Marcus Maye has grown into one of the NFL’s best safeties – how high will Joe Douglas and the New York Jets go to keep him?
Let’s rewind the clock to April 2017, when Mike Maccagnan and the New York Jets selected two safeties back-to-back in the first two rounds of the draft – Jamal Adams (No. 6 overall) and Marcus Maye (No. 39). Imagine if I told you that, in four years, one of those two players would no longer be a Jet, while the other would be a top-5 safety primed to earn one of the league’s richest deals on the free agent market.
Adams is a Seattle Seahawk coming off of a shaky season riddled by porous coverage (a strange development after his elite coverage as a Jet from 2018-19). In New York, Maye is the face of the Jets’ secondary, heading into free agency off of a career year in which he blossomed into one of the league’s best safeties.
What exactly does Maye bring to the table? How much money should Joe Douglas and the Jets be willing to spend to keep him around?
Let’s dive into the complete résumé of Maye’s 2020 season.
Overall elite play at free safety
To begin the season, Gregg Williams essentially moved Maye into Jamal Adams’ old role, having him roam around all over the field while primarily living near the line of scrimmage. Maye spent some time at strong safety, in the slot, and at outside linebacker among various other assignments.
Maye had mixed results at this position. He enjoyed a dominant season-opener in Buffalo but struggled over the next four games. Through Week 5, he was tied for third among safeties with seven missed tackles. In coverage, he was allowing 8.1 yards per target and a 138.0 passer rating. His overall Pro Football Focus grade of 62.2 ranked 32nd out of 80 qualified safeties (61st percentile) from Weeks 1-5. Take out the season-opener, and from Weeks 2-5, Maye had a 51.1 PFF grade that ranked 69th out of 87 (21st percentile).
Williams moved Maye back to his old home at free safety in Week 6, and from there, he began to play elite football. From Weeks 6-17, Maye earned an overall grade of 89.2 at PFF, second-best among safeties over that span behind only Adrian Amos (90.7).
Maye’s coverage was tremendous after moving back to the free safety position.
As previously mentioned, over the first five games of the year, Maye allowed 8.1 yards per target and a 138.0 passer rating. He yielded two touchdowns and snagged no picks.
Over the next 11 games, Maye gave up 5.0 yards per target and a 58.1 passer rating, both marks ranking fourth-best among the 55 safeties to see at least 20 targets over that span. He coughed up a 2-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Maye’s sizzling 89.7 coverage grade at PFF from Weeks 6-17 trailed only Adrian Amos’ 92.2.
Sound run defense
Maye also improved against the run after moving back to free safety. After posting a 62.2 run defense grade at PFF from Weeks 1-5 (39th out of 80), Maye boosted his run defense grade to a 77.5 from Weeks 16-17, ranking 14th of 82 over that span.
Maye appeared to be much better in run support as a last line of defense rather than a key gap-filler in the box – he was fine in the latter role, but he’s much more effective when pursuing from the back-end.
Throughout his career, Maye has been trusted enough by his coaches to remain on the field for the entire game.
Save for two games that he left early due to injury, Maye has played no less than 95% of the defensive snaps in a game throughout his Jets career. He played 100% of the snaps in 43 of the 52 games that he did not leave early.
In 2020, Maye only missed two defensive snaps all season. His total of 1,137 defensive snaps (71.1 per game) led all safeties and ranked second among all defensive players, trailing only Bobby Wagner (1,141).
The 2020 season stands as Maye’s best, but he was excellent from 2018-19 as well.
In 2019, Maye’s 74.5 overall PFF grade ranked 18th among the 69 safeties to play at least 500 snaps (75th percentile). In 2018, Maye only played 393 snaps over six games, but he was great when out there. His overall grade of 80.0 that season ranked ninth out of the 83 safeties to play at least 350 snaps (90th percentile).
Maye has the ninth-best composite PFF grade among qualified safeties over the past three seasons:
- Adrian Amos (82.9)
- Jamal Adams (82.2)
- Kareem Jackson (81.2)
- Harrison Smith (81.1)
- Anthony Harris (80.1)
- Marcus Williams (79.9)
- John Johnson (79.7)
- Minkah Fitzpatrick (79.7)
- Marcus Maye (78.9)
Maye has built a solid track record of durability after raising questions with a tumultuous 2018 season. That year, Maye missed 10 games over three separate stints due to foot, thumb, and shoulder injuries, but across his other three seasons, he has played 48 out of 48 games. In fact, outside of 2018, Maye has only been listed on the injury report ahead of one game, which was a questionable designation (calf) going into his outstanding 2020 season-opener.
Missed tackles have always been a minor problem for Maye. He is capable of some superb open-field finishes, but he is a little bit more prone to whiffs than the average safety.
In his career, Maye has 266 tackles and 38 missed tackles, giving him a miss rate of 12.5%. That’s a bit higher than the 2020 average for safeties, which was 11.7%. Maye had a 12.0% miss rate in 2020.
A small part of Maye’s struggles as a box safety was his lack of an impact as a blitzer. On the season, Maye ranked 23rd among safeties with 33 pass-rush snaps, but his total of five pressures ranked 29th. His 15.2% pressure rate was a few notches below the 2020 positional average of 18.8%. Maye had two pressures on 26 pass-rush snaps (7.7%) outside of the season-opener against the Bills in which he recorded three pressures on just seven rushes.
Maye has nine pressures on 62 pass-rush snaps in his career, a 14.5% rate.
Touchdowns allowed in 2020
Maye has typically done a great job throughout his career of effectively executing his role in deep zone coverages to prevent big plays over the top. From 2018-19, he was credited with allowing only two touchdowns over 912 coverage snaps.
