Free agency officially begins on Wednesday but the NFL’s legal tampering period begins at 4 pm today. The legal tampering period is sort of like having the ability to place a preorder before the sale officially begins. Teams can talk to player’s agents and discuss the framework of potential deals, agreements can be reached but no player visits are allowed and nothing can be made official until free agency officially begins on Wednesday.
With the Browns going on a trading spree last week the Jets have become the team with the most cap space to spend (just over $89 million according to overthecap.com), which of course will give them the ability to make sure they are the highest bidder on the player(s) they want the most. The downside to this is everyone knows they have the most money so they may be forced to overpay on the wrong players. So let’s take a peek at what Mike Maccagnan’s shopping list could/should look like and let’s start with the team’s own free agents.
Must re-sign: Quincy Enunwa and, well that’s it. The Jets have a couple of free agents that they likely will and should re-sign, but outside of Enunwa no one that they absolutely must re-sign. You could even make an argument that they don’t have to re-sign Enunwa, if they signed a either Sammy Watkins or Allen Robinson and paired them with a Paul Richardson Jr., Donte Moncrief or even Albert Wilson, but even then, assuming Enunwa will be healthy, Enunwa offers a versatility/matchup problem that none of the other options do and considering Enunwa is a restricted free agent that won’t cost the Jets a ton of money it would be silly for the Jets to not bring him back.
Would be nice to re-sign, but could be replaced: Demario Davis, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Morris Claiborne. Davis is the closest in this bunch to “must re-sign,” with the way he played last year he would be the toughest to replace and he has matured and grown as a leader since the Jets let him walk in free agency the last time. But he’s not so great or irreplaceable that they should just give him whatever his asking price is. The Jets have a number in mind for Davis, Davis is going to want a lot more. They can meet in the middle, but if Davis insists of getting the number he wants (reportedly between $8-10 million per) then let someone else pay him that.
This may be an unpopular opinion, but as great a story as Seferian-Jenkins recovery from alcohol issues is (and it’s a great story and we should all continue to root for his success there) the Jets can survive without Seferian-Jenkins the player. Like Davis it would be great to bring Seferian-Jenkins back, but he wants much more money than the Jets want to give him only the Jets should be even less inclined to meet him in the middle. Maybe it wasn’t his fault, maybe it was a lot of John Morton’s fault, but Seferian-Jenkins disappeared for too many stretches throughout the season. He is a talented athlete, but as he enters his sixth season we are still forced to put stock in his potential more so than his actual on-field production.
With Claiborne I’d actually argue the Jets shouldn’t bother, but the Jets would certainly like to bring him back and ideally he wants to return so I think they will end up bringing him back. When he’s 100 percent healthy he’s a good corner, but he has a hard time staying healthy and there are a lot of really good corners available in both free agency and the draft. Bringing Claiborne back is fine, acting like he would solve their cornerback needs would not be. Even if they re-sign Claiborne the Jets should still look to add at least two more outside corners this offseason.
Free agent shopping list:
QB – Let’s start with quarterback and get this out of the way. We all know Kirk Cousins is the main attraction here and the Jets should absolutely make a play for him, however too many people seem to think it’s Cousins or bust. It feels like the majority of people are correctly in the “it would be great to sign Cousins and avoid having to get the draft pick right, but if they were to get the draft pick right that could very well end up being even better than getting Cousins” camp. If the Jets had a top two or three pick then they wouldn’t even need to consider Cousins, but the looming threat of drafting Josh Allen understandably has many thinking just sign Cousins. Cousins is the safe bet, protection from possibly drafting Allen or just once again the Jets drafting the wrong quarterback, but in my humble opinion Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Lamar Jackson all have the potential to be better than Cousins. Of course that’s just potential, Cousins is exactly what he is now. He won’t get much better (could certainly perform better with upgrades around him but his talent-level is what it is at this point), but his floor won’t drop either and as much as I love that group of four quarterbacks it’s impossible to say they have a higher floor than what we’ve seen from Cousins.
If the Jets get Cousins it will give Mike Maccagnan a win and temporary cover, but how he spends the rest of the almost $90 million will likely make or break his time here. If the Jets don’t land Cousins they should sign Teddy Bridgewater to a one or two-year deal and do whatever it takes to trade up and grab Rosen or Mayfield. That’s the route I would take if I were the GM, but I can understand the argument for going the safe route and signing Cousins.
