021?
If one of these two players goes down who would start for the Jets? We have Jamien Sherwood, a 5th round pick who is way undersized and made 15 total tackles in 2021. Maybe Del’Shawn Phillips, another waiver wire pickup from the Bills, who has 31 total tackles in his career or maybe Marcell Harris a 6th round selection of the 49ers with 155 tackles in 4 years as a backup or rookie UDFA DQ Thomas.
That’s it. That is all the depth the Jets have with no real room to add more unless they cut someone with a decent salary. The problem is that player doesn’t exist. Every player with a big salary the Jets need. The Jets have painted themselves into a corner with no way out except for some waiver wire guy if that player ever appears.
The Defensive Tackle Position
The Jets let their best run stuffer walk in free agency in Foley Fatukasi. For some unknown reason they signed Solomon Thomas who was a draft bust in San Francisco to a $2.25 million contract with $1,910,000 of guaranteed money. He missed 2020 with a torn ACL injury and was horrific as a tackle last year. He had 597 snaps 3.5 sacks and 34 combined tackles with 3 TFL. His PFF run grade was a miserable 28.1 grade and overall grade is a equally miserable 40.4.
The Jets need someone to stop the run, and we waste $2.25 million on Thomas? I get the idea of signing players from Saleh’s system, but this is defensive tackle. There isn’t a lot of nuance in the tackle position. This is a ridiculous signing when many more qualified players were out there. You can’t even cut him because of the foolish guaranteed cash. The Jets re-signed Nathan Shepherd, but he can be sent packing leaving only 50 K behind.
If you can’t stop the run teams will run all over you. The Jets were dreadful against the run in 2021, and now they are worse with no way to change that. This was foolish and easily fixable if the Jets prioritized it or spent money rationally.
The NFL Draft
My only quibble with the draft is they could have maybe not traded their two 5th round picks (#146 & 163) but instead used future picks to do so. I never like trading future picks, but in this situation it made great sense. This is not like trading a top 100 pick. These are late round stabs, but with the quality still out there the Jets could have done even better.
You can always make trades later in the season for players you might like to move and recoup those late round picks. You can’t convince me that the Jets had no interest in players after pick #117. There was more than half the draft left, but the Jets were out of picks. I was hoping for WR Calvin Austin who could have been dynamic in the Jets offense, but he went at #138.
Other I liked were Damarion Williams, a slot corner who will start for the Ravens this year, at #141, Zyon McCollum, a super athletic CB at #157, John Ridgeway a beefy DT would could have been our run stuffer #178, Matt Araiza an amazing punter at #180, and Cade Mays a huge C/G player at #199 (the Brady pick). There are other, but the Jets could have filled a few more holes if they didn’t send picks away.
Braxton Berrios 5’ 9” 190 lbs 26 years old
Berrios agreed to terms on a two-year deal worth $12 million that includes $7 million fully guaranteed. I must say I like Berrios, but he is a 4th receiver at best and a return guy. In three years on the Jets he still has less than 1,000 career receiving yards. The Jets brought in another RB/Returner in Bam Zonovan Knight as a UDFA. Berrios is not a $6 million man, and I don’t care if Steve Austin says so.
Tyler Conklin 6’ 3” 248 lbs 27 years old
Conklin signed a three-year, $20.25 million contract, with $10 million fully guaranteed at signing. That includes a partial guarantee of his 2023 base salary ($3.9 million of $6.1 million). Conklin had 5, 8, 19 receptions his first 3 years then 61 receptions for 593 yards (9.7 average) 3 TDs in 2021. He has 93 receptions in 4 years, and he is not a viable blocker as an in-line player. I like Conklin, but nearly $7 million a year is a severe overpay.
C. J. Uzomah 6’ 6” 260 lbs 29 years old
Uzomah signed a three-year, $24 million contract, including $15 million guaranteed at signing — the biggest up-front guarantee for any player in the Jets free-agent class. 49 receptions for 493 yards (10.1 ave) 5 TDs in 2021. 163 total receptions in 7 years, and he never averaged over 11.0 yards a catch in his career. Again I like the player, but $8 million a year for a guy who has averaged 23 receptions a year is foolish.
Greg Zuerlein 6’ 0” 196 lbs 35 years old
Zuerlein signed a one-year contract that has a cap number of $1,985,294 with a signing bonus of $750,000.
Eddie Pineiro 5’ 11” 177 lbs 26 years old
Pineiro has a cap number of $1,188,235 with $700,000 guarantee in his contract.
Okay so the Jets have two kickers. Inly one will remain on the team. No team keeps two kickers. So why does each guy have at least $700,000 in salary guaranteed? This is nuts. Why waste money on two kickers when you can only have one?
