The Jets entered into the offseason with 24 pending free agents, many of whom played major roles last season. They’ve since re-signed 10 of these. Interestingly, though, virtually all of these moves just provide depth rather than being likely to play a big role again in 2023.
In theory, that could change. There are still several unsigned Jets free agents, three of whom - Connor McGovern, George Fant and Kwon Alexander - played major roles last season. It’s not impossible the Jets could still sign any of these three, but would a major role be likely?
McGovern doesn’t seem to have much of a market, which is somewhat surprising given that he did a solid job over the past three seasons. However, the Jets have been linked with veteran Ben Jones and might also use a high pick on their center of the future.
Alexander re-signing is not out of the question either. The Jets don’t currently have much depth at linebacker but perhaps will address this in the draft or could be looking to play more three safety sets in 2023.
In Fant’s case, unless he can prove his poor performance was injury related - and that those injuries are in the past - he might struggle to get anything more than a minimum deal. However, if he was added back to the Jets roster for depth, you can’t rule out him getting a chance to play after all the injuries last year.
In terms of outgoing players, a few of the players leaving again had significant 2022 roles in Elijah Moore (who was traded), Nate Herbig and Sheldon Rankins. Nathan Shepherd and Braxton Berrios (who was cut) also had key reserve roles.
Looking at the 10 players they did re-sign, surprisingly only one played more than one-third of the snaps last season: Quincy Williams.
It’s possible Williams could play a bigger role next year, especially if Alexander doesn’t return. Their roles overlapped last year, so Williams’ saw his snap count reduce from 2021. However, if the Jets bring in a coverage linebacker as some draft analysts believe they will, then this could end up eating into Williams’ workload even more - especially if they also operate more often from three-safety sets.
Solomon Thomas is another interesting case. He got a small pay bump and signed a deal including some incentives despite interest from other teams. This suggests the Jets are prepared to meet his desire for increased opportunities with Rankins and Shepherd gone.
If you were to draw up a depth chart based on who is on the roster today, Thomas would probably be the starter. He’s a better option on first and second down than Quinton Jefferson, who has been more of a pass rush threat in recent years. However, if they rotate like they did last year, then Jefferson could end up with a bigger snap count than Thomas, because he’ll presumably get more pass rush reps.
Robert Saleh’s desire to get their best pass rushers on the field in those situations will likely mean that John Franklin-Myers is usually lined up alongside Quinnen Williams though. It’s also likely that Thomas himself would want some chances to rush the passer alongside Williams.
Bringing in a rookie to complete this four man rotation seems inevitable, and some kind of tweak to the rotation could also be considered with more situational deployments and perhaps better chances for Thomas, Jefferson and any incoming rookie to settle into a rhythm by not being taken out of the game so regularly.
While Williams and Thomas have a chance to start and play more of a role, this is by no means guaranteed. The rest of the 10 re-signed free agents are basically just adding depth though and will be role players at best. This includes Greg Zuerlein, who will obviously have a role, but only on special teams and Bryce Huff, who was a part-timer despite good production last year.
Some of those players might not make the final roster, but in each case it’s smart to bring guys like Huff, Cedric Ogbuehi and Will Parks back to provide reliable reinforcements if anything doesn’t go to plan during the season.
The biggest conclusion to draw from this, though, is that despite bringing back so many guys, this team is being completely remodelled and looks set to be dramatically different to last year’s group. With the way the season ended, perhaps that’s for the best.