New York Jets are not getting bang for their buck
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas doled out a hefty helping of dough in the 2022 offseason. Per Spotrac, the Jets gave out $88 million in guaranteed money to free agents this offseason, ranking third in the NFL behind the Jaguars ($158.5M) and the Dolphins ($94.2M).
Three weeks into the 2022 NFL season, the Jets are not getting as much impact out of those dollars as they hoped.
Let’s check in on how the Jets’ seven most expensive free agent signings (north of $10 million) are doing.
LG Laken Tomlinson (3 years, $40 million / $27 million guaranteed)
Former San Francisco 49ers guard Laken Tomlinson signed a three-year deal that guarantees him $27 million, which is the eighth-highest guaranteed total in the NFL among guards.
The way he is playing right now, Tomlinson hasn’t even come remotely close to justifying that contract.
Tomlinson has coughed up 13 total pressures, tying him for second-most in the NFL among left guards. He’s already more than halfway to his 17-game total of 24 from the 2021 season. His average of 4.3 pressures per game is more than triple his 1.4 mark from last year.
Tomlinson is also massively underwhelming in the run game. His 32.6 run-blocking grade at Pro Football Focus is the worst in the NFL among guards.
At this point, it would be a major victory for New York if Tomlinson could even just be a league-average guard. Getting back to his top-10 level from the past two seasons would be gravy.
Cutting Tomlinson after this year would open up $8.8 million in cap space for the Jets, but they would be on the hook for a considerable total of $8.5 million in dead money, so it seems unlikely the Jets will part with Tomlinson after 2022. If he keeps playing this poorly, though, it might be worth considering.
It’s more likely that Tomlinson is released after 2023, when the Jets can save $13 million while only losing $4.3 million in dead money.
It’s never a good sign when you’re already talking about when a team can get rid of a player after he’s only played three games.
Current grade: F
CB D.J. Reed (3 years, $33 million / $10.5 million guaranteed)
As things stand, D.J. Reed is undoubtedly the best signing New York made this offseason. Even with a deal that pays him an average of $11 million annually, he is outperforming his contract.
Reed has provided lockdown coverage throughout all three games. On the year, Reed has allowed 5-of-15 (33.3%) throws in his direction to be completed for 50 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception. His allowed passer rating of 16.0 ranks second-best among all cornerbacks behind only Carolina’s Jaycee Horn (15.3).
Reed’s contract ranks 23rd-largest among cornerbacks in terms of total value at $33 million, but only $10.5 million of that is guaranteed, placing him 38th in terms of guaranteed money. This means he has a lot more to prove than his $33 million number would suggest.
Right now, Reed is making it a no-brainer for the Jets to keep him around.
Current grade: A
TE C.J. Uzomah (3 years, $24 million / $15 million guaranteed)
The Jets signed tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin to similarly priced deals with the idea of using both of them on a frequent basis. However, after three games, only one of them is making an impact: Conklin.
Uzomah has been tossed to the wayside in New York’s offense. He’s only averaging 25.0 snaps per game across his two appearances (he missed Week 2 due to injury), playing 27% of the snaps in his first game and 35% in the next. Meanwhile, Conklin is playing 90% of the Jets’ offensive snaps and leads all tight ends in the NFL with 69.7 snaps per game.
Uzomah’s role is currently relegated to blocking. He is non-existent in the passing game, seeing only one target so far (caught for 5 yards). Uzomah’s blocking has been okay, but not great enough to warrant $15 million guaranteed with zero receiving impact.
With the immediate emergence of rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson, the Jets offense features far more talent at wide receiver than tight end. It makes you wonder if the Jets should have just focused on building their offense around the wide receiver position instead of committing to two tight ends in free agency.
There is a decent chance that Uzomah’s playing time will increase going forward. The Jets have not been able to use their 12 pesonnel (2 TE) packages as often as they probably want to since they’ve been in catchup mode for the entire season. New York has yet to run an offensive play with the lead, outside of a game-sealing kneeldown in Cleveland.
Because they’ve been trailing so much, the Jets have been in obvious passing situations for most of the year, rendering 12-personnel packages obsolete since those are intended to be used in situations where running the ball is a legitimate threat.
Still, though, even when the Jets do finally start achieving a better run-pass balance, should they really be taking snaps away from one of their wide receivers to get Uzomah on the field? Does Uzomah threaten defenses more than Wilson, Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, or Braxton Berrios?
It’s becoming difficult to envision this signing panning out. Uzomah can still make an impact with excellent blocking and respected locker-room leadership, but it seems unlikely he will ever play up to a contract that currently has him ranked 17th among tight ends in terms of guaranteed money.
Uzomah likely isn’t going anywhere until after the 2023 season. If the Jets cut him after 2022, they would be on the hook for $10.3 million and would not save any cap space. Things are more manageable if they trade him, although I’m not sure how many teams are going to be lining up for his services considering his contract.
