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NY Jets’ approach at one position could reveal key starter’s future

D.J. Reed
D.J. Reed

There are two players whom the New York Jets could extend

Arguably the biggest strength of the New York Jets’ roster is their cornerback room.

That’s why it’s somewhat jarring to realize that as of now, they have only one cornerback under contract beyond 2024 in Sauce Gardner. D.J. Reed, Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols, and Isaiah Oliver are all slated to be free agents in 2025.

The prevailing assumption is that the team will extend Carter sooner rather than later. The top of the market for slot cornerbacks has been set in the $10 million range with Kenny Moore’s (three years, $30 million, $16 million guaranteed) and Taron Johnson’s (3 years, $30.75 million, $17.825 million fully guaranteed) contracts. Carter figures to end up in that area after posting top-three numbers at the position over the last two seasons.

Assuming the Jets do that, they’ll have two of their three key corners locked up for several seasons to come. However, that leaves the question of what they plan to do with Reed. The 5-foot-9 corner has been a stalwart in the Jets’ defense since joining in 2022, forming likely the best cornerback trio in the league with Gardner and Carter. He is set to count $15.6 million against the salary cap in 2024 with a $4.62 million dead cap charge in 2025.

To mitigate that cap hit, the simplest thing the Jets could do is to give Reed an extension, as well. They could push much of his 2024 cap hit into the future and also defer the 2025 void year further down the line.

Of course, they could do that. Will they?

Perhaps surprisingly for many Jets fans, the team’s direction is seemingly pointed toward a no.

Why extend Reed?

At 27 years old, Reed is in the prime of his career. In 2023, here were his numbers and ranks compared to 72 cornerbacks with at least 400 cover snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

  • 6.79 yards per target (20th)
  • 0.876 yards per cover snap (21st)
  • 2 touchdowns (T-17th)
  • 85.1 targeted passer rating (28th)
  • 6 pass breakups (28th)
  • 14.3% forced incompletion rate (24th)
  • 7.8% pass-game missed tackle rate (18th)
  • 70.2 PFF run defense grade (25th)
  • 8 penalties (61st)

In other words, Reed was above average but not elite in 2023. Still, combined with Gardner and Carter, he did a solid job for his position.

The bigger issue for Reed was how his play plummeted against the Dolphins. Here are his numbers against Miami compared to the other 13 games he played.

  • MIA (2 games): 64 cover snaps, 11 of 13 receptions (84.6%), 189 yards, 17.2 yards per reception, 7.8 YAC per reception, 1 TD, 1 INT, 2.95 yards per cover snap, 14.5 yards per target
  • Other 13 games: 478 cover snaps, 32 of 57 receptions (56.1%), 286 yards, 8.9 yards per reception, 2.5 YAC per reception, 1 TD, 0 INT, 0.598 yards per cover snap, 5.0 yards per target

Excluding the Miami games, Reed would have ranked 15th in catch rate, 6th in yards per reception, 3rd in YAC per reception, 5th in yards per cover snap, and 4th in yards per target. He played at a Pro Bowl level against all other teams but was cut down to size against Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

To be fair, most NFL corners struggle against those two players. To truly be a top-tier corner, Reed would need to put up a better showing against Miami. Still, even an above-average starting cornerback is hard to find in today’s NFL. For that alone, Reed is worth extending.

Why not extend him?

The biggest problem for the Jets comes down to money. Gardner will set the market for the cornerback position whenever they pay him, which might come as soon as the 2025 offseason when he is first eligible for an extension. The going rate for elite corners is in the $20 million range, as L’Jarius Sneed just signed a four-year, $76.4 million deal with the Titans.

With Carter, Garrett Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, and Jermaine Johnson also in the pipeline for potential extensions, the Jets likely won’t be able to keep all their top talent. They’ll need to make some executive decisions. While Reed would be the top corner on many teams in the NFL, he’s not the Jets’ top corner — or even their second-best relative to his position. Carter does a better job at a more difficult position.

Just as the Chiefs traded Sneed because they had to pay Chris Jones, Reed may become a cap casualty for the Jets. It will certainly create a critical void in the team’s defense, but that may be unavoidable.

Reed is not a player the Jets would prefer to lose. He’s a team leader and has done everything they’ve asked of him. The NFL sometimes works that way, though.

Cornerback is not even on most Jets fans’ radar as a position of need in the draft. However, don’t be surprised if the team selects one higher than expected. Such a pick would hint at the Jets’ thought process.

The more talent the Jets acquire, the harder it will be to keep the unit together. This is why drafting well is critical even at positions of strength. Teams with long periods of success such as the Patriots, Eagles, Ravens, and Chiefs all draft a year early. The Jets will need to start doing so, as well.

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Peter Buell
Peter Buell
1 month ago

If there’s a team willing to pay a price slightly higher than Jamaal Adams, I would trade Sauce and I’d do it this season.
They can’t pay everyone as you’ve mentioned. I’d rather keep JJ and Breece as an example and get a haul for Sauce then need to decide who stays and goes.
It’s already hitting with Reed.
What would I expect? They perfect return would come from Arizona. I’m not saying they do it. They do need help on D.
If the Jets sign Clowney…Sauce and JFM for the Cards 1st 4 picks 4, 27, 35, 66.
Heck! If only Sauce I’d even let them trade #4 down to 7 or 8.
This would give the Jets 10, (7 or 8) 27, 35, 66, 72.

Alot of talent in those picks including Bama CB Terrion Arnold.
Something painful will need to be done in the next couple years.
Strike while the irons hot and the fecieving team gets a couple/3 years if tagged.

verge tibbs
verge tibbs
1 month ago

Really interesting part of team building. Probably learned this years ago from john b at ganggreennation but I always believed you need to have a coaching unit that can be counted on to be able to develop at least 1 position. Like, be able to take a low rd pick or udfa and turn them into a solid player. Because theres not enough money to invest heavy in every single position. LB is that position for this coaching staff. Its hard to tell if dl and cb is also, though. Everybody they got in those groups had great film before landing here. Maybe JJ they can somewhat claim but not even definite on that. Sorry to say but i really think Huff was a mistake to let go. But i guess we’ll learn a lot about these coaches limitations when we see how mcdonald looks this year.

Anyway, yeah, i love reed. But i agree. If there has to be an odd man out.. not sure how many more years he has of good production. Counts on that elite make up speed a lot..

Peter Buell
Peter Buell
1 month ago
Reply to  verge tibbs

They could have kept him and years 1 and 2 cap were something like $5 and $10m.
But come year 3 I believe it’s about $26m.
I’d trade Sauce (for the right deal)
Give me Arizona #4 27, 35 66 and I’d be thrilled.
Sauce will cost two of the other guys.
Terrion Arnold at #10 could begin to replace him and we get Harrison Jr at 4 but doubt Az bites.

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