How the New York Jets can finish off a perfect 2023 offseason
The 2023 offseason has been a wild one for the New York Jets.
It all started with the quarterback pursuit, which culminated in New York gaining the commitment of Aaron Rodgers. This move affirmatively set the tone for the 2023 season: The Jets are serious about competing for a Super Bowl.
New York has filled some other holes outside of quarterback, focusing on doing so with mid-level veteran starters because of their cap-space limitations. The Jets signed Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman to fortify a wide receiver unit that also experienced two losses in Elijah Moore (trade) and Braxton Berrios (release). After losing Sheldon Rankins at defensive tackle, the Jets signed Quinton Jefferson to replace him. The Jets also traded for strong safety Chuck Clark.
While the Jets’ non-Rodgers additions have generally been modest in terms of both cost and name recognition, New York has actually made multiple attempts to pursue household-name stars.
Fletcher Cox, Calais Campbell, and Odell Beckham Jr. are three multi-time Pro Bowlers in their thirties who were pursued by the Jets but ended up signing elsewhere. In Beckham’s case, the Jets only missed out because Beckham was offered significantly more money by Baltimore. The Jets also tried to sign 49ers center Jake Brendel, one of the top centers on the market, but they saw him return to San Francisco for less money.
It’s been a roller-coaster ride for Jets fans to endure, but unfortunately for the fanbase’s mental well-being, the ride is far from over. New York still has a plethora of holes to fill. Many more moves are sure to come, not only through the draft but through the veteran free-agent and trade markets as well.
Seen below is my personal take on what a perfect-yet-realistic culmination of this wild Jets offseason might look like, featuring important trades and signings along with a mock draft (including in-draft trades).
1. Aaron Rodgers trade
- Jets get: Aaron Rodgers
- Packers get: 2023 second-round pick (#42), 2023 fourth-round pick (#112), conditional 2024 third-round pick (can upgrade to second or first-round pick based on incentives), WR Corey Davis
In the Aaron Rodgers deal – which I think will happen at some point prior to the 2023 draft – I see the Jets giving up one of their two second-round picks in 2023, a later pick in 2023, and a conditional pick in 2024 that can escalate up to a first-round pick.
Corey Davis is a candidate to be included in the trade package for Rodgers. A hole opened up in the Packers’ wide receiver room when the Jets signed Allen Lazard. Davis can replace Lazard’s big-bodied presence over the middle and serve as a veteran presence for Jordan Love in his first season as a starter.
For the purpose of this dream scenario, my main incentive for throwing Davis into the trade package was to gain some cap relief. We’ll need that for a big move later on.
2. Cut SS Jordan Whitehead
Surprisingly, Jordan Whitehead remains on the Jets’ roster. Whitehead will have a cap hit of $10.2 million in 2023, which is set to rank 11th-highest among safeties. That is extremely difficult to justify based on Whitehead’s 2022 performance.
The Jets can cut Whitehead to save $7.25 million in cap space while eating $2.98 million in dead cap. This seemed like a no-brainer at the start of the offseason and it is only more enticing after the Jets acquired a potential replacement in Chuck Clark.
By trading Davis and releasing Whitehead, the Jets could clear $17.75 million in cap room. This space will be crucial for executing our next move.
3. Trade for WR DeAndre Hopkins
I like the overall depth, versatility, and multi-faceted nature of the Jets’ wide receiver room from 1-to-4, but the unit lacks a No. 2 weapon the Jets can truly trust. Behind Garrett Wilson, they need a secondary receiver who can win in a variety of ways – someone who can dominate one-on-one matchups when Garrett Wilson gets doubled, and someone who can shoulder the load of being “the guy” to a sufficient level if Wilson goes down.
Corey Davis is too injury-prone for the role. He’s also struggled against man coverage during his two years in New York, and when called upon to be “the guy” (especially in 2021), he hasn’t been up to the task. Davis is probably best-suited as a team’s No. 3 receiver at this point.
Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman are both at their best when deployed as complementary weapons who provide high efficiency on low volume. They succeed to the highest degree when they are asked to focus on their strengths and do not have to be focal points in the offense. Neither is an ideal No. 2 receiver.