However, in 2020, Maye was more susceptible to allowing big plays. He gave up four touchdowns over 662 coverage snaps (2 over 173 snaps at SS from Weeks 1-5, 2 over 489 snaps at FS from Weeks 6-17). Plus, there was an unusually high number of plays in which Maye was blatantly beaten deep for a potential touchdown, but the play was not converted by the offense. Joe Blewett has broken down a number of these on film.
Maye saved by Q here. Maye (top deep safety) is responsible for the #2 as they cap the #2 and the slot CB blitzes. Maye opens his hips up early into the rep instead of weaving to stay overtop, WR breaks inside on the post and Maye is burned for a could be TD. pic.twitter.com/lIGkAI1VaF
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) November 17, 2020
Maye (deep safety) is playing deep on this cover 1. Maye opens hiss hips to the boundary, should see that the #1 is a threat deep, #2 breaks inside. Late to read the field side where Poole is beat on the seam route. Feel both Poole/Maye have been generally overrated by fans. pic.twitter.com/y0kreMF89F
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) November 17, 2020
Maye also had one play of that ilk in each of his games against the Chargers and Raiders.
PFF’s coverage grade typically accounts for plays like these, knocking defenders for getting beat even if the throw is not converted, and yet still Maye graded at an elite level in the category, so that’s promising. However, these plays remain a bit concerning. Perhaps Maye lucked out a bit this season. If he fails to clean up these plays next year, he could be due for a massive uptick of big plays allowed if his opponents trend toward the mean and capitalize on his mistakes more often.
Bell was headed into his age-26 season after four years of decent play as a starting strong safety for the Saints, although he was not nearly as good as Maye and did not offer the all-important passing game value that Maye does. Bell is a downhill, run-stopping safety. In 2019, Bell ranked 52nd out of 69 safeties with a 62.8 overall PFF grade, ranking first against the run and fourth-worst in coverage. He received a three-year, $18 million deal with $6 million guaranteed from the Bengals.
Jenkins entered the market at 32 years old after a decent 2019 season in which he ranked 38th out of 69 safeties with a 67.2 PFF grade. He signed with the Saints on a hefty four-year, $32 million deal with $16.3 million guaranteed.
Maye is a lot more valuable than those two players were when they hit the market, though. We must go back to the 2019 offseason to find similarly-valuable safeties on the open market. Here were the top deals signed at the position that year:
- Earl Thomas: entering age-30 season, 91.3 PFF grade previous season – 4 years, $55M, $32M guaranteed (Seahawks)
- Lamarcus Joyner: entering age-29 season, 74.9 PFF grade – 4 years, $42M, $21.3M guaranteed (Raiders)
- Tyrann Mathieu: entering age-27 season, 78.1 PFF grade – 3 years, $42M, $26.8M guaranteed (Chiefs)
- Adrian Amos: entering age-26 season, 82.9 PFF grade – 4 years, $36M, $12M guaranteed (Packers)
The biggest extensions signed in the 2020 offseason blow those 2019 free agent deals out of the water:
- Budda Baker: entering age-24 season, 71.4 PFF grade – 4 years, $59M, $33.1M guaranteed (Cardinals)
- Eddie Jackson: entering age-27 season, 67.0 PFF grade – 4 years, $58.4M, $33M guaranteed (Bears)
- Kevin Byard: entering age-27 season, 76.7 PFF grade – 5 years, $70.5M, $31M guaranteed (Titans)
If not franchise-tagged, it seems fair to expect that Maye will earn a four-year deal worth well north of $50 million, possibly north of $60 million.
Projecting Jets’ interest
On the surface, retaining Maye seems like a no-brainer for the Jets. He is an established team leader and homegrown elite player. With gobs of cap space, it’s not as if the Jets need to pinch pennies. Maye can be inked to a large deal and the Jets would still have more than enough room to fill out the rest of the roster. It might make the most sense for the Jets to simply avoid overthinking it and get a core piece locked up.
However, it should be kept in mind that neither Joe Douglas nor any of the lead members of the defensive coaching staff were around when Maye was drafted. Is the new Jets’ brass as attached to Maye as the fanbase is? That remains to be seen.
Ashtyn Davis is a key part of this equation. Where do the Jets project Davis long-term? When he was drafted, it seemed Davis’ NFL future would be as a deep man. However, as it turned out, Davis played some of his best football when he was in the box and Maye was back deep.
Do the Jets feel comfortable about moving forward with Maye at free safety and Davis at strong safety? Perhaps they feel good about Davis as the future free safety and want to play the salary-cap game by moving him deep, letting Maye walk, and signing a cheaper starting strong safety? As they implement a new scheme, what exactly are their long-term plans for the position? Does Maye fit into them?
These are just a few questions that may or may not come to the table at 1 Jets Drive, and their answers all depend on the conclusions formed by Robert Saleh, Jeff Ulbrich, and the defensive coaching staff from their countless hours of delving into the film throughout the winter. It is certainly plausible that the Jets will come to a consensus that Maye is indeed as impactful as the numbers and the fans think he is, and they will get straight to work on locking him up for years to come. On the other hand, they could easily look at the film and see him as a player who they would rather not empty their wallets for.
It seems very possible that the Jets could decide to use the franchise tag on Maye if they do not come to terms on a long-term agreement. There are no other players on the roster worth using it for, and even if the Jets are not high enough on Maye to break the bank for him, keeping him for one year on the franchise-tag cost certainly beats letting him walk for nothing (presumably, the Jets will spend too much in free agency to earn a compensatory pick for losing him). Over The Cap projects the 2021 franchise-tag value for a safety to be about $11.2 million. This could very well end up being the route that the Jets decide to take.
What do you think? Should the Jets hand Maye a hefty long-term deal, or should they slap him with the franchise tag and go from there?