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NY Jets’ wild overpay of Javon Kinlaw highlights big franchise issue

Javon Kinlaw
Javon Kinlaw

The New York Jets’ Javon Kinlaw contract is difficult to understand

When the news came out that former 49ers defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw had agreed to sign with the New York Jets on a one-year deal, I was a fan of the pickup. I had even mentioned Kinlaw as a potential option for the Jets in an article from a few weeks ago.

I like what Kinlaw did for the 49ers last season. He stayed healthy for the first time in his career and carved out a nice role as a situational interior pass rusher. Coming to New York, he was an ideal scheme fit, as the Robert Saleh-led Jets defense operates very similarly to the 49ers team that Kinlaw and Saleh hail from.

Quinton Jefferson and Solomon Thomas are free agents, so the Jets needed defensive tackle help. My initial thought was that the Jets envisioned Kinlaw as a replacement for Solomon Thomas as the No. 3 DT in the rotation. I didn’t see any evidence that Kinlaw was good enough to be viewed as a viable Quinton Jefferson replacement in the starting lineup, but as a Thomas replacement, he made sense. So, my hunch was that the Jets had signed him for around $2-3 million.

Then the contract details dropped.

According to Zack Rosenblatt of The Athletic, the Jets are giving Kinlaw $7.25 million with $6.91 million guaranteed.

What?

Frankly, this contract is atrocious. Perhaps Kinlaw makes me eat my words in the regular season, but at this moment in time, that is a colossal overpay for what Kinlaw has brought to the table thus far.

For perspective, a $7.25 million cap hit is currently poised to rank 25th among defensive tackles in 2024. So, the Jets are paying Kinlaw like a top-25 DT after recording this resume over four years in San Francisco:

  • 5.0 sacks
  • 7 tackles for loss
  • 0 forced fumbles or fumble recoveries
  • 26 missed games out of 50 possible games
  • Poor run-defense reputation (40.5 career PFF run-defense grade, 49ers allowed 0.6 more YPC when he was on-field versus off-field in 2023)

This is not a smart usage of cap space by any stretch of the imagination. Consider this: In 2023, Quinton Jefferson and Solomon Thomas had a combined cap hit of $5.95 million. Jefferson signed for $3.6 million while Thomas signed for $2.35 million.

And Jefferson had a far better reputation entering the 2023 free agent market than Kinlaw currently does. Jefferson was coming off a season in Seattle where he had 5.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits – both totals more than Kinlaw has in his entire career.

There is only one conceivable reason the Jets would overpay this drastically for Kinlaw, and it’s an issue that continues to be this regime’s calling card: nepotism.

Picture Kinlaw as the same exact player, but he was a 2020 UDFA out of Toledo who signed with the Raiders. Do the Jets sign him to this contract? Absolutely not.

But since Kinlaw is a former first-round pick and Robert Saleh was one of the leading voices in drafting him, that makes him worth a top-25 contract at his position despite being tied for 256th in the NFL in sacks over the past four years. Yes, 256th.

The Kinlaw contract should alarm Jets fans – not just because of how poor it is in itself, but because it signals that the Jets’ nepotism is still alive and thriving.

Last year, we watched the Jets sign one Aaron Rodgers buddy after another, only for all of them to fail miserably. One year earlier, the Jets splurged on a former Saleh comrade as their biggest free agent signing, Laken Tomlinson, and we just watched him get cut a few weeks ago.

It extends to the coaching staff, too. The Jets hired a clearly inept offensive coordinator in Nathaniel Hackett solely to woo Aaron Rodgers. This offseason, most of their assistant coaching hires were people who have worked with the Jets’ current coaches in the past. The Jets showed no willingness to open themselves up to new ideas and perspectives after a historically brutal offensive season.

You would think the Jets might learn that it isn’t the best idea to lean so heavily into adding players and coaches you’re familiar with, but the Kinlaw contract shows that nothing has changed. The Saleh regime continues to be a nepotistic clique.

With Kinlaw earning north of $7 million this year, it’s clear the Jets are projecting him as their starting DT next to Quinnen Williams. Maybe it works out and Kinlaw takes another leap with an expanded role. If so, great. I’ll admit I was wrong. That still wouldn’t change how unwise this move looks as we sit here and analyze it on March 13, 2024.

