Special Jet X audio version:
The greatest New York Jets’ positional upgrades are critical for the future
The New York Jets are not a good football team.
Not even the most optimistic diehard fans can find any way to paint the last decade of Jets football in a positive light, and that’s just the ugly truth of the matter.
None of that is news to anyone, though, and neither is the fact that this offseason is the one where that could all finally change. It’s the most important one this star-crossed franchise has faced … maybe ever. General manager Joe Douglas has been strategically making moves for the past couple of years, and this offseason marks the moment it all culminates.
The Jets are top five in the league in cap space with nearly $50 million. They also possess four picks inside the top 40 of the 2022 NFL draft. They also, unfortunately, have a lot of weaknesses to fill.
But let’s say somehow Douglas—who seems to be the most promising general manager the Jets have had in some time—managed to make the biggest possible upgrade (within reason) at each and every big position of need the Jets have.
As unrealistic as that is, what might it look like? After all, with the resources he has, chances are, Douglas does successfully pull off at least some of these upgrades.
Wide receiver: Amari Cooper
Let’s be clear: Elijah Moore looked fantastic last season and should be a stud for the Jets moving forward. But Corey Davis showed us he would best be suited as a second or third option, and beyond those two, the Jets receiving core is pretty underwhelming (save for Braxton Berrios, who may or may not be back next season).
There are a few potential answers to what the best-case scenario would be for the Jets in locking down a true number one receiver for Zach Wilson. We need to keep in mind, though, it’s important to stay within reason. If you’re someone who believes the Jets have a realistic chance at landing Davante Adams, then go ahead and insert him here for yourself — I will not be.
What feels more like a realistic option is either drafting a pass-catcher in the first round or signing/trading for an established star.
The former would include a name like Garrett Wilson, Treylon Burks or Drake London, while the latter would likely include Chris Godwin, Calvin Ridley or Amari Cooper. Any of these guys would instantly be projected as the Jets wide receiver one, but which of them would be the biggest upgrade Douglas could make?
It’s tough to project rookies ahead of established studs when they haven’t yet played a down of NFL football, but it also doesn’t feel like that much better or worse of an option to sign someone who just tore their ACL (Godwin) or who has questions regarding their mental wellness (Ridley).
Because of that, we’ll go ahead and label the biggest upgrade Douglas could realistically make at the wide receiver position as Amari Cooper, who is one of the league’s top route-runners and has already proven himself a surefire wide receiver No. 1.
Cooper, Moore and Davis would be a terrifying trio for defenses to plan for.
Right guard: Ikem Ekwonu
Remember when I said Joe Douglas looks to be the most promising GM the Jets have had in some time? Part of that is because of his ideology favoring the trenches above all else in constructing a roster, but he’s also done wonders with his actual roster transactions.
One of the most impressive and notable additions Douglas made to the Jets came just this past season when he traded third-string tight end Daniel Brown to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
While he was far from perfect, LDT’s solid, steady presence noticeably improved the performance of the entire O-line, and the 31-year-old has gone on record saying he hopes to play for the Jets in 2022.
Whether he’s re-signed as a backup or to be the starter, LDT’s return to the Jets for the 2022 season would be a huge win for Douglas. It wouldn’t, however, be the biggest possible upgrade Douglas could make to the position, as this offseason is loaded with great options at offensive guard.
Free-agent options include guys like Brandon Scherff, Austin Corbett, Laken Tomlinson and Alex Cappa. Draftable players with high potential at guard include Ikem Ekwonu, Kenyon Green and Zion Johnson.
Scherff is easily the most talented and proven player out of all of these, but he has shown a concerning inability to stay healthy for a full season. The last time he played a full 16 games was in 2016, and now, being in his thirties, his reliability doesn’t look promising.
Ekwonu is universally seen as a top-five pick in the NFL draft, and while most scouts seem to think he can hold up at tackle in the NFL, he would also be more than suited to play guard, where he would be borderline elite from the get-go. If Douglas were to spend the fourth overall pick on Ekwonu, it would make sense for him to begin his Jets career in the interior, making him the biggest possible upgrade at the position.
Tight end: Dalton Schultz
It was pretty shocking for almost everyone last offseason when Douglas opted to go into the 2021 season with free-agent addition Tyler Kroft as the team’s top tight end.
That won’t happen this year.
Douglas hears the outside noise, so if he didn’t already understand how big of a need tight end is for his team, the outcry from fans has certainly let him know.
The options at tight end for the Jets are extensive, which is good news considering the fact that they’ll likely need to add more than one. While there are some who’d like to see the Jets land Mike Gesicki from the division rival Miami Dolphins, he isn’t exactly the best blocker… or even a good one. And Mike LaFleur’s Shanahan-style offensive scheme needs its tight ends to block.
