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NY Jets will face draft pick dilemma for the first time in forever

Jermaine Johnson, NY Jets, NFL, Edge Rusher, Draft 2022
Jermaine Johnson, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets likely won’t be able to retain all their home run draft picks

Joe Douglas has not had much success as a drafter with the New York Jets. Zach Wilson is the lowlight of picks that haven’t worked out. However, the 2022 draft was such an epic success that it could partially make up for some of the disasters. Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Jermaine Johnson, and Breece Hall are the backbone of a roster with Super Bowl aspirations.

All of those players will be eligible for contract extensions at the conclusion of the 2024 season. 2025 will be a contract year for Hall, while the Jets have the fifth-year option for the other three, which they will certainly exercise. Though Douglas has never extended a player before their fourth season, it will be interesting to see whether he makes an exception for one or more of these players.

Still, with multiple great picks from one draft may come the need to prioritize. It’s unlikely that the Jets will be able to extend all these players at top-of-the-market prices and still be able to fill out the rest of their roster. Teams like the Cowboys and 49ers are running into similar problems with their young stars.

If the Jets can’t retain all four players, which ones should they give extensions?

1. Sauce Gardner

The best cornerback in the NFL must be given priority. It’s so difficult to find consistent cornerback play in the league that Sauce Gardner is a must-extend. Gardner is the only cornerback since the AFL-NFL merger to make AP first-team All-Pro in each of his first two seasons. He has the highest Weighted Approximate Value (wAV, an approximate measure of player value) of any player in the 2022 draft.

Gardner will reset the cornerback market, which is why the Jets should definitely extend him in the 2024 offseason rather than wait. The highest average annual value (AAV) on a current cornerback contract is $21 million, and the highest total value is $100.5 million. If the Jets can keep Sauce below $25 million per year, that would be a major win.

I’ve seen some fans say that the Jets should trade Gardner for a haul, but you don’t trade the best player in the NFL at a key position.

2. Garrett Wilson

Wide receiver is the most expensive non-quarterback position in the NFL, but Garrett Wilson is so important to the Jets’ offense that they need to keep him. Letting him go would be the equivalent of the Bills trading Stefon Diggs; no one else on the roster comes anywhere close. Wilson has the chance to break out with Aaron Rodgers in his third season, which would further push his price up. Right now, he would likely match Jaylen Waddle’s three-year, $84.75 million extension. The Jets don’t want to wait too long to extend Wilson because the receiver market continues to explode.

It’s true that it’s easier to hit on a receiver in the draft than, say, a cornerback or edge rusher. Still, if you’re picking outside the top 10, finding a player of Wilson’s caliber is difficult.

3. Jermaine Johnson

This was a difficult decision for me because Breece Hall is a far better player at his position than Jermaine Johnson is at his. The problem is that good edge rushers are more difficult to find than good running backs. I’m curious to see how Johnson performs in 2024 with Haason Reddick and Will McDonald opposite him rather than John Franklin-Myers and Bryce Huff. Pro Football Focus recently snubbed Johnson from their top 32 edge rusher list, but his performance in 2023 was roughly the caliber of the 15th-to-20th best edge rusher in the NFL.

Johnson’s solid run defense makes his floor a lot higher than other edge rushers, although his ceiling is lower because he’s average as a pass rusher. Much of his production comes from a continuing motor on long plays rather than beating a tackle cleanly. The one caveat I would put on a Johnson extension is that he should not come close to re-setting the market at the position.

I think there’s a higher likelihood that Johnson will end up playing on his fifth-year option and possibly facing the franchise tag while the two sides work out a deal. A lot depends on how he performs in Year 3.

4. Breece Hall

There’s a part of me that thinks the Jets should extend Breece Hall simply because the market for a running back is a lot lower than for the other positions listed. They could give Hall a three-year extension in the 2024 offseason with an out after two years and then keep him through his age-27 season. That would mean the Jets get the most out of his prime and then let him go.

The problem is that Christian McCaffrey just got $19 million-per-year extension. If Hall wants anything in that range, it’s a non-starter. As good as McCaffrey is, he hasn’t moved the needle enough for the 49ers to warrant blowing away the running back market. Saquon Barkley’s $12.6 million per season would be the maximum I’d give Hall.

However, there’s the distinct possibility of back-to-back franchise tags. The Jets could let Hall ride out his contract and then tag him in 2026 and 2027 at relatively reasonable prices. Obviously, that would cause a considerable fracture between Hall and the team, but it’s what many savvy teams do.

Ultimately, I think there’s the biggest chance that of these four players, Hall will not be with the Jets in 2027.

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