I think the Jets pursued Odell Beckham Jr. because they believed he could fill this role. And now that Beckham is a Raven, I think the Jets will continue to search for someone else who they believe can do it. Going into a Super Bowl-chasing season with an aging Aaron Rodgers, my gut feeling is New York wants to build the absolute best group of weapons it possibly can for Rodgers.
This is why I think the Jets will end up taking a big swing at wide receiver. And I have my eyes on DeAndre Hopkins, who is a strong trade candidate on a rebuilding Cardinals team. Hopkins is entering his age-31 season but is still an outstanding player after averaging 7.1 receptions for 79.7 yards per game in 2022.
I believe Hopkins would be open to becoming a Jet. In March, he liked a video on Twitter in which his former teammate, J.J. Watt, said Hopkins “is at a point in his career where he just wants to go somewhere that he can win.” With Rodgers in the fold, the Jets fit that bill.
There has been speculation Hopkins could be released – as his contract makes him unattractive in a trade – but I think the Jets should consider swooping in and tossing the Cardinals a bone to beat other potential suitors to the punch. I have the Jets trading a fifth-round pick in 2023 (#143) for Hopkins in our dream scenario plan.
That kind of trade package would not be unprecedented for a star receiver. One year ago, the Cowboys traded Amari Cooper to the Browns for a fifth-round pick (#155) and a minuscule sixth-round pick swap (#193 to Dallas, #202 to Cleveland).
Hopkins has two years remaining on his contract, which includes $34.37 in remaining base salary. In 2023, his base salary is $19.45 million. This is part of why Hopkins could potentially be acquired for a modest trade package.
However, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported in March that Hopkins would “be flexible on the last two years of his contract rather than shoot for a top-of-the-market deal.” Hopkins liked this post on Twitter, seemingly confirming the report. If Hopkins is willing to be flexible, the Jets should be able to squeeze him onto their cap sheet, especially if they can clear some extra space by dumping Davis and Whitehead.
Acquiring Hopkins on a deal that extends into 2024 could also help the Jets convince Rodgers to stick around for two years rather than one.
For many reasons, I think it makes sense for the Jets to go after Hopkins. As I see it, he is an essential piece of the idealistic finish to New York’s offseason.
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4. Sign C Ben Jones
The Jets still have a gaping hole at center in their starting lineup. They signed a couple of backup interior linemen in Wes Schweitzer and Trystan Colon, although neither is starting material in an ideal world.
Free agent Ben Jones is the perfect option to fill the Jets’ center position for the short term.
Jones, who was a Pro Bowler in 2022, has strong ties to the Jets’ coaching staff. Jones spent the past few years in Tennessee playing under the Jets’ new offensive line coach/run game coordinator (Keith Carter) and the Jets’ new passing game coordinator (Todd Downing). Last year, Carter was the Titans’ offensive line coach while Downing was the Titans’ offensive coordinator.
While Jones will be 34 in July, he was still an above-average pass protector in 2022. Jones ranked 14th-best out of 34 qualified centers with an allowed pressure rate of 2.7%. He only gave up one sack; over the past three seasons, Jones has allowed two sacks.
At the league meetings in Phoenix two weeks ago, Robert Saleh said the Jets are “for sure” exploring Jones as an option, although nothing has materialized since then.
There are some health concerns with Jones. He missed five games due to concussions in 2022 and was released by Tennessee after a failed physical. It’s possible Jones’ health is a holdup in the Jets’ pursuit.
But at some point, the Jets have to fill this position with a quality player, and Jones is arguably the only option left. New York could re-sign Connor McGovern, who is still a free agent, but there hasn’t seemed to be much interest in a reunion from either side, and the Jets should be trying to improve on McGovern’s pass protection, anyway. McGovern led all NFL centers with 15 sacks allowed over the past three seasons.
If the Jets do not sign McGovern or Jones, they will probably have to rely on the draft to find their starting center. It’s possible the Jets could land the No. 1 center prospect, John Michael Schmitz, with their second-round pick, but it would be risky to rely on that happening. Schmitz’s stock is rising and he could see himself drafted in the latter half of the first round.
