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5 players for the NY Jets to bring back, and 5 to cut in 2023

Carl Lawson, NY Jets, Cut, Release, Contract, Trade
Carl Lawson, New York Jets, Getty Images

This is not a reaction to one defeat but rather a cumulative effect of 13 games

There are no moral victories for a team with playoff aspirations.

As Robert Saleh said, the Jets are a good team who have enough talent to make the playoffs. Losing back-to-back heartbreakers against the Vikings and Bills is not the way to do it.

We don’t want to look forward to 2023 just yet with the 2022 playoffs still in play. That being said, after watching 13 games of the season, there’s enough of a body of work to have an eye on 2023. All 53 players are auditioning for their jobs each game of the season, as Mike White has proven to Zach Wilson.

There are several Jets players who are under contract for 2023 but should not be on the roster next season. Conversely, there are free agents whom the Jets should prioritize re-signing.

Note: this exercise does not include 2023 free agents whom I believe the Jets should let go.

Cut: LG Laken Tomlinson

Let’s start with the controversial one. No one is going to dispute that Laken Tomlinson has been bad this season. Heading into the Bills game, Tomlinson had a 4.5% pressure rate allowed, which is just about at the league average for guards (4.4%). However, that number belies how Tomlinson has actually blocked this season.

Additionally, the run game was supposed to take the next step with Tomlinson at guard. Despite the injuries along the offensive line, the most consistent element on the Jets’ line has been No. 78, and that’s not a positive statement. Tomlinson’s 3.3% blown block rate in the run game places his run-blocking in the 21st percentile among guards, which means he blows blocks at a higher rate than 4 out of every 5 NFL guards, per Sports Info Solutions (SIS).

Tomlinson’s run-blocking woes have contributed to the Jets’ inconsistent run game. What their backs have gained is largely gained on their own. The Jets rank 22nd in Adjusted Line Yards (ALY) overall and 29th between the guards and center, 27th in power success (measuring the success of third- and fourth-and-short running plays), and 24th in total rushing success rate (defined as gaining 40% of required yardage on first down, 60% on second, and 100% on third).

The reason that this is controversial is Tomlinson’s contract. Per Over the Cap, Tomlinson has a $17.4 million cap hit in 2023. If the Jets were to cut him, they would save $8.8 million, but they would also retain $8.5 million in dead cap that accelerates to the 2023 salary cap. Normally, a team will not cut a player with that large of a dead cap hit unless the savings are substantially larger.

The solution to this issue, though, is to cut Tomlinson with a post-June 1 designation. In that case, the Jets would save $13.1 million for their 2023 cap with a more manageable $4.3 million dead cap charge. They would still have a $4.3 million charge in 2024, as well, but $4 million each over two years’ cap is more manageable than $8.5 million in one.

If I am Joe Douglas, I release Tomlinson with a post-June 1 designation and go shopping elsewhere, whether in free agency or the draft. The Jets already have tremendous needs at tackle, and Connor McGovern is a free agent (more on that later). They cannot afford to have a guy eating up $17 million of their cap when he is not just underperforming, but crippling the Jets’ entire offensive plan.

To be clear, Tomlinson is not the sole culprit for the Jets’ offensive line woes. It seems like every week there is someone else who plays poorly. It was a poor effort across the board against the Bills, and Mike White suffered the consequences. But it’s Tomlinson who has been the most consistent liability for the most money.

Re-sign: QB Mike White

This is not to say that Mike White is the quarterback of the future. The Jets need more time to evaluate him. Though he had another solid game against the Bills, going 27-for-44 for 268 yards with several big-time throws to Garrett Wilson, Braxton Berrios, and Elijah Moore, he also averaged 6.1 yards per attempt. However, when taking into account the defense he faced and a complete lack of pass protection, White did yeoman’s work in difficult conditions.

White also showed his tremendous grit by fighting through multiple brutal hits and what was clearly tremendous pain to return to the game. Gone is the impression that White is soft due to his relatively thin frame.

