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5 free agents NY Jets should bring back in 2024

Bryce Huff, NY Jets, EDGE, Contract, Free Agent
Bryce Huff, New York Jets, Getty Images

Despite many disappointments, the New York Jets have several players who deserve to come back in 2024

With the New York Jets’ 2023 season winding down, the team’s mindset has turned mostly toward 2024. Woody Johnson already stated that Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas will return for another year. Aaron Rodgers floated the possibility of more than one additional season. Reports surfaced about Zach Wilson’s future with the team and the Jets’ likelihood to pursue Davante Adams. These are all focused on 2024.

With that in mind, let’s focus on the team’s 2024 free agents and possible cap casualties list. Though many players have underachieved in 2023, some did not. Here are the top five players whom the Jets should bring back in 2024.

Honorable mentions: Solomon Thomas, Ashtyn Davis, Justin Hardee

Solomon Thomas has finally shown why Saleh likes him. His five sacks have been quite impactful, and his 8.2% pressure rate is slightly above average among 99 qualifiers (min. 175 pass-rush snaps). Thomas also has seven tackles for loss and an average depth of tackle of just 1.3 yards, which means he’s been better against the run than his 34.4 PFF grade would indicate.

Thomas’ cap number is $2.35 million this season. It’s not going to be that much higher next year. He should be Jefferson’s primary backup once more.

Ashtyn Davis has finally shown some of the potential he brought as a third-round pick. The Jets seem to love to play big nickel, and Davis fits in seamlessly in that box linebacker-replacement role. He’d be another signing that’s cheaper than what it’s worth to the team.

I’ve been a Justin Hardee critic in the past, but we saw exactly what the Jets’ punt coverage looks like in the six games he missed. It would be better not to commit $2.35 million to a special teams-only player, especially to one who showed a propensity to commit boneheaded penalties over the previous two seasons, but the Jets need to bring him back.

5. Chuck Clark

This choice may seem odd, as Chuck Clark never took a snap for the Jets in 2023. What was one of Douglas’ savviest moves as the team’s general manager went for naught when Clark tore his ACL during OTAs. Now, Clark will hit free agency entering his age-29 season and coming off a catastrophic injury. Why should the Jets bring him back?

Well, for one thing, they’ll need a strong safety. Jordan Whitehead is also a free agent, and if there’s one player the Jets should not bring back, Whitehead is certainly in the conversation (although there are several other top candidates). While Michael Nania speculated that Davis could be a cheap replacement, he is still unproven in that role, having played mostly in the box this season — plus he is also a free agent.

Furthermore, Clark was an iron man prior to the ACL tear, having played three consecutive seasons without missing a snap. He was highly effective as a strong safety, showcasing strong tackling skills, good coverage against tight ends, and solid instincts at the position.

Clark made $4.1 million in 2023. Coming off his injury, and considering how the NFL safety market was depressed this past offseason, he is likely to come at a highly affordable price. This should be a no-brainer for the Jets.

3 & 4. Greg Zuerlein & Thomas Morstead

It’s hard to separate the Jets’ two MVPs this season, their kicker and punter. When Zuerlein came out for the game-winning 54-yard field goal attempt against the Commanders, few Jets fans had any doubt he would connect. After a solid opener with New York, Zuerlein has reached new heights in 2023, going 30-for-31 (96.8%) on field goals; he is 5-for-6 from 50+ yards. He did miss an extra point (on only 14 tries), but Zuerlein must be back despite his increasing age (37).

Thomas Morstead has revolutionized the Jets’ punting game (even as the team’s former punter found new life in Philadelphia). Morstead ranks eighth in the NFL with 49.4 yards per punt. Although his 42.0 net ranks 17th, he is third in the NFL with 34 punts downed inside the 20. Morstead has been steady in a way Braden Mann never was despite the 87-yard punt return touchdown by the Chargers charged against him. At 37, Morstead should also return; he seems to love being a Jet, which makes a reunion likely.

2. Quinton Jefferson

It was hard to decide exactly where to put Quinton Jefferson, but he’s been a revelation in his first year with the Jets. His 12.1% pressure rate ranks eighth among defensive tackles, one spot behind Quinnen Williams and even better than his 11.7% mark from 2022. Furthermore, despite his low Pro Football Focus run defense grade, he has been more impactful as a run defender than in the past due to the Jets’ aggressive one-gapping scheme.

Jefferson’s one-year contract was worth $3.6 million. As good as he’s been in 2023, considering that his actual numbers are very similar to what they were in 2022 (6 sacks vs. 5.5), he may not command that much of a pay bump. Regardless, the Jets should bring him back. They will still need a run-stuffer in the middle who has more pass-rush thump than Al Woods to augment Jefferson’s efforts.

1. Bryce Huff

After a red-hot start to the season, Bryce Huff has faded somewhat down the stretch. Still, he’s their most impactful pass rusher and is very difficult to block one-on-one. He’s going to be very expensive, as Montez Sweat’s four-year, $98 million extension with the Bears will likely be his starting point. Still, it’s hard to say that the Jets should let their best edge rusher go.

As I wrote previously, I think the Jets and Huff are heading towards a tag-and-trade scenario. I just don’t think they’ll see his cap numbers as sustainable with players like Michael Carter II, Breece Hall, Garrett Wilson, Sauce Gardner, and Jermaine Johnson to pay in the years ahead. However, I can’t make a list like this and say that anyone other than Huff should be the team’s No. 1 priority to re-sign.

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Jim G
5 months ago

I agree with all your choices, although I am not familiar with Clark. Anyone other than Whitehead will be an upgrade.

5 months ago

If we can tag and trade Huff I think we should do it. There’s a round two shaped hole in our draft capital which could do with filling in order to address OL and WR.

5 months ago

What’s your max contract you offer Huff before you let him walk?