Center – The Jets have a ton of needs, this much everyone knows, and obviously a new and actually good quarterback is obviously of course the most important need in the sport, but every quarterback needs a good offensive line and the Jets will have a solid line if they can upgrade the center position. There’s a couple of good options in the draft (Frank Ragnow from Arkansas and Ohio State’s Billy Price), but it would be nice to not have to find a center in the draft. It’s not that the Jets couldn’t upgrade at tackle, but Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell will do just fine for this year. Same goes for guards James Carpenter and Brian Winters, neither of them had a good year last year but I remain convinced that was because of the poor play at center that they couldn’t cover up for. Now the Jets might want to make some changes at guard to fit Rick Dennison’s zone blocking scheme so someone like ex-Giant Justin Pugh could make sense, but the real need is at center to give whoever the new quarterback is a quality offensive line to work behind.
The top target here should be the former Raven Ryan Jensen. Jensen is by far the best available center and would be a major upgrade over Wesley Johnson and the Jets should absolutely put the full press on making sure they are the highest bidder for Jensen. Weston Richburg is another, cheaper, option but his injury history makes him a far more risky signing. If they were to sign Richburg one would think they would also have to draft a center to be prepared for another injury. Cousins old teammate Spencer Long could be another option here and would likely be a better option than Richburg.
Cornerback – After quarterback and center, two outside corner should be next on the list of needs for the Jets to fill. Again, bringing back Claiborne is fine, but they should still look to bring in two new outside corners as well and yes, if Tyrann Mathieu becomes available then the Jets should absolutely reunite the Honey Badger with Todd Bowles. Of course Mathieu would be an inside corner/extra safety, so he wouldn’t solve the outside corner need but he’s game changing playmaker when healthy and adding him to the secondary would greatly improve the defense.
As for outside corners, this is a great year to need them and have the money to spend. There’s a bunch of really good options in the draft, so if the Jets wanted to sign one veteran and draft one of the young studs that could work, but with their cap space they might as well try to fill those needs before the draft.
We’ve seen a lot of talk about Malcolm Butler, but lost in all the talk about how Bill Belichick could possibly bench him in the Super Bowl was the fact that Butler had a really bad season last year. I’d spend my money elsewhere. I’d look to add a combination of two out of this group; Kyle Fuller, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaan Melvin and Trumaine Johnson.
With regards to Trumaine Johnson, I’d trust and lean on whatever Jets defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson says. Wilson coached Johnson with the Rams so if Wilson believes in him as a player and someone who can fit in the locker room then go for it and if not, there’s still plenty of other options. The Bears placed the transition tag on Fuller, but all they get out of it is the right to match. If the Jets or another team want to sign him to more than the Bears want to pay then the Bears will lose him and receive nothing in return. Admittedly I haven’t watched a ton of Fuller these past few years, because why watch the Bears? But I loved him coming out of college.
Fuller and Gaines would probably be my first two choices here, but the point is the Jets have options. Aaron Colvin is another cornerback option for the Jets and would be a good signing, but he’s much better suited to play inside.
Pass rusher – I’m putting this here just to acknowledge that it’s an obvious need, but there’s no one available to fill this need in free agency, they’re going to need to address this in the draft. Vinny Curry (who is not officially a free agent yet but it appears the Eagles will release him if they can’t find a trade partner) could certainly help the Jets in this area, but he’s not a pure edge-rusher that they need. Pairing Curry with a true edge rusher in the draft would certainly help the overall pass rush for the Jets so it makes sense to make the call and see what it would cost.
Receiver – Again I don’t think this is as big a need as most do, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t improve. With the money they have I’d make a serious run at Allen Robinson or Sammy Watkins, go after both of them until you get one of them. I’d also go after Richardson Jr., Moncrief and Albert Wilson. Again, obviously not signing all of them but I’d check in on all five and want to come away from either Robinson/Watkins and one of the other three.
Other – With almost $90 million to spend you can expect the Jets to spend at other positions as well, whether for depth purposes or to replace starters. I would argue they should look to sign Trey Burton and let Seferian-Jenkins walk, and of course if Davis leaves they’ll need a new middle linebacker. At running back they should definitely focus on drafting one in the second round, no later than the third (Darius Guice, Sony Michael, Ronald Jones II, and Kerryon Johnson being the top options). They could also look to sign Jerick McKinnon and cut Bilal Powell for a minor upgrade, but sticking with Powell and Elijah McGuire is fine as long as they add one of those backs in the draft.
Also just in case anyone is wondering with news breaking that the Dolphins will release Ndamukong Suh, I don’t expect to the Jets to have any interest. They traded away Sheldon Richardson last year and just released Muhammad Wilkerson so I can’t imagine them being interested in bringing in a player that the Dolphins will cut and have to eat over $22 million in dead money while saving less than $4 million for.
Chris Nimbley is the editor-in-chief of JetsInsider.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@cnimbley), or via email (email@example.com)