If White is healthy, he will be the Jets’ starter for the remainder of the season. Robert Saleh immediately confirmed that White will start against the Lions (pending the outcome of his hospital sojourn due to his rib injury). The Jets face a suspect defensive slate to end the season, with matchups against the Lions, Jaguars, Seahawks, and Dolphins. White will have the opportunity to further prove himself.

Regardless of whether White is “the” answer, though, I believe the Jets need to re-sign him. He is clearly a leader in the locker room and has shown that he can make every throw. In Buffalo, he made two phenomenal throws across the field on out-breaking routes. He’s not perfect, but White has answered the questions. Notice that he did not throw a pick against the Bills and rarely put the ball in harm’s way. His turnover-worthy play rate is down, he’s shown he can throw it outside, and he has zipped countless tight-window dimes.

White’s current rankings through three games (among 39 QBs, min. 125 dropbacks) are 5th in big-time throw rate, 17th in pressure-to-sack ratio, 9th in interception rate, 5th in average time to throw, 5th in sack rate, 7th in turnover-worthy play rate, 10th in DVOA, 10th in net air yards per attempt, and 11th in Expected Points Added (EPA) per dropback.

Yes, he has some lower rankings, including TD rate (34th), on-target rate (33rd), average depth of target (22nd, tied with Patrick Mahomes, among others), and completion percentage (29th). However, his total body of work indicates a quarterback who is showing long-term potential. The strong rankings in both turnover-worthy play rate and big-time throw rate are particularly encouraging, especially with the tight-window throws he made against one of the league’s best pass defenses by DVOA.

Interestingly, White’s pressure numbers are also a reason to keep him, albeit in a small sample size (27 dropbacks): he leads all QBs in yards per attempt while under pressure (9.5), and he has a 19% big-time throw rate (4 big-time throws on 21 attempts) with zero turnover-worthy throws. Although pressure numbers tend to fluctuate from year to year and the sample size is minuscule, this is already a significant upgrade from what the Jets have seen until now; Zach Wilson’s struggles under pressure are well-documented.

What it will take to sign White is a different question. There’s always that one desperate team that’s willing to give a large contract to a career backup, as witnessed in the past with Case Keenum, Mike Glennon, Nick Foles, and Matt Flynn. However, with the future of Zach Wilson up in the air, the Jets are likely going to have to spend a lot on a quarterback one way or another. If White puts up numbers similar to Jimmy Garoppolo’s, is it worth giving Garoppolo $10-20 million more for a longer duration?

Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett, Tom Brady (!), Jameis Winston, Geno Smith, Teddy Bridgewater, Daniel Jones, and Gardner Minshew are free agent options this offseason. Some of those quarterbacks may be franchised or sign extensions. Other quarterbacks who may be released by their teams include Derek Carr, Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins, and Jared Goff (although the Lions seem to have indicated otherwise this week).

The Jets could certainly choose to go in a different direction, but it’s a cost-benefit analysis. The locker room clearly loves Mike White, and he knows the system. It is worth the Jets’ while to see if they can re-sign White to a short-term deal, perhaps with incentives. White will have the opportunity to compete for the starting job and earn a bigger contract down the line.

The only hesitation I have here is that I don’t think that the Jets should enter next season with White and Zach Wilson as the only options under center. However, whether the Jets try to retain White, and if they think bringing in a third arm is worthwhile, will depend on White’s asking price as well as how he performs down the stretch.

Cut: WR/KR-PR Braxton Berrios

This may be somewhat of an overreaction to two bad games from Braxton Berrios, but I’ve long believed that the Jets overpaid him. With Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore more than capable of making big plays in the open field, Berrios’s offensive value as a gadget player has diminished.

