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Finding the Jets trade balance

NFL: New York Jets-Aaron Rodgers Press Conference Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

We barely got past cutdown day before rumors started swirling about the Jets potentially making a trade for a big name player.

One of the big names receiving speculation is Mike Evans.

So is Davante Adams, a star receiver with deep ties to Aaron Rodgers.

Even Aaron Donald is generating some buzz.

To be clear, there is little in the way of concrete evidence that a trade for a big name is on the horizon. All of these rumors are speculation, and in some cases they are wild speculation (by media . The Jets are currently the most discussed, most hyped team in the league. They just traded for one of the highest profile players in the game. Isn’t that reason to believe another big deal could follow? Maybe, maybe not.


Frequently NFL media types and fans put teams into one of two categories. There are teams “building for the future” and teams trying to “win now.” In reality every team is trying to do both to a certain degree. Teams definitely can lean more in one direction than the other. The Houston Texans, for example, are a team much closer to the “build for the future” portion of the pendulum. They aren’t likely to use extensive future resources to chase short term wins this year. They will, however, look for cost effective ways to build their team and try to beat expectations.

The Jets are clearly closer to the other extreme. There aren’t many teams that have used up a greater degree of future resources to chase short term results. They just traded two premium Draft picks for a 39 year old quarterback who will likely be on the team for one to two seasons. Assuming Aaron Rodgers does play two years, the Jets are already slated to have dead money hits of approximately $18 million in 2024, $35 million in 2025, and $35 million in 2026. These are current (and near future) cap hits that have been pushed back a few years to clear as much immediate cap space as possible to load up for a run now.

In this article I won’t argue the merits of this approach. Longtime readers probably know that I personally prefer a more balanced strategy, both trying to compete now while not over extending future resources. But I am a realist. That isn’t what the Jets have done. It probably won’t ever be what they do under the current ownership. The Johnson brothers prioritize chasing relevancy for this franchise over everything else. Every now and then they might pay lip service to methodical team building, but they’ll never stick to it. For their part, they actually might for once have found a way to chase relevancy while also winning. A short term plan to chase relevancy built around Aaron Rodgers has a much better chance of also producing wins than giving blank checks to the Trumaine Johnson/Le’veon Bell/CJ Mosley types, trading for Tim Tebow, or yes, even acquiring a somewhat disinterested Brett Favre.

The Jets have paired an approach of parting with long-term resources with constructing one of the league’s oldest rosters. My former SB Nation colleague Jimmy Kempski averages the ages of every team’s 53 man roster annually after cutdown day. This year’s Jets have the second oldest roster in the league by his calculations behind only the Saints.

The average doesn’t always tell the whole story. I decided to try and contextualize the age of the roster. In doing so I went position by position. I did a search using the Stathead database of every player who started at least nine games in 2022 (at least half the season). Then I compared it to the projected Jets starting lineup. Only eight of twenty-two Jets starters are below the league median at their respective positions this coming season. AT the two most important offensive spots, quarterback and left tackle, the Jets have the oldest player at their respective positions in the entire NFL.

Having an old roster isn’t necessarily inherently good or bad. In the NFL players usually don't last past their mid 20s unless they prove themselves to be valuable contributors. Many of the best teams have rosters that rate among the oldest. It is because they have established players.

There are risks with older players, such as the potential for decline or greater risk to be impacted by injures. Still, the Jets having an old team isn’t necessarily a negative for 2023.

There is one thing that having an older roster definitely does mean, however. Older teams need to replace a greater percentage of their roster faster than the typical team.

This brings us to our main point involving the New York Jets. Over the last few months I have heard a lot of Jets fans claim, “I don’t care how good the team is in 2025.” I have followed the Jets for a long time. I know for a fact that isn’t true. Fans who claim this always care.

Common sense would tell us the same thing. I doubt any of these fans would just be willing to auction off three years worth of Draft picks for the best package they could get. If the Jets put all of their picks up for sale, these fans would want a good return in a trade and rightly so.

This is the balance I am discussing. The Jets are going for it this year, but they still at least on some level care about the years ahead.

Having an old team along with a shortage of Draft picks and future cap space doesn’t necessarily guarantee doom for the franchise going forward. On the contrary, the handful of young players the Jets do have happen to be among the best players on the team. I find it very unlikely we will see a return to the depths of the Mike Maccagnan/Adam Gase days with a core of Quinnen Williams, Garrett Wilson, Sauce Gardner, and Breece Hall around.

