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Ranking the best free agent signings in NY Jets history

Curtis Martin
Curtis Martin

How will Mike Williams rank among New York Jets free agents?

The New York Jets are winners of the offseason.

No, really this time. Shut up, Sean Payton.

The Jets have had more whiffs than hits in free agency recently. We’ve constantly referred back to the Laken Tomlinson and C.J. Uzomah signings as examples of what the Jets shouldn’t do when signing players. Still, this offseason, Joe Douglas largely learned from his mistakes (Javon Kinlaw excepted) and made savvy moves to build the Jets’ roster. Whether Tyron Smith, John Simpson, and Mike Williams pay off or not, Jets fans should remember that Douglas deserves credit for excellent moves with the best information he had available at the time.

Looking back through Jets history, the list of free agency moves that were good at the time and also worked out is not very long. Still, there is what to choose from, and it prominently features players from a specific era of Jets football.

Let’s rank the Jets’ top five free agency moves of all time with the hope that the list is altered slightly by next season.

 5. Bart Scott

I strongly considered putting D.J. Reed and/or Alan Faneca here, as I believe both players’ level of play exceeded Bart Scott’s in their two years with the team. However, Scott’s four seasons in New York (to the other players’ two) and anchoring of the Rex Ryan defense gives him the advantage. Scott did not make a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team in New York, but his presence as an inside linebacker in the Jets’ 3-4 scheme could constantly be felt.

And of course, Scott’s “Can’t wait!” quote will line the annals of Jets history forever.

4. Vinny Testaverde

The Jets suffered through a second “what if?” when Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles on the fourth play of the 2023 season. The same thing happened 14 years earlier when Vinny Testaverde tore his Achilles in Week 1 of the 1999 season.

Testaverde joined the Jets as a free agent in 1998. He led them to a 12-1 record as a starter and reached the AFC Championship Game, making the Pro Bowl while throwing 29 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. Overall, he had a 35-26 record as a Jets quarterback across two stints with the team.

In a sad statement about the Jets’ quarterback position, Testaverde remains one of the best ever to sling the pigskin for Gang Green.

3. Wayne Chrebet

A beloved host of The Underdog Jets podcast on Jets X-Factor, Wayne Chrebet entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent. That’s enough to bring him to this list. As a team smarting from the loss of one of its best UDFAs, Bryce Huff, the Jets can still appreciate the gritty Chrebet for his longevity with the team and his clutch performances.

As I wrote about Chrebet in a plea to the Jets to retire his number:

“Chrebet’s 580 catches for 7,365 yards and 41 touchdowns speak to his longevity and health. He played in at least 15 games in eight of his 11 seasons, with the dropoff coming at the end. From 1995 to 2002, he had the eighth-most third-down conversions of any wide receiver in the NFL with 125 over that span. Talk about clutch.”

The Jets have yet to respond to that request, but no Jet has worn No. 80 since Chrebet retired.

2. Kevin Mawae

Hall of Famers must rank high on this list, especially when they played for the Jets for a long time. Mawae spent his first four years in the NFL with Seattle before signing with the Jets in 1998. A string of six All-Pro teams and six Pro Bowls in the next seven seasons followed. Mawae started every game at center for the Jets from 1998-2004, paving the way for a dominant running game that was always the Jets’ go-to on offense.

Mawae was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019.

1. Curtis Martin

Perhaps the greatest Jets player ever not named Joe Namath, Curtis Martin came to the Jets in a coup by Bill Parcells in 1998. The Jets inserted a poison pill clause into their offer sheet for Martin, then a restricted free agent; the Patriots could not match the offer, and the Jets sent two draft picks to New England for Martin’s rights.

From 1998-2005, Martin rushed for 10,302 yards and 58 touchdowns in green and white. He led the NFL in rushing in 2004, his penultimate season, posting 1,697 yards on the ground. He finished his career fourth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. Martin was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012, and the Jets retired his number in the home opener that season.

What do you think, Jets fans? Is there anyone you’d add or take off this list?

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