The New York Jets: A Critical Offseason Ahead
By Cal Insull
As the 2021 NFL regular season draws to a close, with just two games left, for a team in a situation such as the New York Jets, it’s about looking forward and building for the future.
General Manager Joe Douglas, along with head coach, Robert Saleh have made strides so far in getting the team to where they want it in the 2021 season. After drafting their new Quaterback in Zach Wilson with the second overall pick in the 2021 Draft, along with impressive rookies Elijah Moore and Michael Carter, Douglas is close to shaping his offense together.
One area of the team that has been questionable for a while is the offensive line, which protects Wilson. With second year left tackle Mekhi Becton being injured for most of the year, George Fant has been playing in his place and has emerged as a very good LT.
There are many holes on the defensive side of the ball however, second year cornerback Bryce Hall has stepped up to defend 14 passes in 2021, which is tied with the 6th most in the league. On the same trajectory is rookie corner Michael Carter II, drafted out of Duke. He was turned into a nickel cornerback by Saleh, and it has been paying off. When healthy, Carter II has been a shining light in the Jets defense and something tells me he will be a name Gang Green will be hearing a lot more of in years to come.
With the building blocks in place, here’s my assessment of what the Jets front office will do in both free agency and the 2022 draft:
With plenty of holes on the team and a lot of cap space to fix it, Douglas could have some fun in the free market this coming offseason.
Names such as Morgan Moses, Marcus Maye, Keelan Cole, Lamarcus Joyner and Braxton Berrios will be hitting free agency if New York don’t extend their contracts. With this in mind, players could be cut to give the team from Florham Park some more cap room to play with.
One position that needs addressing is Tight-End. With Tyker Kroft on a one-year-deal, Ryan Griffin, Dan Brown and Trevon Wesco taking up considerable wages and rookie Kenny Yeboah on the practice squad, there’s some dead wood there.
Assuming the Jets will give their tight-end room a reshuffle, Brown and Griffin could be out the door to free up some cap room, Wesco to stay and buddy up with a free agent signing:
Dalton Schultz: Step up the man from the Dallas Cowboys. Schultz is due to hit the free market this year and would be the perfect fit for the Jets bolster their options in both the pass and blocking game. Dallas has a lot of mouths to feed, especially on the offensive side of the ball and it would be tough for them to give Schultz a contract he’d deserve after the 2021 season. He had a relatively good year for the Cowboys and certainly started hot. It would be wise to give Wilson a player like Schultz, especially when a good tight end is a young QB’s best friend. Dalton can pass block as well as receive and it would be a perfect fit.
JC Jackson: The now New England Patriot would cost a lot of money but a team in the Jets’ position needs a lot of talent to help them succeed and a player of Jackson’s calibre would cost a lot of money. He has been excellent in pretty much every department for the Patriots this season and the Jets would have a day one starter in their ranks with this acquisition. With 7 interceptions and 20 passes defended this year for Jackson, they already stump the numbers from the previous years he’s played, and his signing would give New York two cornerbacks to build around for the future.
Connor Williams: The offensive guard from Dallas, Williams was drafted out of Texas. He has been a key part of the Cowboys line this season and with Dallas being renowned for having a good offensive line, it would make a whole lot of sense to add a guy of Williams’ quality to the trenches. After being in the league for 4 years, Williams is breaking out now after consecutively getting better and better. He plays on the left side for Dallas, but it wouldn’t be the hardest shift in his career to move to the right side after playing there in his rookie campaign. He could certainly complete the offensive line if you add a healthy Mekhi Becton to the ranks.
Those are just three players the Jets could go for in free agency. They would all cost a fair amount of money, but if Douglas wants to add quality as well as building through the draft then he is going to have to open the chequebook.
Realistically, it doesn’t matter who NYJ sign and draft; if Wilson isn’t up to the task in his second year and doesn’t make the jump, then the Jets’ chances of winning a good number of games is very slim. However, Gang Green have two picks in the top ten of the upcoming draft and should look to make them both count.
There are so many avenues Douglas could go down. There’s no point picking apart all of them, but there are a few I want to dive into.
With the first pick currently projected at #4, it could be the perfect time to find a man in the trenches. If the Jets don’t sign a right guard in free agency, then now is the perfect time to grab one. Ikem Ekwonu out of North Carolina State could be a great lineman for Douglas to draft. He has the power that’s needed at the position and would help complete a great growing offensive line. At the same time, Kenyon Green from Texas A&M is equally as highly touted coming out of college. Either of the players could add some worthy talent but it purely depends on what JD prefers.
Either way, it is highly likely one of the two first round picks will be an offensive lineman. So, with the Jets’ other first round pick – projected to be between 6 and 9 overall depending on how Seattle finishes the season, New York could look at bolstering their options in the secondary. Notre Dame Safety Kyle Hamilton could be the piece Gang Green are crying out for. The 6’4 hybird defensive player can be both a Safety and Linebacker, and coming out of Notre Dame he lives and breathes football. He has been tremendous for the fighting Irish in his years playing for them and could be a viable option for the Jets to draft in April.
If The Jets look outside OL or Safety with the first two picks, try an edge rusher and a wide receiver.
George Karlaftis from Purdue and Jameson Williams out of Alabama are two top-ten names to be aware of. Karlaftis in particular has been playing out of his skin for the Boilermakershis to see his draft stock rise, and the quarterback menace has become a hot name in draft circles. Carl Lawson was signed by Douglas in last year’s free agency frenzy, but injury kept him sidelined and he will be starting his career with the Jets in 2022. The question the Jets will be asking themselves is can the former Bengal reproduce the numbers he did in the 2020 season when he played for Cincinnati? If not, Karlaftis could fit the scheme.
Corey Davis and Elijah Moore are both superbly talented weapons, but with those two and the underwhelming Denzel Mims being the only contracted receivers heading into 2022, they aren’t enough. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will need some real firepower to help Wilson grow in his second season, and drafting Jameson Williams from Nick Saban’s production line would give the second year QB another option. It will be an interesting few months to wait to see which direction the Jets go, but there are certainly many options for them and they are in a very good position heading out of 2021 and into 2022.