The New York Jets are talking a Super Bowl game but not quite walking the walk yet
Invoking the Super Bowl has been a hallmark of the New York Jets‘ offseason rhetoric.
From Robert Saleh on down, the team has been aggressive in discussing their championship aspirations. Although all NFL players come into each season with that as their ultimate goal, bringing in Aaron Rodgers made the Jets’ push for a ring that much more urgent.
However, the team is not quite acting like they’re all in. Besides having a few concerning holes, there is a lack of depth at certain positions that can bring them down. Although there aren’t many difference-makers available at this point, there are still players that can move the needle, both as injury insurance and as important role players. There seems to be a certain complacency on the Jets, preferring to roll with inexperience or question marks rather than beefing up the team as much as possible.
Here are the moves I’d like to see Joe Douglas make toward the goal of winning a ring.
1. LB: Kwon Alexander
I know we’ve beaten this horse dead on this site. At this point, many believe that Kwon Alexander is a lost cause. After all, why would the Jets wait this long if they know what he brings to the table?
Although Alexander didn’t sign until July 28 last season, with training camp starting earlier this year, it does seem to be an indication that they’re ready to roll without Alexander. However, it’s possible that Alexander could sign at any point and hit the ground running, knowing the defense as he does.
Regardless of what the Jets feel about Jamien Sherwood, they are currently one injury away from rolling with Zaire Barnes, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Chazz Surratt, or undrafted free agents Maalik Hall and Claudin Cherilus as a significant contributor, possibly even a starter. The team has given no indication that they believe any of those players are ready to have a primetime role.
Obviously, it’s possible that Alexander is waiting for a team that will give him a starting position. If so, it makes sense to wait him out. However, as time passes, the Jets should bring in linebacker insurance. Ideally, they bring back Alexander, as he was a key contributor in both the run and pass games last season.
As of now, the Jets have three linebackers with major question marks in coverage. Alexander could be insurance for that, as well, in case Sherwood can’t hold his own.
2. QB: Teddy Bridgewater
I truly believe that the Jets need quarterback insurance for Rodgers. It’s very easy to think that the season is over if Rodgers gets injured. However, what if he misses a few plays, a quarter, or a game or two? Having a competent backup is critically important to hold the fort. The Jets saw what could happen when Joe Flacco entered against the Bills and singlehandedly lost the game on one sequence with a strip sack.
I understand that Bridgewater likely wants more money than the Jets are willing to invest in the position. We don’t know what Rodgers’ cap hit will be yet, but Zach Wilson counts $9.6 million against the cap this season. That’s going to be an expensive quarterback room.
Still, Wilson has shown early in camp that he still has issues with the mental side of the game. Re-setting a quarterback does not take a few months. If the Jets are truly competing for a ring, they need a competent backup. Teddy Bridgewater is the best of the options. Anyone who watched Nick Foles last year should know that he is no longer a viable option. Matt Ryan seemed like Joe Flacco incarnate, and Carson Wentz has worn out his welcome everywhere.
Bridgewater is certainly no star. He had a 4:4 TD:INT ratio last season with a 5.4% turnover-worthy play rate. Still, an 85.6 passer rating and 62% completion percentage is better than anything Wilson has cooked up in his career. Most of all, competence in the mental aspect of the game can tide the Jets over should anything happen to Rodgers.
3. S: John Johnson
I’ve been on the record many times saying that I want Tony Adams to start at free safety. He has been getting first-team reps during training camp, so perhaps the Jets intend to start him. However, even if that’s the case, they need insurance at the position.
Adrian Amos and Jordan Whitehead both play their best in the box. Other than that, the team has Ashtyn Davis, sixth-round defensive back Jarrick Bernard-Converse, undrafted free agent Trey Dean, and recently-signed camp body Dane Cruikshank. Dean is a potentially intriguing prospect, but he also profiles as a box safety. Bernard-Converse is on the PUP list and does not have the range to play center field. Davis is a former third-round bust whose roster spot may be in jeopardy.
