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Non-Packers free agents with connections to NY Jets

Ryan Tannehill
Ryan Tannehill

The NFL is a league of connections, and the New York Jets are connected to more teams than just Green Bay

Ever since landing Aaron Rodgers, the New York Jets have found themselves being linked to every single Green Bay Packers player who could potentially become available – and for good reason. Last offseason, the Jets brought in a heap of former Packers players, including Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Billy Turner, Tim Boyle, Malik Taylor, and Adrian Amos.

With such a large haul of former Packers added in one offseason, New York made it no secret that Rodgers has some influence over the team’s roster decisions. Therefore, the Jets are going to continue being linked to Green Bay players until they stop bringing them in at such a high rate. One would hope Joe Douglas and the Jets have the wherewithal to cease this practice considering how poorly all of their former Packers panned out in 2023.

While Green Bay remains the top destination that people will look toward for potential future Jets additions, it is not the only place in the NFL that has connections to the Jets. There are some other notable places with strong ties to the Jets’ coaching staff, which could lead to some of their impending free agents following their former coaches to New York.

Here are a few free agents the Jets could target due to their connections with the coaching staff.

Titans QB Ryan Tannehill

The Jets’ offensive coaching staff is largely tied to the Tennessee Titans. They have three coaches who spent four-plus seasons with the Titans during the Mike Vrabel era: passing game coordinator Todd Downing, offensive line coach/run game coordinator Keith Carter, and newly hired running backs coach Tony Dews.

Because of the Tennessee flavor in the building, I could see the Jets viewing Ryan Tannehill as one of their favorite options to back up Aaron Rodgers.

In terms of his 2023 production, Tannehill is far from the most appealing backup option on the market. Tannehill had a rough 2023 season that saw him throw four touchdowns and seven interceptions in eight starts, causing him to get benched for rookie Will Levis. It was arguably his worst NFL season, as he posted a career-low in net yards per pass attempt (5.29) while his 78.5 worst passer rating was his worst since his rookie year.

The Jets can do better than the 36-year-old Tannehill. But we all know how the NFL works. This is a league built upon connections. I would not be shocked if Tannehill’s familiarity with the coaching staff causes the Jets to favor him over other players.

Titans IOL Aaron Brewer

Aaron Brewer is a versatile interior lineman who was signed by the Titans as an undrafted free agent in 2020, when Keith Carter was the Titans’ offensive line coach. Under Carter, Brewer made the Titans’ opening-week roster and developed into a starter by 2022.

Brewer has started at all three interior positions for Tennessee. For his career, he’s played 1,299 snaps at left guard, 1,185 snaps at center, and 209 snaps at right guard.

In 2022, Brewer earned Tennessee’s starting left guard spot and went on to start all 17 games (two of those coming at center). He became a restricted free agent after the year, and the Titans were impressed enough to use a second-round tender to retain him. This put his cap hit at $4.3 million for the 2023 season.

Brewer moved to center in 2023 and started all 17 games. While Brewer was shoddy in pass protection, ranking fifth-worst among centers with a 5.5% pressure rate, he excelled as a run blocker. Pro Football Focus rated him sixth-best among centers with a 78.7 run-blocking grade.

Brewer would be a solid target to improve the Jets’ offensive line depth. He is versatile, has plenty of starting experience, and can help keep the run game afloat if a starter goes down. He’s nowhere close to reliable enough as a pass blocker to be viewed as a potential starter – even at guard, where his 6.4% pressure rate in 2022 ranked sixth-worst among 64 qualified guards. Still, his connection with Carter could push him toward the top of the Jets’ list as they shop for useful backups who can strengthen the second unit.

Carter has often been criticized publicly by his players (both directly and indirectly). However, the most well-known critique of Carter – coming from his former left tackle Taylor Lewan – largely revolved around his over-working of older players. Brewer is still only 26, and Carter helped him crack the Titans’ roster as an undrafted free agent, so my guess would be that he does not hold a similar grudge to Lewan.

But then there’s… this.

It’s definitely not ideal, but money talks (as does the appeal of Aaron Rodgers), so I wouldn’t use this quote alone to rule out Brewer as an option for the Jets. Still, it would be preferable to have an offensive line coach who doesn’t have quotes like this floating around.

The Jets do already have a versatile backup interior lineman under contract in Wes Schweitzer, who is set to have a cheap $2 million cap hit this season. However, Schweitzer has battled constant injury issues. The 30-year-old has missed at least five games in three consecutive seasons, playing in just 24 out of 51 games since 2021. He spent the majority of 2023 on injured reserve due to a calf injury.

With Schweitzer’s lack of reliability, the Jets cannot consider him a surefire solution as the primary backup interior lineman. That is a spot they should still attempt to improve. Brewer seems like a good option, especially considering his durability. He is one of only 22 offensive linemen in the NFL who started all 34 games over the past two seasons.

Spotrac projects Brewer to be worth about $5.2 million per year on the open market. Over The Cap has him a little lower at $4.5 million.