Berrios has a small catch radius as a receiver and dropped a key touchdown against Minnesota. Jets quarterbacks have a 58.9 passer rating on balls thrown his way, which is quite poor when you consider that his average depth of target is only 4.4 yards (although Zach Wilson’s inaccuracy on short throws may have something to do with that). Even in the rushing department, Berrios has been credited with just two rushes for nine yards over his last six games, and he caused a costly holding penalty on George Fant against the Vikings by looping outside on a play designed to go inside.

On special teams, Berrios’s value has been mostly nonexistent this season, as he’s called for fair catches on most of his punts (leading the league with 25 fair catches and third with a 61% fair catch rate), let several punts go over his head and pin the Jets deep when a fair catch could have prevented it, and generally not done much on kickoff returns (17th with 23.2 yards per return). Even his sure hands have come into question, as he muffed a punt earlier this season and came within a hair of another muff against the Bills.

If Berrios does not bring surplus value as a receiver, gadget player, or returner, what value does he have?

Yes, the Jets have other question marks at receiver. Many fans want to see Corey Davis gone after he has seemingly regressed to his 2021 form with some brutal penalties against Minnesota and Buffalo. However, Davis remains a critical part of the Jets’ running game, and it’s hard to find a WR2 for less than $11.2 million, which is Davis’s cap hit for 2023.

In my opinion, the Jets can do better than Berrios at WR4. However, he has a $3.2 million dead cap charge with $5 million in savings for 2023. That’s a pretty dicey breakdown. The question is if the Jets decide it’s worth the savings to try to find a WR4. Bam Knight may well be capable of taking over Berrios’s return responsibilities, although Knight is also positioning himself to be RB2 next season, making it questionable whether the Jets would want him to be a returner.

Re-sign: C Connor McGovern

Jets fans love to rag on Connor McGovern due to his poor 2020 season. However, you can do far worse at center. Although McGovern struggled against the Vikings and Bills, he’s had a strong season overall. He’s in the 61st percentile among centers in pressure rate allowed (2.7%). That being said, his 2.5% blown block rate in the run game is in the 42nd percentile, which is close enough to average but may explain some of the Jets’ struggles on runs up the middle.

The biggest issue is going to be the price. Players rarely make less money than their original contract after playing well. McGovern was initially overpaid, making $9 million per year on his current contract. However, Over the Cap has him valued at $6.3 million per year considering his play this season and compared to the other centers in the league. $9 million per season made McGovern the league’s 10th-highest-paid center.

The reality is that at this point, McGovern probably won’t come back for anything less than $9 million per year, and he may want more. The Jets could stick to their number and let him move on, but that could leave them with only one offensive line spot (Alijah Vera-Tucker at guard) solidified for next season, assuming they do cut Tomlinson.

In my opinion, the Jets need to bite the bullet and give McGovern another three-year deal. Ideally, they won’t go over that $9 million mark, since it’s a steep price to pay for a center. But McGovern does a great job on hook blocks, which is critical for the outside zone game, and the Jets need that continuity.

Cut: SS Jordan Whitehead

Joe Blewett has been pounding the table for the Jets to get rid of Jordan Whitehead pretty much since he was signed. In my Jets-Bills preview article, I detailed some of the issues that the team has had with Whitehead this season, starting with wooden hands (4 dropped interceptions) and an inability to cover.

Do not allow Whitehead’s five pass breakups (tied for the league lead among safeties, per Pro Football Focus), 19% forced incompletion rate (tied for fifth), and 71.8 quarterback rating allowed (11th) mask the fact that Whitehead is a coverage liability. It was amply clear against the Vikings, when both he and Lamarcus Joyner completely lost track of the ball on a throw to Jalen Reagor that could have been picked if either player had properly tracked the play. In fact, it’s been on display since Week 1, when Whitehead allowed a touchdown over the middle to Devin Duvernay. The Jets are exceptionally lucky that their pass rush can cover some of Whitehead’s miscues.