It’s unwise to count on a draft prospect falling to the second round as your primary plan for filling a starting position. This is why I think the best-case scenario would be for New York to sign Jones prior to the draft. It would provide the Jets with security, as they wouldn’t be forced to find their starting center in the draft. And since Jones would only be a short-term solution, they could still draft Schmitz or another center prospect in the second round if they wanted to.
5. Sign DT Al Woods and alter the DT rotation
Signing Quinton Jefferson gave the Jets three defensive tackles out of the necessary minimum of four that are needed for a rotation. Quinnen Williams and Solomon Thomas are the other two capable DTs on the roster. New York still needs another reliable defensive tackle.
As we discussed in our breakdown of Jefferson, his game is extremely pass-centric. Jefferson is a good pass rusher but a bad run defender, and his teams have utilized him accordingly. Jefferson is consistently one of the league leaders among DTs when it comes to the percentage of his snaps that come against the pass. He’s not someone you want on the field in running situations.
The Jets need a formidable run stuffer to balance out Jefferson’s pass-heavy skill set. Al Woods is a great solution.
New York was reportedly set to meet with Woods last week. It’s unclear how the meeting went or whether progress was made toward a deal. Woods also had a meeting scheduled with Cleveland.
At 330 pounds, Woods is the antithesis of Jefferson. He is an enormous, space-eating defensive tackle who thrives at clogging up the run game but doesn’t offer much pass-rushing ability. In 2022, Woods ranked at the 78th percentile among qualified defensive tackles in run-stop rate.
You absolutely want Woods on the field in as many running situations as possible, but you want to get him out of there for passing situations.
After adding Jefferson and Woods, I think the Jets need to alter the way they manage their DT rotation. In 2022, the Jets mostly relied on a system in which they would simultaneously substitute the backup duo of DTs (Nathan Shepherd and Thomas) for the starting duo of DTs (Williams and Rankins). Duos would stay in the game together for a few series of downs or even a full drive, and then the Jets would swap both players out together for the other duo. The substitutions typically weren’t made with pass or run situations in mind.
This needs to change if New York pairs Jefferson with a run-game-centric DT like Woods. With two players in the rotation who are excellent in one phase but weak in the other, the Jets cannot expect each of them to be on the field for entire drives. There will be too many reps in which they are placed in situations that expose their weaknesses.
New York must adapt and be willing to make substitutions based on down-and-distance. The mission is to maximize Jefferson’s pass-rush reps while minimizing his run-defense reps – and vice versa for Woods.
If the Jets sign Woods and make these changes to their rotation philosophy, their defensive line could be even better in 2023 than it was in 2022.
6. Re-sign LB Kwon Alexander
The Jets still have a vacancy at their LB3 spot, as Kwon Alexander remains a free agent. It’s a quietly important role in the Jets’ defense. Alexander played 49% of the Jets’ defensive snaps last year.
With Alexander lingering on the market, New York should be circling back and trying to re-sign him.
The Jets likely didn’t sign Alexander early on in the free agency process since they expected him to pursue better opportunities elsewhere – i.e. teams that could offer him more snaps and more money. But now that it’s April 10 and Alexander is still out there, it’s starting to look unlikely that Alexander will find the greener pastures he may have hoped for (which is surprising to me based on how good he was last year).
Alexander’s energy, range, and physicality were vital for New York’s defense in 2022. He’s still on the market. Get him back on a one-year deal and let him try to prove himself to the league in another highly-motivated contract season.
7. Draft an offensive tackle at No. 13
Moving our attention to the draft, it’s time to address one of the Jets’ most pressing needs: offensive tackle.
It’s exciting to think about the idea of New York selecting Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba with this pick. That could conceivably be their solution for the No. 2 receiver role instead of trading for a veteran like Hopkins.
The problem with selecting Smith-Njigba in this slot is that New York desperately needs an upgrade at offensive tackle and the 13th pick is their only realistic method of getting one. If the Jets don’t draft a tackle with the 13th pick, it is very hard to imagine how they will come out of the offseason feeling good about this extremely important position.
Sure, the Jets could address offensive tackle later in the draft, but it would be risky business to entrust 40-year-old Aaron Rodgers’ safety with a tackle trio of Mekhi Becton, Duane Brown, and a rookie non-first-round pick.
