New York Jets could be holding off on signing free agents until they see how the draft plays out
New York Jets fans are wondering why the team has elected not to fill some important holes on its roster prior to the 2023 NFL draft. While the Jets have shown interest in free agents at their top positions of need – such as offensive tackle, defensive tackle, safety, and others – these needs remain unaddressed despite plenty of viable options remaining available on the free agent market.
Now that we are only one week away from the NFL draft, it feels likely that New York is waiting to see how the draft plays out before dipping back into the free agent market. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly plausible to believe the Jets have one or multiple free agents on speed dial at each position of need.
With these free agent options in their back pocket, the Jets can go into the draft with the luxury of being able to draft the best players available rather than forcing themselves to fill certain holes. Then, once the draft concludes, they can contact free agents at the positions they were unable to address in the draft.
This seems to be New York’s plan: Let the draft play out with no pressure to reach for certain positions, and then circle back to the free agent market to fill the holes that went overlooked in the draft.
Here are five free agents the Jets might have on speed dial and could be waiting to sign until they confirm the position is still a need after the draft.
OT Cameron Fleming
In all likelihood, the Jets will hang tight in the No. 13 slot and draft an offensive tackle, filling their most gaping hole on offense.
But what if the Jets decide to go in another direction? With the potential for an early run on quarterbacks, a tantalizing prospect at a non-OT position could shockingly slip to the 13th pick, such as DT Jalen Carter or WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Or, the Jets could be presented with an intriguing trade-down opportunity that takes them out of range for one of the top tackle prospects.
Heck, what if the Jets flat-out don’t like any of the top tackles enough to draft them in the first round? Teams’ evaluations of players do not have to coincide with the groupthink of the internet. A first-round prospect in the eyes of Twitter can be a third-round prospect in the eyes of NFL general managers, and we see multiple examples of this every year.
The point is, nobody can predict what is going to happen in the draft. Labeling any outcome as a guarantee is foolish. Teams must prepare for anything, so the fans and media should do the same.
If the Jets do not end up drafting a tackle they deem starter-worthy, Cameron Fleming is a solid fallback option. Fleming played for Nathaniel Hackett’s Denver Broncos in 2022 and had a good season in pass protection. Despite switching between left and right tackle three times, Fleming ranked 23rd-best out of 66 qualified tackles with an allowed pressure rate of 4.63%.
Again, most likely, the Jets will draft a tackle next Thursday. But don’t rule out the possibility that New York does not feel pressured to select a tackle in the first round.
WR Randall Cobb
There was a lot of buzz about Randall Cobb potentially joining the Jets during the early goings of the free agency process. That buzz quickly fizzled out. We haven’t heard about any discussions between Cobb and New York.
Still, with Aaron Rodgers likely to join the team at some point in the near future, Cobb cannot be ruled out until he retires or signs elsewhere. Cobb and Rodgers have a very close relationship, and Cobb was one of the players on Rodgers’ supposed “wish list” that was reported in March.
Perhaps the Jets have Cobb in their back pocket and are waiting to see how the wide receiver unit shakes out before they consider bringing him in. The Jets would obviously love to have as much young talent at wide receiver as possible, so they might not want to sign the 32-year-old Cobb until they have to. But if the draft doesn’t fall their way and they come out of Kansas City with the same wide receiver unit as they have now, they could think about calling in Cobb to solidify the back end of the depth chart with a reliable veteran.
Considering Cobb’s relationship with Rodgers, his familiarity with Nathaniel Hackett, and his veteran experience, there is absolutely no rush for the Jets to sign him. They can add him to the roster during training camp and he’d likely have no issue acclimating.
It’s also possible Cobb and the Jets already have mutual interest and Cobb is just waiting for the Rodgers trade to become official.
DT Al Woods
The Jets finally addressed their need for a defensive tackle on April 6, when they signed Quinton Jefferson. This was more than three weeks after the position became a major hole due to Sheldon Rankins signing with the Houston Texans.