In fact, the main reason that Whitehead’s coverage numbers are this strong is that he blows assignments frequently enough not to be the nearest man in coverage even when he was supposed to be.

Additionally, a safety who plays best close to the line does not match a defense that prefers to play a two-high shell on a regular basis. Whitehead makes his plays in the run game from time to time, usually close to the line when he comes on a run blitz. Even in that area, though, he has missed far too many tackles (30th percentile) when he is one of the last lines of defense, and he does not fill gaps well in the two-high scheme.

The Jets will already be looking for one new safety in 2023, as it is virtually certain that they will not re-sign Lamarcus Joyner. However, the safeties have easily been the main liability in the Jets’ defense this season, and they might as well go all-out in fixing the issue considering the importance of the position in their scheme. Whitehead is cuttable, as he has a $3 million dead cap charge with $7.3 million in savings if the Jets move on. It’s likely that Joe Douglas expected Whitehead to be a cap casualty at the end of this season and signed him as a bridge until he could fill the need.

Who the Jets replace Whitehead with will be interesting. I believe that the Jets will dip into the safety well in the draft next season, but I think that their need for a ball-hawking safety is paramount. That title generally goes to the free safety, although teams use their safeties far more interchangeably now than in the past. It’s possible that the Jets try to sign a Jimmie Ward or a Jessie Bates in free agency and then go to the draft for the other position, or even that they turn the reins over to Will Parks or Tony Adams.

Either way, Whitehead should not be a Jet in 2023.

Re-sign: DT Sheldon Rankins

I’ve come full circle on Sheldon Rankins. In the offseason, I called for the Jets to cut him. Now, I’m fully on board with re-signing him. I might feel differently if the Jets seemed inclined to play John Franklin-Myers and Micheal Clemons inside more often, but since they don’t, the Jets need a reliable defensive tackle to play beside Quinnen Williams (continue to pray that he is okay).

Nathan Shepherd has had an unexpectedly strong season rushing the passer, but both he and Solomon Thomas are free agents following the season. I’d say it’s more likely that Shepherd is re-signed than Thomas, but either way, the Jets’ depth at defensive tackle is not that large or talented.

The Jets could try to go to the draft for defensive tackle, but I believe Rankins is a re-sign candidate. Rankins’s 7.8% stop rate (defined as tackling an offensive player for a failed play, meaning that the player gained less than 40% of required yardage on first down, 60% on second down, or 100% on third/fourth down) is above average among defensive tackles and may be the single stat that best captures the Jets’ rush defense turnaround. For reference, the league average for DTs is 4.5%; Rankins was at 5.3% last year but has elevated his game in 2022.  Rankins has also cut his missed tackle rate in less than half, from 16.7% in 2021 to 7.7% this season.

As usual, the money will be the biggest question. I believe that the Jets will either release, restructure, or trade Carl Lawson to free up some cap space (more on that later). The Jets will need to commit some of their cap dollars to Quinnen Williams, who may garner a Pro Bowl and possibly an All-Pro selection to boost the value of his fifth-year option (prior to the extension that is certain to come this offseason). The Jets can also restructure John Franklin-Myers’s contract to free up more space.

It makes more sense to try to bring back a player who has performed well in the system rather than look for someone new. Over the Cap has Rankins’s value at $6.7 million per year. I imagine that the Jets will try to bring him back in the $7-8 million range over two or three years, probably heavily frontloaded to accommodate for the beginning of Quinnen’s extension.

Cut: P Braden Mann

Honestly, Braden Mann is the player who prompted this article. After a relatively strong start to the year, his play has plummeted recently. After three years of dealing with inconsistency and more downs than ups, it’s time to move on from Mann.

Although Mann is tied for 14th with 47.8 gross yards per punt (the league average is 47.4) and 15th with 41.4 net yards (vs. 41.7 league average), he’s had way too many mess-ups for a player who has one job only. His line-drive punt against the Patriots in Week 11 was the nail in the coffin for the Jets. He has five touchbacks, tied for the seventh-most among punters.