Tevin Coleman 5’ 11” 206 lbs 29 years old
Coleman signed a one-year contract for $1.5 million, including a $650,000 guarantee. Coleman is 29 years old but an old 29. He has 409 total rushing yards over the last two years combined. Why are we spending $1.5 million on a guy who is a #3 RB at best with his most effective years behind him? Bam Zonovan Knight gives you backup snaps with return usage also for less than half the price. Knight may be a UDFA, but the Jets liked him enough to guarantee him $100,000. This is again a foolish waste of cap space.
Jacob Martin 6’ 2” 242 lbs 26 years old
Martin agreed to a three-year, $13.5 million contract, which includes $6 million in guarantees. In 4 years has combined total of 64 tackles, 13 TFL, 24 QB hits, and 13.5 sacks. He had a grand total of 4 sacks on 698 snaps in 2021. Martin is undersized and weak against the run. The Jets now have Jermaine Johnson II, Carl Lawson, Vinny Curry, Bryce Huff, Michael Clemons, JFM, Jabari Zuniga, and Martin as edge rushers. You don’t need and can’t use 8 edge rushers during a game. You can’t even dress 6 so why waste valuable resources on a position that you have well covered when other areas are near bare?
I understand that Martin signed with the Jets before the Draft. You have to plan your offseason. You don’t make it up as you go. You only have so many picks and only so much cap space. You have to work with an eye toward the future. You need a full viable team, not just a few areas.
Joe Flacco 6’ 6” 245 lbs 37 years old
Flacco received a one-year contract for $3,461,765 million, including $2.85 million in guarantees which is essentially the same deal he signed last year with the Eagles. Can someone please explain to me the rationale in having an overpaid old QB when you have a developmental guy who has shown flashes in the past in Mike White?
Even if you could trade Mike White for something substantial you can find a better QB for less money than Joe Flacco. None will win you many games, but neither will Flacco. Ryan Fitzmagic, Mike Glennon, A. J. McCarron, Garrett Gilbert and a host of more guys were available. You don’t need 3 QBs on a roster. You can always have a developmental guy on the practice squad. This again is a waste of money and shows a trend with this management team.
That trend is players they know are brought in over other, better players. I know Joe Douglas made his bones when he banged the table for Joe Flacco when he was a scout at Baltimore. Joe is no longer a scout at Baltimore. He is the GM of the Jets and needs to start acting like a GM. He takes two steps forward and one step back. Why give money to Solomon Thomas just because he played for Saleh? Other players are much better. You are chasing a mistake when you bring in Thomas. He never developed from college so let it go. Bring in players who will make your team better, and stop wasting money on all these players who will not help the Jets win.
If you add up the money spent just on Flacco, Martin, Coleman, Pineiro and Conklin you have over $12 million in freed up cap space. That is not even counting other bloated contracts or money wasted on Edoga, Wesco or Shepherd. That money could be used to bring in a viable backup tackle or a run stuffing lineman or a safety and so on.
When a GM looks how to build a team you have to assess your tolerance to risk. There is risk in everything you do, but roster moves have varying degrees of peril. Also filling certain spots on your team in an emergency situation has varying costs. You need to have some great backups at key positions along with enough cap space to make moves when you absolutely have to. I think Joe has been a little reckless in both areas. If he wants to play the season with the sword of Damocles hanging over his head, the risks are probably too great. The Jets will need some great luck, and as Jets fans know far too well the team has been snake bitten at times and run short on luck.
It’s not like I don’t like the players he has brought in. In fact I love the Draft class, but you have to prioritize each roster spot. To have near zero quality in reserve for positions like offensive tackle, safety, linebacker and defensive tackle while having 8 edge rushers is poor team building. Plus with barely enough cap space to sign Draft picks, the Jets will be razor thin for this upcoming season.
In football you are only as strong as your weakest player. Football is a matchup game so if you have a weak link the opposing team will exploit that weakness unmercifully. Having some great talent is fantastic, but football is a team game not an individual game like tennis or golf. You have to build the strongest team, and I think Joe is a little (or a lot) short of that.
For now we have to hope a player or players come free on the waiver wire to help the Jets, or this could turn a season of redemption into disappointment. I don’t like to hope someone becomes available to help the Jets, and the cap space mess is pretty much Joe’s own doing.
I am not predicting gloom and doom but just pointing out some potential problems I see on the horizon that could stall a potential Jets resurgence. We all want the Jets to continue moving forward; not stuck in the mud. Eventually you have to make a breakthrough to become relevant in the Playoff picture. The Jets have been dormant for far too long.
Hey, I really like a lot of what Joe Douglas, has done but the mistakes stick out like a sore thumb. He is like the old Mets slugger Dave Kingman. He rarely singled. It was either a home run or a strike out. Joe needs to cut down on the strike outs. Sometimes singles can win you ballgames just like home runs.
That’s what I think.
What do you think?