Something does not add up in the recent report about the New York Jets’ plans for the secondary
Jeremy Fowler, an NFL insider at ESPN, came out on Wednesday with a surprising take on the New York Jets management’s plans for late-offseason player acquisition.
Fowler speculates that the Jets still intend to make a “splash move” in the secondary this offseason.
“It seems like New York is still looking for another splash move in the secondary,” Fowler writes. “The Jets were in the mix for several high-cost free agents and signed corner D.J. Reed but could still use one more playmaker. A rangy center fielder at safety would elevate what should be an emerging defense.”
That leads all minds straight to Jessie Bates III, the Cincinnati Bengals safety who is currently in a contract dispute. He was franchised-tagged by the Bengals and failed to come to a long-term agreement, leading to a potential holdout.
Speculation has long abounded that the Jets will be in on Bates. He is a hard-hitting center fielder who would complement Jordan Whitehead’s skills very well.
Still, the likelihood of such a move has always been slim, and Fowler’s report seems suspect.
From a football perspective
For one thing, Bates is not coming off the best season of his career. Despite a strong postseason showing, Bates ended 2021 with a 56.1 Pro Football Focus grade, which was 55th out of 64 qualifying safeties. That includes a 53.4 coverage grade, which ranked 53rd. He allowed an 83.3% reception rate and a 135.0 passer rating against, both second-worst among safeties.
Those who want Bates will point out that his playoff performance last season was more reminiscent of his breakout 2020 campaign. In the year before last, Bates led all safeties with a 90.1 PFF grade, including a second-ranked 90.0 coverage grade. His 54.3% reception rate allowed was seventh-best, and his 42.3 passer rating against was third-best.
In four games in the 2021 playoffs, Bates put up a 90.0 PFF grade, 89.5 coverage grade, 36.4% reception rate allowed, and 35.6 passer rating against.
Those are some phenomenal coverage numbers and would definitely be an attractive addition to complete the Jets secondary.
I’m sure that Bates’s upside would be attractive to the Jets. However, it’s important to point out that if they wanted a top safety, they could have re-signed their own talent in Marcus Maye. If injuries were the big problem, they could have made a more aggressive pursuit of Marcus Williams, who eventually signed with the Ravens. They did not because of the money, and that’s where the unlikelihood of Bates begins.
Maye got three years and $28.5 million from New Orleans. Perhaps the relationship with the Jets had already soured too much, or the injury bug pushed them away.
But Williams was a nonstarter, as he signed a five-year, $70 million deal with $36 million guaranteed. That is reminiscent of Jamal Adams‘s deal, which was for four years, $70.5 million with $38 million guaranteed.
Furthermore, during this offseason, Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick signed a four-year, $73.6 million extension with $36 million guaranteed. Mind you, Fitzpatrick is also coming off a down year by his standards.
Is it likely that the general manager who ruthlessly traded away his defensive leader in Adams and let Maye walk will suddenly turn around and trade for a safety who will command a top-of-the-market contract?
In addition, GM Joe Douglas would not have had to trade any assets to sign either Adams or Maye. A Bates trade would require draft picks in return. Douglas has been reluctant to trade draft assets for players, particularly as the Jets are still in the midst of a rebuild.
Veracity of the report
Besides the reasons that a move for Bates seems unlikely, there is the matter of the report itself. Though Fowler’s words have been widely quoted in news articles today, his actual ESPN report seems speculative. Once again, here is what Fowler wrote:
“It seems like New York is still looking for another splash move in the secondary. The Jets were in the mix for several high-cost free agents and signed corner D.J. Reed but could still use one more playmaker. A rangy center fielder at safety would elevate what should be an emerging defense.”
There is no indication that this comes from any source within the organization. In fact, multiple insiders have said that safety is not a Jets priority right now.
Therefore, there is no reason to lend particular credence to this report over any other speculative report about Jessie Bates III or others.
The Jets have other needs, including at swing tackle, linebacker, and possibly run-stuffing defensive tackle. Leave the fantasy wish list for, well, fantasy leagues.