Signing John Johnson would simply give the Jets veteran depth in case disaster strikes. Johnson played 65.2% of his snaps at deep safety in 2022. In his career, he has consistently logged many snaps at both the deep and box safety positions.
In 2022, Johnson allowed 22 of 38 receptions (57.9%) for 270 yards and had a 77.7 targeted quarterback rating, which ranked 15th out of 67 qualified safeties. At the very least, Johnson would give the Jets a decent veteran presence with experience at the deep safety position.
4. OT: George Fant
The Jets now have five tackles that they’re rolling with. They gave Billy Turner $1 million guaranteed. George Fant also had an atrocious and injury-riddled season last year. So why do I think the Jets should give Fant another look?
Turner is a better guard than tackle, while Fant is just one season removed from a career year. Turner had a 6.6% pressure rate allowed in 288 pass-blocking snaps at right tackle last season. He posted a 6.4% rate at right tackle the season prior and 6.0% in his tackle reps the year before that. The 2022 average for starting tackles was 5.3%.
Fant was a lot worse than that in 2022, posting a 7.26% pressure rate. However, as Saleh said in his exit press conference, Fant played on one leg for most of the season. His knee was clearly never right.
In 2021, Fant allowed just a 3.03% pressure rate as the Jets’ starting left tackle. While that was far better than he’d ever performed before, it was enough to see his potential. If he’s healthy, I’d consider bringing him in to compete with Turner. He could even be a starter should Duane Brown not be ready to begin the season. Max Mitchell and Carter Warren are projects who would ideally never see the field in 2023.
Obviously, it would come down to money. Bringing Turner in means the Jets are likely not thinking in this direction. But for a team that re-signed Connor McGovern for $1.9 million, a reunion with Fant might be a good idea.
I have already discussed my thoughts about the running back position at length. Michael Nania put it best about Dalvin Cook: he is more apt to hurt the team with poor pass protection, fumbles, and drops than he is to help with his rushing at this point. His reported asking price of $8 million is merely the clincher. Saleh alluded to that in a training camp press conference.
At this point, if the Jets want some veteran insurance, Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette are their best bets—but only at a league-minimum price. What they’d be asking from either one is mainly pass protection, receiving, and some short-yardage help.
My view is that running backs at this stage of their careers are entirely dependent on their blocking. If the line blocks well, I think the Jets’ current backs can perform capably until Breece Hall is ready. If not, neither Cook nor anyone else is going to move the needle, in my opinion.
Part of this will come down to money. Rodgers’ contract restructure is not final, so it’s unclear how much cap space the Jets actually have. According to Over the Cap, it’s $23.7 million right now, but Rodgers’ contract could take most of that.
C.J. Mosley‘s contract has not been restructured yet, and he will count $21.5 million against the cap. There are already two void years on his contract, and it’s questionable how much more money the Jets would want to push into the future. Also, since Mosley’s previous restructure occurred on September 2, the Jets cannot negotiate an increase in salary until that date this year (as per Article 13, Section 8 of the CBA). It is unclear if a restructure is considered an increase in salary.
Corey Davis is another restructure candidate. The Jets already restructured Whitehead’s and Carl Lawson’s contracts in a similar scenario, adding multiple void years to the final year of their deals. The Jets could take Davis’ $11.2 million cap hit and push it as low as $3.172 million with four void years. This is not ideal considering how much dead cap they have from 2024-26, but it’s a possible route.
I don’t believe all of the moves mentioned above are necessary or possible. However, it would still behoove the Jets to stock up as much as possible before things go wrong. Last offseason, the Jets did not even have a legitimate swing tackle on their roster when Becton went down. They should not wait until the worst happens to fill in their depth.
Ultimately, it’s often the healthiest teams that end up going all the way. That is not within the Jets’ control. What is in their control is to insure against injury as much as possible.