With the NFL Draft concluding this past weekend, all of the focus is on the youngsters entering the next phase of their lives. As a draft crazed fan myself, that is practically all I am focused on. With that being said, more needs to be done to the roster than drafting than the nine players that Joe Douglas selected this weekend.
There were and are certain aspects of the team that are in need of a veteran, whether it be as depth, a mentor or a key piece to the puzzle. Leading us into the discussion about what the Jets can do in free agency now that the 2021 draft cycle is officially behind us?
Let’s start off with the most important position in sports. Yes, Zach Wilson is the new quarterback of this franchise but if we have learned anything over the last three years with Sam Darnold is that you need to have quality behind the starter. In a perfect world Wilson plays all seventeen games in his rookie year but unforeseen circumstances could potentially change that. At this point in time, 2020 fourth round pick James Morgan is penciled in as the second stringer. Considering Morgan was rarely active as a rookie and received zero attention when Darnold was sidelined last year, it’s a safe assumption that he will be pushed down the depth chart in the coming months. Who takes his place will be the question.
Over the last month and a half there were not many rumors connecting any free agent passers to the Jets outside Joe Flacco, who is now in Philadelphia, and Brian Hoyer, who met with the Jets. Hoyer would seem to be the favorite considering he was the only quarterback to meet with the team but also due to his IQ of the playing the position, which would honestly be the biggest reason for the signing. There are arguably more talented players on the market: Blake Bortles, Matt Barkley, Nick Mullens being the biggest names, but do any of them provide
the help for Wilson in the meeting rooms that Hoyer can? If it comes down to that, which it very likely could, Hoyer (for his longevity playing the position), Mullens (his knowledge of the Shanahan/LaFleur playbook) and former New York Jets fan favorite Josh McCown make the most sense. Now McCown probably would stay away due to how things ended with his buddy Sam, but the call should still go out. Regardless, the position needs to be filled sooner than later.
Veteran Presence in the Secondary
Not only is the cornerback room looking like one of, if not the least talented in the league, they’re also among the youngest. They drafted two or three depending on how you look at it in Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock and Brandin Echols. They also have three entering year two; Bryce Hall, Javelin Guidry and Lamar Jackson. Another three entering their third year; Bless Austin, Corey Ballentine and Kyron Brown. The eldest of the entire group is also their special teams ace, Justin Hardee, who likely won’t touch the field defensively. Looking at those names, it’s easy to tell that help will be needed to be added.
There is no telling how the front office and coaching staff truly feel about these players, but if there was a guess, one player would fit the best to compliment the group above, Steven Nelson. Brian Poole could come back but they may want to save that money and allow guys like Javelin Guidry and Michael Carter II compete for that nickel role. Richard Sherman would be a great fit but at his stage of his career, going to a rebuilding Jets team, on the opposite side of the country does not make a ton of sense for him. Steven Nelson however, does make sense. The two sides have been in contact but were not able to come to an agreement before the draft. Now that some spots have been filled through the draft, they can focus on putting together the final touches. Nelson fits the outside role they will be looking for opposite Bryce Hall and has great skill as a man coverage corner, something that Robert Saleh has reiterated about wanting in a cornerback.
When Kyle Fuller was released, he wound up signing in Denver for one year, nine million. Fuller has been a better player but Nelson is very solid in his own right. If they can come to terms on a one year deal or at most two years, eight million should be able to get it done.
More Second Level Help
After drafting four offensive players to start, the front office quickly changed their approach going six consecutive picks on the defense to finish their 2021 draft. The first and fourth of those six were spent on “linebackers,” Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen. I put the quotation marks on linebacker because they will be converted safeties at the next level. In this position group, they best fit the WILL (weak side linebacker) role. As of now, it should be the two of them competing with Blake Cashman for snaps. But they do not have anyone to truly back up the other starters, CJ Mosley and Jarrad Davis.
With Mosley missing all but one and a half games since the start of 2019 and Davis being labeled as a bust entering 2021, it’s best to add more names. They’ll be occupying the MIKE and SAM (Middle and Strongside linebackers) and there are not many big names out there that can fill the role if they go down. But getting players who have played the positions in the league will be needed.
The names that do stand out are KJ Wright, Todd Davis, BJ Goodson and Neville Hewitt. Wright was a longtime WILL but this past season in Seattle he transitioned to SAM and thrived. He could play that same role with the Jets but splitting time rather than as a starter. His experience in a similarly run defense would be very beneficial for the youngsters. Todd Davis could play either of the two positions looking to be filled and is another player with a ton of experience.
If there is one thing that could prevent them from being signed is their lack of speed. Their athleticism is not what it used to be and if Saleh has shown anything, it’s that he wants speed at the position. So those guys may not be fits but it may come to a point where the speed needs to be put to the side and just get players that can play. They won’t be game changers and hopefully they would only see the field in very small doses, but finding depth in the linebacker group is a must.