Late-offseason free agent targets for the New York Jets
NFL free agency does not stop after the first few waves of moves are through in mid-March. The process never truly ceases.
As the New York Jets prepare for 2022 training camp, their roster could still use some fine-tuning at various positions. It wouldn’t hurt for the Jets to explore adding another useful backup at a few spots.
Here are three available free agents that would be sensible additions to the New York roster.
Dont’a Hightower, LB
What the Jets are missing at the linebacker position is some beef. After the 250-pound C.J. Mosley, all of the linebackers on the Jets’ roster are on the smaller side:
- Del’Shawn Phillips: 230lb
- Quincy Williams: 225lb
- DQ Thomas: 216lb
- Jamien Sherwood: 216lb
- Hamsah Nasirildeen: 215lb
- Marcell Harris: 215lb
For reference, the average weight for an NFL linebacker in the 2021 season was about 235 pounds.
The Jets have plenty of speed at linebacker. But as things stand, they are poised to get steamrolled in the trenches.
Former Patriots linebacker (and longtime Jets killer) Dont’a Hightower would bring the missing beef.
Hightower is one of the largest linebackers in the NFL at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds. The 32-year-old’s best days are behind him, but he’d bring the size, run-stopping ability, and championship-winning experience that this unit lacks.
In 2021, Hightower’s coverage took a nosedive, as he allowed the 10th-most yards per cover snap (1.23) among 66 qualified linebackers. However, his run defense remained solid. His Pro Football Focus run-defense grade of 69.0 ranked 17th-best out of 66 qualifiers.
That’s all the Jets would need from him. Other players will take on the brunt of the coverage responsibilities. New York just needs some more run-stopping security on the second-string unit in case things get dangerously bad in the run game for the youngsters.
As a big, thumping linebacker who can’t cover well in his older age, Hightower certainly is not the most ideal scheme fit for the Jets, but when you scan the current linebacker market, it’s hard to find anybody besides Hightower who offers much intrigue at all. Teams can at least expect him to provide good production against the run – and that part of the game is a weakness for the Jets at the linebacker position.
The Patriots have snagged a ton of iconic Jets over the years: Shaun Ellis, Darrelle Revis, and David Harris being some of the most notable examples. How about the Jets return the favor for once? I’m sure they could woo Hightower using some of the leftover cupcakes from his last visit.
Sheldon Richardson, DT
It’s common knowledge in Jets land that the team needs more run-stopping talent at defensive tackle.
But the Jets can’t just pick a random 350-pound space-eater out of a hat and call it a day. That’s not going to work in this scheme. In Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich‘s attacking 4-3 defense, the run stuffers need to be good athletes who can explode off the ball, penetrate gaps, and at least hold their own on passing plays. Snacks Harrison types will not cut it.
Back in his 49ers days, Saleh had D.J. Jones as his main run stuffer on the interior. Jones is only 6-foot-0 and 305 pounds. He’s no behemoth. Rather, Jones is a good athlete who excels at stopping the run in this type of aggressive defense. That is the type of player the Jets need.
Sheldon Richardson reunion, anyone?
While the 31-year-old Richardson is not the same enforcer that he was in his Jets career, the 6-foot-3, 290-pounder remains one of the more athletic and versatile defensive linemen in the league. He has taken on just about every role in the front seven that you can think of.
In New York, Richardson’s combination of athleticism and run-stopping prowess should allow him to thrive as a 1/2i-technique for this downhill, attacking defensive line.
Playing for the Vikings in 2021, Richardson remained a solid run defender as he posted a 61.0 run-defense grade at PFF, good enough for 26th out of 74 qualified interior defensive linemen.
Richardson has been playing in 4-3 schemes ever since he was traded away from the Jets in 2017. He first played in Seattle’s 4-3 under Pete Carroll, which is the place where Saleh and Ulbrich first worked together and learned many of the philosophies they still employ today.
Richardson also played in Mike Zimmer’s 4-3 with the Vikings and Joe Woods’s 4-3 with the Browns. Woods was a defensive backs coach under Saleh with the 49ers in 2019.
Scanning the market of available defensive tackles, I mostly see a bunch of enormous pure nose tackles in their mid-thirties. I don’t think the Jets want that kind of player. Richardson pops out as the best-available defensive tackle who fits their needs.
Riley Reiff, OT
It was reported back in early June that the Jets had hosted Riley Reiff for a visit. Reiff remains a free agent nearly one month later.
The Jets need to seal the deal on this one.
In 2021, Reiff allowed 21 pressures over 422 pass-blocking snaps for the Bengals. That gave him an allowed pressure rate of 4.98%, which ranked 26th-best out of 67 qualified tackles. He was also a decent run-blocker as he placed 33rd among 67 qualifiers with a 70.0 run-blocking grade.
Entering his age-34 season and coming off a season-ending ankle injury last December, Reiff likely will not replicate his league-average-starter production going forward. But even if he takes one or two steps back from that level, he’d still be better than most of the backup tackles in the NFL.
Joe Douglas has put together a nice duo of interior backups with Dan Feeney and Nate Herbig. If he can round things out by getting someone like Reiff to man the backup swing tackle role, Douglas will have constructed about as dependable of a second-string offensive line as you could hope for.