Adding a highly talented first-round pick into the mix would allow the Jets to feel confident in their tackle group despite Becton and Brown’s durability concerns, but the picture looks a whole lot dimmer simply by swapping a top-15 rookie with one who made it out of the top 40.
That’s why the Jets simply have to take a tackle here. Protecting Rodgers is the top priority.
In my opinion, I think the Jets’ decision will come down to Paris Johnson Jr. and Broderick Jones. I think Peter Skoronski will be off the board before this pick, while Johnson and Jones will both be there.
I waffle back and forth on which prospect I think the Jets prefer. Today, I’m feeling Broderick Jones. His athleticism is mouth-watering, and I can easily see the Jets falling in love with the idea of placing Jones’ athletic gifts in their scheme.
New York could have Mekhi Becton’s 5.10 speed on one side and Jones’ 4.97 speed on the other. Second-level defenders would quiver at the sight of these two nimble giants sprinting their way.
8. Trade down multiple times to stockpile picks
Due to our previous trades, the Jets entered the draft with only three picks: No. 13 (first round), No. 43 (second round), and No. 207 (sixth round).
A three-pick class can be detrimental to a team’s long-term roster health. The Jets will need significantly more young, cheap players to prepare themselves for the post-Rodgers era. Trading down multiple times to increase their volume of picks would make a lot of sense.
In this scenario, we’ll trade No. 43 to Houston (470 points on the trade chart) for Nos. 65 and 73 in the third round (490 points). I could envision Houston aggressively seeking trade-up opportunities due to their plethora of high draft picks (5 in the top 75).
We’ll follow it up with another trade-down. The Jets send No. 73 (225 points) to Seattle for No. 83 in the third round, No. 123 in the fourth round, and No. 198 in the sixth round (235 points). With 10 total picks, Seattle is another team I could see getting aggressive.
After our two trades, we have doubled the Jets’ pick total from three to six:
- R1, #13
- R3, #65
- R3, #83
- R4, #123
- R6, #198
- R6, #207
Here’s a mock draft using the six selections:
- R1, #13: Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
- R3, #65: Joe Tippman, IOL, Wisconsin
- R3, #83: Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State
- R4, #123: Byron Young, IDL, Alabama
- R6, #198: Max Duggan, QB, TCU
- R6, #207: Ronnie Hickman, S, Ohio State
Tippman can be developed as the future replacement for Jones at center. Henley can be developed to take over at linebacker once C.J. Mosley and Kwon Alexander move on.
Young establishes a pipeline at defensive tackle, where the Jets don’t have any youth behind Quinnen Williams. Duggan is a worthwhile late-round flier at quarterback who can be developed patiently. Hickman adds more youth and competition to the safety room.
Final depth chart
Here is what the Jets’ 53-man roster could look like if they pulled off my vision of a dream-scenario finish to the offseason:
- QB (3): Aaron Rodgers, Zach Wilson, Max Duggan
- WR (5): Garrett Wilson, DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Lazard, Mecole Hardman, Denzel Mims
- TE (3): Tyler Conklin, C.J. Uzomah, Jeremy Ruckert
- RB (4): Breece Hall, Michael Carter, Zonovan Knight, Ty Johnson
- C (3): Ben Jones, Joe Tippman, Trystan Colon
- G (3): Alijah Vera-Tucker, Laken Tomlinson, Wes Schweitzer
- T (4): Mekhi Becton, Broderick Jones, Duane Brown, Max Mitchell
- EDGE (5): Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, Jermaine Johnson, Micheal Clemons, Bryce Huff
- DT (5): Quinnen Williams, Quinton Jefferson, Al Woods, Solomon Thomas, Byron Young
- LB (4): C.J. Mosley, Quincy Williams, Kwon Alexander, Daiyan Henley
- CB (6): Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed, Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols, Bryce Hall, Justin Hardee
- S (5): Chuck Clark, Tony Adams, Will Parks, Ronnie Hickman, Ashtyn Davis
- ST (3): Greg Zuerlein, Thomas Morstead, Thomas Hennessy
What do you think, Jets fans? Would you be on board with this conclusion to the Jets’ offseason? Or does my idealistic scenario differ greatly from yours?
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