Which seasoned veterans can help the New York Jets?
Once free agency season rolls around in the NFL world, fanbases tend to fixate on the most attractive names set to hit the market. All of the love goes to the small handful of top-tier players who are in their prime years, while not much attention is paid to the much greater total of lower-cost players who will inevitably be signed.
Today, we’ll turn our attention to some of the possible second-wave and third-wave targets the New York Jets could potentially target in free agency – particularly the older and wiser players.
Players who have reached their thirties can still help teams win games. It seems like the general public automatically writes a player off once they turn 30. Sure, teams wouldn’t be smart to invest expensive long-term deals in these players, but they can still be highly valuable on affordable short-term deals.
Old players are often seen as particularly poor targets for rebuilding teams like the Jets. In some cases, that’s true. There are stages of the rebuilding process where it makes sense for a team to heavily favor young players.
For New York, that stage is in the past. The 2021 season – the first of the Robert Saleh era – was New York’s year to embrace the youth movement. And they did just that.
But now, it’s time for the Jets to try and start winning games. Adding experienced veteran players can help them do that. Not every player they sign has to be a spring chicken.
Here are some of the best 30-and-up free-agent targets for the Jets.
DT Al Woods, Seattle Seahawks
- Current age: 34.7
- Draft year: 2010
- Career games: 141
Eleven years after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft by the Buccaneers, Al Woods had perhaps his best NFL season for the Seahawks in 2021. He started all 16 of the games he appeared in and posted a career-best 50 total tackles.
Woods (6-foot-4, 330 pounds) was one of the best run-stopping nose tackles in the game this past season. He ranked 10th among interior defensive linemen with 29 run stops.
The Jets need to improve their run defense in the trenches and could find themselves in even greater need of help in that area if they lose free-agent nose tackle Foley Fatukasi. So, New York could absolutely find themselves in the market for a nose tackle, and Woods is one of the best who is set to become available.
Woods shared one season in Seattle alongside now-Jets head coach Robert Saleh way back in 2011, when Saleh was the defensive quality control coach for the Seahawks.
EDGE Mario Addison, Buffalo Bills
- Current age: 34.4
- Draft year: 2011
- Career games: 158
Mario Addison has remained a very solid pass-rushing defensive end well into his thirties. Addison had 35 pressures in 2021 (50th among EDGE), his seventh straight season with at least 30 pressures. He also had seven sacks, marking his eighth straight season with at least five.
While Addison probably isn’t the answer as a starter for the Jets, he would be an excellent addition to the defensive line rotation.
TE Lee Smith, Atlanta Falcons
- Current age: 34.2
- Draft year: 2011
- Career games: 149
Lee Smith is a noted Jet killer. In the 2019 season opener, his run-blocking was crucial in paving the way for many of the long Buffalo runs that helped the Bills come from behind for a 17-16 victory. In Week 5 of the 2021 season, Smith was unusually active in a 27-20 Falcons victory as he caught three passes for 30 yards, the third-best yardage total of his 149-game career.
Jet-killing aside, Smith’s blocking makes him a potentially nice fit in New York as a second or third tight end.
A tank at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, Smith has graded out at Pro Football Focus as one of the league’s best run-blocking tight ends on a yearly basis throughout his career. Smith was still at the top of his game in 2021 as he ranked 19th out of 82 qualified tight ends with a 67.2 run-blocking grade.
Smith is also a good pass-blocker who consistently allows pressure on a lower percentage of his pass-blocking snaps than the positional average.
OL Michael Schofield, Los Angeles Chargers
- Current age: 31.2
- Draft year: 2014
- Career games: 102
Michael Schofield is one of the most intriguing second-tier offensive linemen set to hit the market. He can be a respectable middle-of-the-pack starting guard or a high-end backup at multiple positions.
Schofield has graded poorly as a run-blocker throughout his career but consistently produces well in pass protection. This past season, Schofield started 12 games at right guard for the Chargers and allowed 24 pressures on 605 pass-blocking snaps. That’s a pressure rate of 3.97%, which ranked 23rd-best out of 68 qualified guards.
While most of Schofield’s career snaps have come at right guard (3,902 snaps), he also has extensive experience at right tackle (1,359 snaps) and has dabbled a bit at left tackle (120 snaps) and left guard (140 snaps).
If the Jets fail to either sign one of the top-tier free agent guards or reunite with Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, they’ll need to add a placeholder at right guard heading into the draft. Schofield would be a great Plan C to help the Jets to land on their feet.
WR Mohamed Sanu, Atlanta Falcons
- Current age: 32.5
- Draft year: 2012
- Career games: 136
While many are focused on the Jets’ pursuit for a big name at the wide receiver position, New York needs depth at wide receiver as well.
The Jets have five wide receivers under contract heading into 2022: Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, Denzel Mims, Tarik Black, and Rodney Adams. Davis and Moore are the only two proven players of that bunch, so the Jets have a long way to go on the road to filling out the depth chart.
Mohamed Sanu is a veteran wideout who should come cheaply after seeing his production dwindle in recent years. The New Jersey native has experience in the Jets’ offensive system and can still provide respectable production in a pinch.
It’s a very small sample, but in 2021, Sanu produced 12 first downs on 24 targets. That’s a rate of 50.0%, which tied him for sixth-best out of the 271 players (regardless of position) who had at least 20 targets. In 2020, Sanu had 13 first downs on 24 targets, a rate of 54.2% that placed him fifth out of 259 qualifiers.
Those first down receptions by Sanu were generally short-to-intermediate catches. Sanu’s average first down grab from 2020-21 gained only 12.3 yards (the NFL average over that span was 15.8) with his longest reception going for a measly 21 yards.
Sanu has struggled with drops and after-the-catch production in recent years, but at the least, the veteran slot man has shown that he is still effective at getting open and delivering short-yardage chain-movers in a small role. He could be a backup slot receiver for the Jets.
In 2016, Sanu shared time in Atlanta with now-Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, who was an offensive assistant with the Falcons. Sanu spent the last two seasons in San Francisco playing under Kyle Shanahan, who LaFleur previously coached under and currently models his scheme after.
Another trait that makes Sanu a possible Jets fit is his passing ability. LaFleur showed in 2021 that he is not afraid to call trick plays that involve a non-quarterback throwing the ball. Few non-quarterbacks can sling it like Sanu. In his career, Sanu has completed 7-of-8 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns.