There are several paths that the Jets can choose
The big one is the quarterback, but what then?
That’s the question Jets general manager Joe Douglas must answer heading into the 2023 offseason. After the abysmal performances the Jets received under center, it is quite clear that QB must be the No. 1 order of business for New York. We’ve already covered this subject extensively, and there is a clear consensus on Jets X-Factor that Derek Carr is the best fit when considering both upside and cost.
However, what’s next? There are a few directions that the team can choose, and it will depend on their assessment of the current state of their roster, their evaluation of their draft prospects, and what assets they need to allot to the quarterback position, among other factors.
Here is how I would prioritize the 2023 offseason once the starting quarterback has been procured.
1. Offensive line
The Jets’ offensive line may have been the single biggest disaster of the team, possibly even bigger than the quarterback. One across-the-board expectation for the 2022 season was that the Jets would be able to run the football effectively. Despite some early success with Breece Hall, the general tenor of the Jets’ run-blocking was a disaster through and through. It simply became more visible once Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker went down for the season.
The combination of disastrous pass- and run-blocking cannot happen again in 2023, or it will spell the end of Joe Douglas’s tenure as the Jets’ GM. Douglas is a former offensive lineman who is said to prioritize the trenches. However, his offensive lines have simply not been good despite his investing two premium picks into the position.
It is highly likely that Douglas dips into that well a third time with the No. 13 overall pick in the draft. There are several offensive tackles who may be available at that spot, as Ian Roddy detailed. However, that is not enough; relying on Mekhi Becton (who reportedly will be moved back to his natural left tackle position) or Max Mitchell to cover the other tackle position is too risky for a team that is all-in in 2023. Becton’s injury history makes him a significant liability, and Mitchell did not look ready to be a starting tackle in his up-and-down debut season.
The Jets should be looking to sign a starting tackle in free agency, as well. If George Fant agrees to take a backup deal to come back and try to prove himself, then that’s a bonus, but he showed that he is also an injury liability and not reliable. San Francisco’s Mike McGlinchey (listed at $10.7 million per year by Spotrac) would be the natural target with all the 49ers personnel and staff around, but after Laken Tomlinson‘s terrible debut with the Jets, the team might be scared off of 49ers retreads. Jawaan Taylor from the Jaguars is a name to keep an eye on, as he is still just 25 and had a strong season with Jacksonville. Spotrac lists his value at $5.8 million per year.
Furthermore, C Connor McGovern is a free agent. McGovern has mostly been an average center in the league, but his expiring contract had an average annual value of $9 million, and CMG will likely want a raise. The problem is that he is simply not worth that raise after all the mistakes he made in both the running and passing games this season. Spotrac has McGovern’s market value listed at $12.5 million, which is absolutely prohibitive for the Jets.
Ethan Pocic of the Browns is an interesting name to watch, as his $7.2 million listed market value is significantly lower than McGovern’s, while he has been part of a dominant offensive line. Pocic allowed just a 2.1% pressure rate in 2022, but his 0.9% stuff rate in the run game was somewhat poor, tied for 19th among starting centers. His 1.5% blown block rate in the run game was sixth-best, though.
The Jets will also need to fill out their backup offensive line. Dan Feeney is a great teammate, but he’s not even a decent backup lineman, as his appearances in 2022 made clear. Nate Herbig would be worth re-upping as a backup as long as the price is right. The Jets can shop around for another backup interior lineman a la Herbig from last offseason.
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On the Jets’ defense, their biggest weakness was clearly the safety position. Although the team played a lot of two-high to mitigate big plays, the poor quality of that line of defense often resulted in big plays, anyway, especially down the stretch. Lamarcus Joyner was a one-year bridge and will likely not return. Jordan Whitehead was signed to a two-year deal but severely underwhelmed in Year 1. Joe Douglas should be looking to replace both these guys.
The question is if the Jets think that Tony Adams can step into a starting role. He did flash some potential in limited action in 2022, but ultimately, he’s an unproven UDFA. It’s more likely that the Jets head into 2023 with Adams as their primary backup free safety.
There are those who believe that the Jets should run it back with Whitehead at strong safety. Theoretically, if they got a stud free safety, they could choose to stick with Whitehead and live with his penchant for terrible angles in both coverage and the run game and constant missed tackles. I would guess that the Jets try to replace Whitehead, though.
If the Jets do re-sign or replace McGovern in free agency, the second round of the draft is an ideal spot to hit a starting safety. The Jets forewent that position last season, but it’s time to fill it this year.
Even so, the Jets will almost certainly sign at least one safety in free agency. Adrian Amos is an interesting name to watch at free safety, as Spotrac lists his market value at $6.8 million per season. Amos tied for 13th among 70 qualified safeties (min. 350 coverage snaps) with 9.3 yards per reception allowed, but he allowed the eighth-highest passer rating against at 121.9. Amos did rank in the top 15 among safeties in missed tackle rate in both the run and pass games, making him a much more surehanded tackler than the Jets currently have on their roster.
Ryan Neal of the Seahawks and Julian Love of the Giants are two names to keep an eye on at strong safety. Neal was eighth in forced incompletion rate and 14th in stop rate among all safeties, and his market value is listed at only $2.4 million per year.
3. Defensive tackle
The Jets already know that they must re-sign Quinnen Williams, as the recently-minted first-team All-Pro made it clear that he will not practice without a new contract. However, his partner on the defensive line will also need to be secured, as Sheldon Rankins, Nathan Shepherd, and Solomon Thomas are all free agents.
Although Rankins had a strong season, his Spotrac-listed market value of $7.3 million may be a little rich for the Jets’ blood. However, many of the alternatives on the market, like Javon Hargrave (Eagles) and Da’Ron Payne (Commanders), will command close to triple that amount. Rankins is the most reasonable option when considering production vs. cost. Dalvin Tomlinson (Vikings) is another possibility, although his market value is listed at $8.5 million.
Re-signing Shepherd as a backup is fine after his stronger-than-expected pass-rushing season, but Solomon Thomas was practically a zero all year. The Jets need a better backup DT, and they also must stop putting their lesser defensive linemen in for so many snaps. Hassan Ridgeway of the 49ers may be a better backup alternative to Thomas.
This is an area that the Jets could choose to hit in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, as well. Jonathan Marshall, a 2021 sixth-round pick, was signed off the Jets’ practice squad, but the team could invest more capital into depth at the position.
4. Wide receiver
The only Jets’ wide receiver who truly played to his capability in 2022 was Garrett Wilson (unless you consider that he could have had far more gaudy numbers with competent QB play). Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Braxton Berrios, and Denzel Mims all underachieved, and Jeff Smith is a free agent.
Considering the team’s cap situation and their myriad of needs, it is likely that they run it back with Corey Davis, perhaps restructuring his contract to spread his cap hit over two seasons. The only way that changes is if they like a player like Allen Lazard and believe they can acquire him for less than Davis’s $11.2 million cap hit.
Elijah Moore underachieved this season and also angered Jets fans with his trade request and erratic behavior. However, he is a young player on a cheap contract and still showed flashes of his massive potential. One of the key jobs of the incoming offensive coordinator will be to maximize Moore’s talents in the offense since he was misused for a large chunk of 2022, both in his position and route tree. Moore will be with the Jets next season, barring some more irrational outbursts.
Unfortunately, Braxton Berrios took a major step back in every way in 2022. After entering the season as the Jets’ WR3 on the depth chart, Berrios did not receive a single offensive snap in Week 17 against the Seahawks. The team could not afford to have him continue to drop passes or fail to create separation. Berrios’s $3 million dead cap number is steep, but the Jets will need to use the $5 million saved to find a more competent WR4.
If the team wants to keep Denzel Mims around as WR5, they can; it might be the most cap-efficient move. However, Mims’s complete inability to catch the ball with his hands, in addition to his continuing penchant for penalties, make him a significant liability. The team may want to find a WR5, as well, likely in the depths of free agency, late draft, or even UDFA market.
Names to keep an eye on include Olamide Zaccheaus (Falcons), Parris Campbell (Colts), Byron Pringle, Greg Dortch (RFA, Cardinals), Deandre Carter (Chargers), Mack Hollins (Raiders), Mecole Hardman (Chiefs), Chris Moore (Texans), Equanimeous St. Brown (Bears), Juwan Johnson (Saints), and Scotty Miller (Bucs). Darius Slayton and JuJu Smith-Schuster would be higher-priced options.
Kwon Alexander and Quincy Williams are both free agents this offseason. The Jets do not have cap dollars to invest in the position, so it makes the most sense for them to run it back with both players despite their limitations.
It might be wise for the Jets to draft an off-ball linebacker because both of these players have injury histories. The Jets have almost no depth at linebacker.
If the team did want to go elsewhere in free agency, there are not too many options at off-ball linebacker. Tremaine Edmunds is a wishful option, as Robert Saleh was apparently a big fan of his prior to the draft. Edmunds tied for fifth among all LBs with an 11% forced incompletion rate, and he tied for second with six pass breakups. Edmunds was also a surehanded tackler in both phases of the game (top 15 in missed tackle rate in both the run and pass games), even though his stop rate in the run game was average (34th out of 70).
However, Edmunds’s $11 million market value as an inside linebacker is likely too steep for the Jets, particularly with C.J. Mosley on the hook for a $21.5 million cap hit.
6. Special teams
The Jets should re-sign Greg Zuerlein, who, despite falling off at the end of the year, still stabilized the kicker position for the first time in five years. However, Braden Mann must go. Joe Douglas should not repeat the mistake of drafting a punter; there is usually someone serviceable on the market or available in the UDFA pool.
If the Jets do cut Braxton Berrios, they will need a kick and punt returner. Although Bam Knight has returned kicks in the past, the Jets may not want their presumed RB2 taking those duties next season. Therefore, they will likely be on the hunt for a WR4 or WR5 with dual returning experience. The most important qualifications: safe hands and the ability to catch punts rather than allowing them to bounce.
What about EDGE?
As stated in my earlier article, I believe that Bryce Huff should be the Jets’ starting right defensive end heading into 2023. Huff and Micheal Clemons can rotate on the right side, leaving John Franklin-Myers and Jermaine Johnson more snaps on the left.
Whether the Jets want to re-sign Vinny Curry, find another depth DE, or go for some insurance later in the draft, I don’t think this is a position that they should have to hit for a starter. Huff showed enough dominance that even with one or two steps back in 2023, he can still be a significant pass-rushing upgrade over Carl Lawson, who should be cut to save $15 million.