New York still needs another defensive tackle after signing Jefferson. In addition to Rankins, the Jets also lost Nathan Shepherd, who signed with New Orleans. This opened up two holes in the Jets’ four-man defensive tackle rotation alongside Quinnen Williams and Solomon Thomas, with Jefferson filling one of the two vacancies.
Many expected New York to follow up the signing of Jefferson by reuniting him with his former Seahawks teammate Al Woods, who visited with the Jets prior to Jefferson’s signing. However, two weeks later, Woods remains unsigned.
If the Jets draft a defensive tackle who they love enough to pencil in as a key piece of the four-man DT rotation, Woods won’t be needed. But if the Jets come out of Kansas City without making a significant investment at defensive tackle, they will be in dire need of a veteran stopgap to complete the rotation.
The Jets are probably waiting to see how badly they need Woods before they attempt to sign him.
C Ben Jones
Ben Jones is in the same boat as Woods. He has had discussions with the Jets and plays a position where the Jets have a hole in their starting lineup, but he has remained unsigned despite first being linked to the Jets quite a while ago.
The Jets will have an opportunity to draft one of the top center prospects when they come onto the clock in the early second round. If the Jets select a center with a top-50 pick, it means they probably like him enough to pencil him in as a Week 1 starter, which would remove the need for Jones.
If the Jets do not draft a center who they trust to start right away, signing Jones will become a near necessity. The only other viable starting option available on the free agent market is Connor McGovern, and the Jets do not seem overly eager to bring him back.
Considering Jones’ connections to the Jets (Todd Downing and Keith Carter) and the fact Robert Saleh openly spoke about the Jets’ interest in him at the league meetings, it feels likely these two sides have mutual interest. If the Jets do not come away with a starting center in the draft, I think there is a high chance Jones will be a Jet. But if the Jets manage to land a prospect they adore, Jones probably won’t be coming.
Remember, the Jets already signed a pair of backup interior linemen who each offer center/guard versatility in Wes Schweitzer and Trystan Colon, so they don’t really need a backup center. It also seems unlikely that Jones wants to be a backup at this stage of his career; he’s 34 years old, has been starting since 2014, and made the Pro Bowl last year.
In all likelihood, Jones will either start for the Jets or he won’t come at all. That’s probably why the two sides are waiting to see what goes down in Kansas City.
LB Kwon Alexander
Kwon Alexander remains unsigned despite proving himself on a contract year in 2022. On a one-year deal with the Jets, Alexander stayed healthy for all 17 games and played great football as the Jets’ third linebacker in their 4-3 scheme. He was expected to head elsewhere, landing a nice contract and a more prominent role, but it hasn’t transpired.
New York’s two every-down linebackers, C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams, will reprise their roles. But the Jets have not done anything to fill Alexander’s LB3 role, which is an important position in the Jets’ defense even if it’s not an every-down role. Alexander played 49% of the Jets’ snaps last season.
It’s possible the Jets are comfortable with relying on a homegrown young player to step into this role. The Jets still have the two linebackers they drafted on the third day of the 2021 draft, Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen. Both players were viewed as long-term projects since they converted to linebacker after playing safety in college, so now that they’ve each had two years of seasoning, the Jets might feel that one of them will be ready to emerge with a third-year leap in 2023.
While enticing, relying on Sherwood or Nasirildeen would be a risky proposition in comparison to simply bringing back Alexander, considering the latter already proved he can thrive in this defense while the youngsters are still unknowns.
If the Jets aren’t totally sold on Sherwood or Nasirildeen, they might be open to drafting a linebacker next weekend, in which case the position would likely become too crowded for Alexander to return.
But if the Jets aren’t sold on Sherwood or Nasirildeen and they don’t draft a linebacker, maybe they circle back to Alexander after the draft.
Next Article: The best-case scenario for NY Jets’ 2023 draft
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