While those numbers are on the higher end for a backup lineman, it’s a fair ballpark for an upper-tier backup guard. In 2023, former Jets guard Nate Herbig signed with Pittsburgh for $4 million per year while Ravens backup Patrick Mekari re-signed with the team for $5.2 million per year.

This is a price worth paying if the Jets are serious about maximizing their offensive line’s capability to withstand injuries. New York did not take its offensive line depth seriously last offseason, and they paid the price. Emphasizing the second-string offensive line will be essential this time around. In the mission to accomplish that goal, Brewer is someone to keep an eye on.

49ers DT Javon Kinlaw

While they went away from this trend in 2023, the Jets added plenty of former 49ers players over Robert Saleh’s first two years with the team, especially on defense. D.J. Reed, Solomon Thomas, Kwon Alexander, Marcell Harris, Ronald Blair, Adrian Colbert, and Kai Nacua all played for Saleh’s defense in San Francisco during his time as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator.

I could see the Jets returning to this trend in 2024 with Javon Kinlaw, who was the 49ers’ first-round pick (14th overall) in Saleh’s final season with the team.

At the moment, Quinnen Williams is the only core member of the Jets’ 2023 defensive tackle unit who is under contract for 2024. Quinton Jefferson, Solomon Thomas, and Al Woods are all set for free agency.

Jefferson and Thomas are strong candidates to return, although nothing is guaranteed. Even if both come back, the Jets would still have a fourth spot to fill in their DT rotation. This means the Jets will probably be in the market for a backup defensive tackle regardless of how things pan out with Jefferson and Thomas.

Lauded for his elite physical traits coming out of South Carolina, Kinlaw was viewed by Saleh and the 49ers as a fit for their aggressive 4-3 scheme, which Saleh has carried over to the Jets. He would be a seamless fit.

Kinlaw has not lived up to his first-round billing, picking up just five sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and 70 total tackles in four years. Injuries have played a large role, as he missed 24 games from 2021-22, but his career per-17-game averages remain unimpressive: 2 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, and 29 total tackles.

While he is not a star, Kinlaw found his footing in 2023. He finally stayed healthy for a full season, allowing him to enjoy success on the field as he settled into his role quite nicely. Appearing in all 17 games and playing 44% of the defensive snaps, Kinlaw finished the year with 3.5 sacks, three passes defended, six quarterback hits, 25 total tackles, and 31 total pressures.

Spotrac projects that Kinlaw will earn $5.4 million per year while Over The Cap values him at $3.7 million per year. At Spotrac’s estimation, Kinlaw might be too expensive to add if both Jefferson and Thomas are retained, but I could see him being a primary target as a replacement if the Jets lose one of the two players. At OTC’s estimation, I could envision a greater chance of the Jets targeting Kinlaw even if both Jefferson and Thomas return.

At either number, Kinlaw makes a lot of sense as a replacement for Jefferson or Thomas if one of them walks. I’m unsure of whether the Jets would be willing to pay around $4-5 million per year for a fourth defensive tackle after re-signing both Jefferson and Thomas, who combined to earn $5.9 million last year and will likely see raises in 2024 after solid seasons. I don’t think the Jets would do it, but as we know, if the Saleh-led Jets love one thing, it’s defensive line depth, so I would not completely rule it out.

It will be fascinating to see how the Jets handle the defensive tackle position once free agency opens. I know it’s going to receive 0.1% of the attention among Jets fans during that crazy time, but it’s an underrated story that I will be keeping an eye on. The Jets currently have one roster-worthy defensive tackle on the team. How will they fill this unit out?

If their plan to fill out the unit involves any significant outside additions, don’t be surprised if Kinlaw’s name comes up.

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3 months ago

Tannehill is the best fit for the Jets at backup QB. He’s played in playoff games, and has a relationship with coaches on the staff. If the Jets lose Rogers for the season it doesn’t matter who the back up is, they won’t win the Super Bowl and they will struggle making the playoffs. That’s how it is, look at the playoff teams from last season. Everyone points to Cleveland, ok lucky.

But, if the Jets lose Rogers for a handful of games Tannehill can come in and be a leader for the offense, a guy who’s played in playoff games, AND is familiar with the coaches. He’s the best option. Everybody LOVES Jacoby Brissett. He has a losing record as a starter….18-30,never finished a season above .500 as a starter,. and lost a playoff game. Can everybody please let’s stop with the Jacoby Brissett love just because he looked good against the Jets? He’s been in the league for 8 seasons and played for 5 teams…Why? Because he’s not that good.

The Keith Carter thing could be a bit overblown. Go to every team and I’m sure you’ll find players who don’t have great relationships with a coach, it happens. It doesn’t mean ALL players feel the same way, and it doesn’t mean the coach is a bad coach. Plenty of guys have beef with Bill Sleazecheck. Any free agent who signs with the Jets won’t have a problem with Carter since they have a choice of where they want to play, so if Brewer signs with the Jets then it’s a safe bet he’s fine with Carter.