Filling in around this core won’t be impossible. The Jets will, however, have a smaller margin for error than almost any of their competitors. They will need to replace more of their roster than the typical team with less money to do so. This time will coincide with a time where big raises will be due for the aforementioned young core, further depleting financial reserves. And this will be right around the time the Draft picks traded away would be starting to make an impact. On top of all of this, the Jets will need to figure out their post-Aaron Rodgers quarterback situation, which is obviously no easy task.

If this sounds daunting, I encourage you to relax a bit. Nothing is set in stone. It won’t be easy, but the roster’s decimation is not already guaranteed. The Jets will need to have a higher batting average than the competition. They will need to hit on more of the Tony Adams types. A Carter Warren or Max Mitchell developing into a starter will need to happen more frequently.

It is doable. It is also part of the tradeoff to make the present better. The greater future challenges are the price of increasing the odds of winning now.

This begs the question. How far should the Jets further deplete future resources to chase a ring this year? It is a hypothetical question, which makes a concrete answer impossible. I don’t think anybody would be fine with trading three future first round picks for any of the players mentioned above (or comparable talents). Still, all likely have a price that would make sense.

The Jets have improved their roster by adding Rodgers. Still they are no better than the seventh most likely Super Bowl winner at this time according to DraftKings Sportsbook. If one of these players could appreciably boost the odds, it could clearly be worth the team’s while.

I have no idea whether Donald is actually available. In the event he is or becomes available, it would be easy to fall back on platitudes like, “The Jets already have a good defensive line. They don’t need him.”

This analysis fails to consider what Donald could actually mean. If you replace 50-60 snaps going from Al Woods and Quinton Jefferson with 50-60 snaps going to Donald, it would be an exponential improvement. If the defensive line was playing at a high level before, it would be playing at a substantially higher level after. You would guarantee that either Donald or Quinnen Williams would get a one on one matchup on every play. Donald would also provide a degree of insurance against a Williams injury.

How about Evans or Adams? A pass ultimately goes to the quarterback’s first read on a passing play an estimated 67 percent of the time. For the Jets, you can bet that Garrett Wilson will be that first read the bulk of the time. When the defense knows the identity of the likely first read, it can build a scheme around that fact. Great players like Wilson won’t be stopped. They will still be plenty productive, but a well designed scheme can slow them down.

If Wilson lines up on the left of a formation, and an Evans or Adams is on the right, the offense suddenly becomes less predictable. The defense will have a tougher time building a scheme since there are now two viable options to be the first progression. Everybody will become better. Plus having Wilson, Adams, or Evans as the second read for the 33 percent of the time the first progression isn’t there makes those reps more productive.

There are also times when a receiver runs decoy routes. Aaron Rodgers is one of the few quarterbacks in the league with the field vision to see when a decoy breaks free for a potential big play. He is willing to turn the decoy into an active receiver and throw the long ball. Wilson/Adams/Evans as the decoy is going to produce more of these big plays than Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, or Mecole Hardman.

I can’t offer a definitive answer as to whether the Jets should hypothetically make a big trade. It depends on what they are getting and what they are giving up and the salary they are taking on. The tradeoffs of short term gain and long term loss must be considered and evaluated thoroughly.

Still while we can’t definitively predict the future I think it is a fair to make an educated guess that the 2023 Jets will likely have the best chance to win the Super Bowl of any Jets team over the next five years. We have discussed some of the obstacles awaiting the team in the future. But even 2024 will likely present a more challenging landscape with Rodgers a year older and in his age 40 season and a number of key contributors this year hitting free agency, including three starting offensive lineman. I think these factors should and likely will weigh on a decision. The Jets have already leaned into going for it this year. The team might want to not further deplete future resources, which is reasonable. Still, if a move could make it appreciably more likely that this year’s team finishes the job, it is something to not take lightly. Of course price matters, but you don’t want to be sitting in Kansas City or Cincinnati in January regretting not landing that one piece who could have made a big difference.

I’m also not sure anybody in Jets management is going to want to explain to Aaron Rodgers that they really need that second round pick in two years right after Rodgers gave $35 million back to the team to help it compete.

The Jets have leaned in to prioritizing the present more than the future. There is logic to continuing that lean. They just shouldn’t lean too far if it means making a truly bad value deal.