Jets’ patient approach in free agency (surprise!) raises stakes for draft

March 22, 2020

A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Refreshing cup of Joe: Joe Douglas’ old friends call him Joe D. The “D” also could stand for “Discipline,” which describes how the Jets’ general manager has approached the start of NFL free agency.

Instead of doling out obscene contracts for average players (a very Jets thing to do), Douglas has remained patient and true to his value board. While the price tags for center Connor McGovern and offensive tackle George Fant weren’t cheap, their combined guarantee ($27 million) was less than that of coveted tackle Jack Conklin ($30 million), who wound up signing with the Cleveland Browns. You might say it was a 2-for-1 kind of deal.

But here’s the thing: This business model only works if you draft well, something the Jets haven’t done in a long time. This increases the pressure on Douglas to deliver on April 23-25. With eight picks, including four in the top 79, he should be able to find at least four immediate contributors. The most pressing needs are cornerback, edge rusher, offensive tackle and wide receiver.

Douglas, who made his bones in the league as an evaluator of college talent, needs to hit a home run in April. He has to replenish a roster that has been gutted by poor drafting. Only three of the 34 players drafted from 2014 to 2017 remain on the team — safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye and wide receiver Quincy Enunwa. What’s more, 18 of the 34 didn’t even play in the league last season.

In the past, the Jets compensated for their draft misses by overspending in free agency, an ill-advised formula. This is a new regime with a new philosophy. It’s not being stingy — it’s being smart. It can be painful to watch because they have avoided a bunch of big-name players, especially on the trade market — namely, wide receivers Stefon Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins and cornerback Darius Slay. A year ago, Douglas had his eye on Slay while working for the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that snagged him.

The Jets went for big names in past years. How’d that work out?

2. Scouting the new guys: I checked in with a personnel source to get an unbiased take on Fant and McGovern. The source described McGovern as a “serviceable-level starter … Smart, resourceful, steady. Not a difference-maker, but can start.”

He called Fant a “developmental type who grew into a good, quality backup swing tackle,” adding it’s “a projection to a full-time starter role.” The source compared him to Jets tackle Chuma Edoga in terms of size and movement skills.

The concern with Fant is he hasn’t played a lot of football — 879 snaps at left tackle and 135 at right tackle, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Jets are betting on his upside, and they mitigated the risk with a three-year contract that, in reality, is a one-year deal for $9.25 million. It won’t preclude them from drafting a tackle with the No. 11 overall pick.

Overall, the strategy is sound, but they’d better be right about Fant because there’s a good chance he will be protecting Sam Darnold‘s blindside.

3. Reaching for the stars? There have been rumors about the Jets’ alleged interest in free-agent pass rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Yannick Ngakoue (franchise tag). There are a lot of rumors this time of the year; don’t believe them all.

The Jets expressed cursory interest in Ngakoue, but they’re not pursuing a sign-and-trade at this time. The cost, in terms of a new contract for the player and compensation for the Jacksonville Jaguars, is prohibitive. For Clowney, it would be a straight money deal, no compensation, but the Jets aren’t expected to get involved unless he lowers his asking price significantly.

4. So long, GOAT: The Patriots owned the AFC East during the Tom Brady era, winning the division 17 out of 19 times. Only one other quarterback won it — Chad Pennington, who led the Jets to the title in 2002 and the Miami Dolphins in 2008. I figured Pennington would be ideal to provide perspective on the Brady dynasty.

“To play 20 years for one organization, accompanied by the success Tom has had, is quite the accomplishment,” Pennington said in a text. “He has always approached his craft with a competitive desire to be the best he can be, while displaying a great sense of humility along the way. His level of consistency and availability for his team is something I have always admired.

“I think a change of scenery will reenergize him and give him a renewed sense of competition and challenge. I look forward to what the future holds for Tom!”

Asked if he believes the Jets could win a Brady-less division, Pennington replied, “There’s no doubt the AFC East becomes really interesting now. I think you look at the team with the strongest, most consistent defense first. That is where it will start.”

5. Did you know? Brady — the ultimate winner — will be quarterbacking the biggest loser. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ franchise winning percentage is .397, the worst among the four major sports leagues. The Bucs have the NFL’s second-longest active playoff drought at 12 years. The Browns lead the way at 17 years. Third longest? That would be the Jets at nine years.

6. Big bonus day! This is an expensive day for the Jets, who have a handful of players collecting roster bonuses on the fifth day of the league year — linebacker C.J. Mosley ($10 million), Darnold ($2.6 million), nose tackle Steve McLendon ($1 million) and tight end Ryan Griffin ($918,000). The Mosley, Darnold and Griffin bonuses were guaranteed, so there was no decision for the team. McLendon signed an extension last October, so there was little doubt he would pick up his money. He also gets a cherry on top of his bonus: $750,000 of his $1.25 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed Sunday.

7. Q’d up: Weeks ago, there was a lot of speculation about Enunwa’s roster spot, with some folks projecting he would be released. That isn’t happening.

His $6 million salary, guaranteed for injury only at signing, becomes fully guaranteed Sunday. This doesn’t mean the veteran wide receiver, recovering from a serious neck injury, will play in 2020. That’s still up in the air because he hasn’t been medically cleared for football activities. However, from a cap standpoint, it would have made no sense to cut him because he would have been entitled to $10.1 million in injury guarantees.

Enunwa will continue to rehab as a member of the Jets, hoping to make a comeback.

8. QB2 search: At some point, the Jets have to acquire a backup quarterback. Joe Flacco, released by the Denver Broncos after one season, is a name to watch because of his connection to Douglas.

The Jets’ GM was the Baltimore Ravens‘ East Coast scout when Flacco came out of the University of Delaware in 2008. Douglas loved him, but that was a long time ago and now Flacco, 35, is recovering from a neck injury. He was released with the “failed physical” designation, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be healthy soon.

Ultimately, Douglas will lean on coach Adam Gase because it’s Gase’s offense. A quarterback from Gase’s past, Matt Moore, is a free agent and another name to watch.

https://www.espn.com/blog/new-york/jets/post/_/id/82606/jets-patient-approach-in-free-agency-surprise-raises-stakes-for-draft

  • Categories: NFL

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