This contract pretty much ensures that Quinton Jefferson is gone, unless Jefferson gets wildly underpaid on the open market and can return affordably or if the Jets are foolish enough to invest heavily in yet another DT (don’t rule anything out with this regime). We shall see what Jefferson’s contract ends up looking like, but unless he vastly out-earns Kinlaw, the Jets cannot try to convince fans that Kinlaw is a better option as the starter next to Quinnen Williams.

In 2023, Jefferson had 6.0 sacks (he was in on eight total), 13 quarterback hits, and 29 total pressures on 240 pass-rush snaps. Kinlaw had 3.5 sacks (four total), 6 quarterback hits, and 31 total pressures on 322 pass-rush snaps. If you project Kinlaw’s efficiency over Jefferson’s 240 pass-rush snaps, he would have had 2.5 sacks (three total), 4 quarterback hits, and 23 total pressures.

Jefferson had a pass-rush win rate of 14.0%, per PFF, which ranked 14th out of 98 qualified DTs. Kinlaw was at 10.3%, which ranked 39th out of 98. Not even close.

Perhaps even more important is the durability factor. Kinlaw finally stayed healthy for a full season in 2023, but before this year, he missed 26 of his first 50 career games. One season does not erase the previous three. Kinlaw remains a massive injury risk.

On top of all that, why did the Jets feel the need to make this type of investment in a defensive tackle?

The Jets still have two starting spots to fill on the offensive line. They still haven’t added any wide receivers to a room that would be starting Allen Lazard and Xavier Gipson if it took the field today. The offense deserves all of the Jets’ attention right now.

Allocating $7 million to an unreliable, average-at-best DT obstructs the Jets’ primary goal. Yes, the Jets needed to address DT in some fashion, but this type of investment wasn’t required. In 2023, the Jets showed they could field an elite defense while allocating minimal cap space into the DT unit beyond Quinnen Williams. Perhaps it would have been justifiable to allocate the same amount of space to re-sign Jefferson, who proved he can rush the passer at a high level in this scheme. It’s not justifiable to use it on Kinlaw.

There is still time for the Jets to upgrade the OL and the WR unit. The Kinlaw signing does not preclude them from doing that. However, even once they inevitably upgrade these units, it doesn’t change the main issue at hand: This Jets regime continues to overvalue people they’re familiar with, and it’s holding the franchise back.

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Jim G
Jim G
2 months ago

I agree. First thing I thought of when I saw this signing was that Saleh must have liked this guy in SF. Nepotism is alive and thriving in Florham Park.

JC2533
JC2533
2 months ago

Morning,

The salary cap rising 20 million per team also may have played a role in the increased salary offer.

Expecting apples to apples comparisons with a record cap increase would be foolhardy.

But, who knows, maybe it is still an overpay, and hopefully he will live up to it.

Enjoy!

DHB
DHB
2 months ago

Nepotism maybe but at least they haven’t signed and of Rodgers’ cronies so far.

Jets71
Jets71
2 months ago

I think the run defense is on equal terms with the offense at this point. I’m not saying Kinlaw is the answer but I do like the signing. While everyone is bashing the Jets for the nepotism, they leave out DJ Reed, Solomon Thomas, Kwon Alexander (no longer with the team but a good nepo player), and Morestead, all players who had “ties” to the Jets and/or their coaches.

Reed, Thomas, Williams, JFM, heck even Huff all got better with the Jets after being picked up off the scrap heap.

We still don’t know what’s going to happen with the OL and other FA’s so I think it’s a bit early to be going wild over a contract, that we don’t even know yet if it is prohibiting them from signing a player.

I do agree with the offensive coaching staff but the D looks pretty good with a lot of nepotism on that side of the ball. I also wonder why with some teams the nepotism is “great for the locker room, it helps the coaches set the culture” and for a QB “they need their guys” but when it’s the Jets it’s a problem?

For all of their problems last season, they beat 3 playoff teams, and took the Chiefs to the wire, AND they were ravaged by injuries. Before we start making comparisons, no team had the OL injuries the Jets’ had. And for all of the backup QB hype, ONE made the playoffs and he looked like Zach Wilson in that game.

christian herzeca
christian herzeca
2 months ago

let me add one assumption that you didnt consider: JD talked to Jefferson’s agent with a number comparable to what jets gave Kinlaw, and agent told JD to fly a kite.

Jsterritt
Jsterritt
2 months ago

Getting harder and harder to trust this regime.

Jets71
Jets71
2 months ago
Reply to  Jsterritt

I still trust them.

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