Do you know who is a good blocker? Jets Twitter favorite Dalton Schultz, who is currently on the Dallas Cowboys but is set to hit free agency if he isn’t franchise tagged. Schultz can block and catch at a high level and having someone like that for Zach Wilson would be a massive safety blanket.
The draft also offers great options at tight end, and while Douglas will almost certainly be dipping into that pool as well (keep an eye on Trey McBride and Jeremy Ruckert), we can’t call any one of the young prospects a bigger upgrade at tight end than the one Schultz would provide.
Outside cornerback: J.C. Jackson
Bryce Hall looks the part of a legitimate outside corner, but while Brandin Echols may have shown flashes of potential this year, it’s hard to deny the Jets’ need on the outside. Hall will be a very good CB2 for New York, but adding a guy on the outside who can legitimately be matched up on the opposing team’s top dog is an absolute necessity, particularly in a division with Stefon Diggs and Jaylen Waddle.
While as recently as six months ago, fans would have been pounding the table for Derek Stingley Jr. in the draft, that outlook has changed drastically.
So much so, in fact, that it might not even be a reach to say Jets fans would be upset to see their team draft Stingley, who has now been dubbed as “injury prone.”
Jets Twitter is currently quite infatuated with the University of Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, and for good reason. It’s well-known at this point that Gardner never conceded a touchdown in coverage during his entire college career, and the undeniable swagger that comes with a name like Sauce is just begging for the New York media market.
Would Gardner be the biggest possible upgrade Douglas could make to his cornerback room this offseason? That’s certainly in the range of outcomes. But playing the odds game, signing a guy like Stephon Gilmore, Carlton Davis or J.C. Jackson in free agency would, in theory, have a larger and more immediate impact on the success of the Jets defense.
Another situation to keep an eye on is what’s going on in New Orleans. The Saints are ridiculously far over the cap, meaning several star players simply won’t be able to stay with the team next season. Who knows, but maybe a certain bald-headed, goateed executive in Florham Park might be able to swing some kind of trade for star corner Marshon Lattimore?
It is a long shot, though, and completely hypothetical. For that reason, paired with the fact that J.C. Jackson’s skill is comparable to Lattimore’s anyway, he gets the nod here.
Linebacker: Nakobe Dean
C.J. Mosley is a good football player. Behind the reigning team MVP, though, the Jets are pretty bad at linebacker, and that needs to be fixed.
The free agency market at linebacker isn’t too bad. The headliner of the group is De’Vondre Campbell, who just had a monster season for the Packers, finishing with a first-team All-Pro recognition. Green Bay likely won’t be able to re-sign him with their current cap situation, so he could be a great off-ball addition next to Mosley if the Jets were to make a push for him.
The only issue would be his price tag… would Douglas be willing to fork over top-dollar to another star linebacker when Mosley is currently the team’s biggest cap hit?
Talent-wise, Campbell would easily be the pick here. But because of his price tag paired with Mosley’s, signing him might ultimately not be as big of an upgrade as his talent level would suggest — it’s asking for unnecessary cap issues down the line.
Luckily, the draft offers an intriguing class of linebackers as well. Georgia’s Nakobe Dean and Utah’s Devin Lloyd are both seen as first-round talents who will each have an early impact on whatever defense drafts them. The two prospects are neck and neck right now, with Lloyd having a more prototypical build for the position, but Dean making up for what he lacks in size with next-level leadership skills. One if not either of these two prospects could be had at tenth overall for Douglas, but he might also be able to land one following a trade-back scenario.
Dean’s special leadership traits should immediately make him stand out to Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh, who have shown an affinity for such players in the past. Because Dean and Lloyd are so close talent-wise, it’s this little tidbit that gives the former Georgia Bulldog the edge here.
Safety: Marcus Williams
It’s crazy to think that just a few short years ago, safety was easily the Jets’ biggest strength on the roster. Once led by Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, this safety room is now headlined by … Ashtyn Davis.
It’s well-known that safety is possibly Gang Green’s weakest position on the entire roster. While Davis was a third-round pick, he has really shown himself to be more of a solid third option at the position who can start when necessary.
The biggest upgrade at safety that the Jets could make is quite clearly Marcus Williams of the New Orleans Saints. As mentioned earlier, the Saints are well over the cap, and will be unable to retain some of their best players.
Williams certainly qualifies as one of their best, but seeing as he just played on the franchise tag and has now seemingly played himself out of the Saints’ price range, Douglas should have him pegged as the priority in free agency.
Kyle Hamilton is worth a mention here as well, considering he’s the best safety prospect in quite some time. The only thing with Hamilton is what it would take to get him — likely a top-five pick. While Hamilton would instantly make the Jets better, the opportunity cost of drafting a safety top-five when a guy like Williams could be had on the open market is just too much.
With the resources at Joe Douglas’ disposal this offseason, he has a real chance to mold this Jets roster into a potential playoff contender.
While it’s unrealistic to expect each and every one of these upgrades to come to fruition, just know that Douglas will at least be doing everything he can to make it so.