Mann also has a botched kickoff and a fumbled field goal hold (albeit in the pouring rain). Not counting his one blocked punt against the Packers, Mann has 25 punts that have traveled under 47 yards (the league average for punters); of those, only nine have been downed inside the 20, while nine have resulted in an opponent field position at or beyond their own 30, meaning that he isn’t getting enough distance on his punts when he needs to kick long. He also has a punt in plus territory that went for a touchback, resulting in a 28-yard net.

While there are other factors that could be at play, the fact is that Mann has failed to flip field position far too often in addition to his costly errors. He has $44,000 in dead cap next year, and the Jets can save roughly $1 million by cutting him. The search for a competent punter continues.

Re-sign: EDGE Bryce Huff

Bryce Huff is on the field too rarely.

Such an explosive pass rusher must see more snaps, particularly with the inconsistency of most of the other edge rushers on the team. Yes, he is not the best run-stopper, but neither is Carl Lawson; additionally, Dwight Freeney became a Hall of Fame semifinalist on the credentials of a dominant pass rush along with poor edge-setting, as have many others.

If the Jets won’t play Huff for more snaps, he’ll find a team that will. Consider that Huff’s maximum snap count this season is 21, and he’s only been on the field for a total of 147 snaps in 11 games. It is hard to understand why Huff’s snap count was so much lower than Jacob Martin’s when the latter was on the team considering that their body types and lackluster run defense are similar.

Meanwhile, on those snaps, Huff’s pass-rushing dominance cannot be overstated. He has the fastest get-off in the league. His 19.7% pressure rate is second only to Josh Uche (among 107 edge rushers with a min. of 135 snaps), and his 26.4% pass-rush win rate is the best.

Obviously, it remains to be seen whether Huff can keep up that level of production on a larger snap count. Huff does have an injury history to consider. However, since the Jets can save nearly $15 million by cutting Carl Lawson this offseason, it would behoove them to do what it takes to re-sign Huff and allow him to split reps with Micheal Clemons on the right side of the defensive line. This, in turn, would free up some more snaps for Jermaine Johnson on the left side.

Trade or cut: EDGE Carl Lawson

As just mentioned, the Jets can dump Carl Lawson with almost no salary cap ramifications. They should do just that.

Lawson has been disappointing in his first season suiting up for Gang Green. His 10.4% pressure rate is below the league average of 11.3% (64 edge rushers, min. 225 pass-rush snaps), and his six sacks belie a frustrating lack of consistency. The Jets brought Lawson in to be a disruptor with pressure, and he has not delivered.

With the injury to Quinnen Williams during the Bills game, Lawson would be the guy whom the Jets would expect to step up. Instead, Lawson put up three total pressures on 24 snaps, and, for the most part, they were unimpressive pressures.

The question is if any other team would be willing to trade for Lawson. He may be willing to restructure his contract to make a trade more favorable, and he still has value as a pass rusher—just not at his current cap number. The Jets have other needs, an expensive defensive line (that will get even pricier with Quinnen’s extension), and several young edge rushers who deserve more playing time, so it does not make financial sense for them to simply restructure Lawson’s contract themselves.

Carl Lawson has underachieved in New York and can be sent elsewhere to help fill other needs.

Re-sign: K Greg Zuerlein

The Jets finally have a kicker. A 35-year-old one, but a kicker nonetheless.

After a roller coaster ride went through the position over the last half-decade, Greg Zuerlein has stabilized the position. He set the Jets’ franchise record with a 60-yard field goal that looked like it could have cleared 68 yards, at least. He also has a pair of 57-yarders this season and is 6-for-8 from 50+. Furthermore, he’s 8-for-8 from under 40 yards, solidifying both the long-range kicks and the gimmes.

Enough said. Re-sign the man. Don’t play the Jason Myers game.