Current grade: D
TE Tyler Conklin (3 years, $20.3 million / $10 million guaranteed)
As previously mentioned, Conklin is the top dog in the Jets’ tight end room by a wide margin. New York clearly values Conklin as an integral cog in the offense. He is tied with Elijah Moore for the most snaps on the team among skill-position players and is averaging more snaps per game than any tight end in football at 69.7.
This signing is trending in a positive direction. Conklin struggled with drops and fumbles over his first two games, registering two of those apiece from Weeks 1-2, but those issues are unlikely to continue. Outside of the drop and fumble woes, Conklin has looked good. He creates separation on his routes, displays perfect timing in combination routes to help open up teammates, and provides useful blocking in both the run and pass games.
Conklin has caught 18-of-24 targets for 140 yards and a touchdown (although the TD was in garbage time). He ranks second among NFL tight ends in receptions.
The Jets need to try and get Conklin a greater total of meaningful catches. Right now, most of Conklin’s catches are short dump-offs; hence why he is averaging only 7.8 yards per reception and has just five first downs on 24 targets.
It’s nice that he can provide a reliable checkdown option, but Conklin’s route-running skill demands that he sees more chances to be isolated against linebackers and safeties.
Conklin ranks 22nd among tight ends with $10 million guaranteed. His total value of $20.3 million ranks 18th. I think Conklin is justifying his contract at the moment, and as long as he continues to keep the ball off the ground, there is a realistic chance he will outperform his contract by the end of the season.
Current grade: B
LT Duane Brown (2 years, $20 million / $9 million guaranteed)
Duane Brown was a late-offseason signing to help the Jets land on their feet after losing Mekhi Becton to a season-ending injury. Unfortunately, Brown quickly suffered an injury of his own, landing on injured reserve with a shoulder problem. It’s unclear when he’ll be back.
You can’t really knock the Jets for this one. Douglas worked quickly to sign a starter-level talent to replace Becton. Brown hadn’t missed a game since 2019. Stuff happens sometimes.
Brown’s injury forced the Jets to rely on fourth-round rookie Max Mitchell to start at right tackle. It felt like a nightmare scenario going into the year, but Mitchell has exceeded expectations, meaning the loss of Brown has not hurt as much as expected.
However, Brown’s absence will now start to hurt. With George Fant going on injured reserve, the Jets will be starting their No. 5 tackle option, Conor McDermott, in Pittsburgh this week. McDermott may be soon replaced by one of the two scrapheap options the Jets recently picked up, Mike Remmers or Cedric Ogbuehi.
Brown could still help the Jets this year if he can return to action quickly and provide an upgrade over the bottom-of-the-barrel left tackle options the Jets are stuck with after Fant’s injury.
Current grade: TBD
S Jordan Whitehead (2 years, $14.5 million / $7 million guaranteed)
Expectations for Jordan Whitehead were not overly high considering his contract, but the Jets did hope they would be getting a solid starter at strong safety. So far, Whitehead has been a liability.
Whitehead is tied for fourth among safeties with six missed tackles. In coverage, Whitehead has allowed 6-of-7 passes to be completed for 74 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 interceptions. His allowed passer rating of 150.3 ranks fifth-worst among safeties who have faced at least five targets.
In 2022, Whitehead’s cap hit is only $4.2 million. It rises to $10.2 million next year, although the Jets can release him to save $7.3 million in cap space while taking on a manageable $3.0 million in dead money. Considering these numbers, it seems Whitehead could be gone after this year if he does not step it up.
Current grade: D
EDGE Jacob Martin (3 years, $13.5 million / $6 million guaranteed)
Jacob Martin has been featured about as much as his contract suggested he would. Martin is playing 35% of the Jets’ defensive snaps, averaging 22.0 snaps per game. He rotates in on passing downs, playing on both the left and right edges.
It’s been a mixed bag for Martin. With seven pressures on 45 pass-rush snaps, he’s getting into the backfield at a consistent rate, as his 15.6% pressure rate is excellent. However, those pressures have not made much of an impact. Martin is struggling to finish. His 50.0% missed tackle rate ranks sixth-worst out of 112 qualified edge rushers.
Martin does not provide much of anything in the run game, so he has to be very effective in the passing game to make an impact. Right now, he’s only showing flashes of potential effectiveness. A tangible impact has not been made just yet.
Current grade: C
The Jets need their veteran signings to wake up
Outside of Reed, none of the Jets’ top free agent signings have been consistently good this year. Conklin has been decent and seems likely to establish himself as a valuable signing once he proves his ball-security issues are a thing of the past, but everyone else’s production is far off from what the Jets thought they were getting.
It’s a disappointing development considering how productive the Jets’ youngsters have been. New York is being carried by first-year players like Garrett Wilson and Sauce Gardner while their handsomely-paid veteran peers continue to bog the team down. Heck, even fourth-round pick Max Mitchell is drastically outperforming a reigning Pro Bowler in Laken Tomlinson.
The Jets are being held back by their most experienced and most expensive players.