Others considered: LB C.J. Mosley (cut/restructure), CB Bryce Hall (trade), QB Zach Wilson (trade), WR Denzel Mims (trade), LB Kwon Alexander or LB Quincy Williams (re-sign)

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1 year ago

SPOT ON RIVKA. I said before the season, man, I like Berrios, but Elijah has such a higher ceiling and they’re so redundant. Berrios is a v. good punt returner though. I wonder if JD can get a low round draft pick for Berrios.
I’ve just about given up any hope for a decent OL. As much as we love JD, he’s developed a well-earned reputation for the inability to construct an OL. Remember he promised first and foremost he’d ‘protect Sam’ to Darnold’s parents. Ha, he almost killed Sam. Ditto for Zach last year (44 sacks in 13 games!). Mike White, literally, almost got killed Sunday. 150 sacks in 3y from 2019-2021. Penciling in Becton & Fant (offseason knee surgery!) as tackles going into the pre-season, with absolutely no depth, was criminal. Unsurprisingly, Becton and Fant went down, starting a colossal cascade of OL churn. The only OT backup: rookie 4th rounder Max Mitchell, who luckily saved his goose for the 1st quarter of the season. As a student of good coaches and GMs, Parcells and Belichick always, quietly, built very good OLs, which is a big reason why they had consistently good teams. I was skeptical of JD after that abysmal ’20 class, but he totally redeemed himself with this ’22 class. Maybe JD can get it right with the OL in ’23, but his track record is not promising.

Last edited 1 year ago by Rich
R Riccardo
R Riccardo
1 year ago

Wilson has to go. It was a flyer to take a guy with one year of BYU play. His current stats compare favorably to Blaine Gabbard, Ryan Leaf and the Piano Man. (The only way you get on this list is to be an annointed high draft pick by a lousy franchise that keeps rolling you out). He is too small, is scared of the rush and is inaccurate: there is no hope.

Offensive line needs a big shake-up. Get rid of Tomlinson and Brown. The line gets man-handled almost every week. Left side gets pushed back on almost every close yardage play (and plenty of others). Brown can pass block but is horrible in the running game (as is Tomlinson). A young, upcoming team trying to play with an attitude does not need to get its offensive line blown off the ball every play.

1 year ago

Great take and supportive facts. Love your take on Berrios. I’ve seen the highlight reels of Bam returning kicks for NC State, but I agree that his meteoric rise at RB makes it unlikely.

I am all in on re-signing Huff. He actually is an elite pass rusher, he should get more snaps. I compare him to Vonn Miller, I know that’s a strong statement.

I think Quincy has proved himself enough to be re-signed as well.

Draft and FA….Safeties (pl), OL (pl) and coverage LB.

Charlie Winner
Charlie Winner
1 year ago

I tend to agree that a trade involving Zach Wilson should be seriously considered since a free agent signing of Jimmy Garoppolo would be ideal. With Jimmy G and Mike White the QB position would be set for some time.

1 year ago

Excellent piece. Well researched and based on the data.

1 year ago

I agree with all the examples you gave and especially Tomlinson whose been horrible. I would also like us to try and renegotiate a deal with Mosley. No way can this guy be making $21M next year for what he actually brings to the table. I like his leadership, but I would release him post June 1st (save around $17, $4M dead) and see if he would sign a 1 year deal for maybe around 7-8 and if not we simply move on. Too many missed tackles, inability to diagnose running lanes and simply compiles his tackles 8 yards down field. Douglas is going to have to get creative this offseason to be able to sign the foundational guys and let the net negatives go.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Completely agree. They do love him, its just a brutal cap hit. I know they have been grooming Sherwood, I would like to address the MIKE on day 2 this year regardless. I can live with him for another year if we are truly grooming his replacement and we are able to either move/cut Lawson and Whitehead an Tomlinson at June 1st cuts. I think that alone will allow us to re-sign are priorities and maybe sign an upgrade at OT and S.