Mike Fanelli | January 24th, 2019
The 2018 season may not have gone the way New York Jet fans may have wanted it to go but in the long run, it was exactly what the team needed. Many expected the Jets to finish as one of the bottom two teams in the AFC East this season but despite a disappointing season that ended at 4-12, there were some bright spots.
After trading up in last year’s draft to get Sam Darnold, the 21-year-old quarterback looks like the franchise’s long term face of the franchise. Unfortunately, in order to secure Darnold, the Jets had to give up their second-round pick in the 2019 draft. However, the Jets made a very smart front office decision by signing Teddy Bridgewater last offseason to a one year contract.
Because of the uncertainty around the health of his knee, Bridgewater was only able to secure a one year deal worth $6 million dollars with just $1 million guaranteed from the Jets. After showing he is healthy, the Jets were able to trade Bridgewater to the Saints for a 2019 third round pick. For the cost of $1 million dollars, the Jets were able to buy themselves a top 100 draft pick. The additional draft pick is critical as the Jets have many areas they need to improve in 2019.
What Went Right:
As bad as this sounds, the Jets lost enough games to secure a top three pick in the 2019 draft. The team needs an early pick, as they only have a few young impact players. With Darnold in the fold, combined with a weak quarterback draft class, the Jets should be able to flip that number three pick for plenty of assets.
In week one, Darnold looked really good, leading the Jets to a beat down win over the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football. Ironically, Darnold’s first career pass was a pick six on a play where he threw across his body and clearly made a rookie mistake. However, Darnold went 15-20 for 198 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the game, winning 48-17.
After a streak of games where Darnold really struggled, he got hurt and missed three games with a foot injury. After returning from the injury, Darnold played pretty well completing 64% of his passes while throwing for 931 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception over the last month of the season. While Darnold got a lot of the attention (rightfully so) there was another rookie that had a good season.
A fourth-round pick, tight end Chris Herndon wasn’t known by many Jet fans entering the season, but entering the 2019 offseason he is a critical part of the long term plan. In the first half of the season, Herndon was on the field for just 50.9% of the snaps compared to 71.2% in the second half. In addition, in the first half of the season, Herndon had just one game with 50 or more receiving yards compared to four games in the second half. Herndon may never turn into a star player but he looks like the long term starter at tight end.
Herndon wasn’t the only Jets receiver to have a good season, starting wide receiver Robby Anderson had his second straight season with 50 plus catches, 750 plus receiving yards and six-plus touchdowns. However, Anderson is a restricted free agent after the season and needs to be resigned.
While the Jets didn’t have a ton of success this season, they did get three players named to the pro bowl. Second-year safety Jamal Adams, kicker Jason Myers and return specialist Andre Roberts will be heading to Orlando in a couple of weeks. Of the trio, Adams isn’t a surprise given that he is one of the best up and coming safeties in the league, and the leader of the Jets’ defense.
Myers was a bit of a surprise but he easily made a career-high 91.7% of his field goals this season while making six of seven kicks from 50 plus yards. While Roberts was either first or second in every kick off return category this season, including leading the league with 1,174 return yards.
Despite no elite pass rusher, the Jets were tied for 16th in the league in sacks with 39 in large part to having four players with five or more. Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and defensive end Henry Anderson tied for the team high with seven sacks each, while outside linebacker Brandon Copeland and defensive end Leonard Williams tied for third with five sacks each. While the Jets need to add at least one pass rush threat in the offseason, they have a good starting core.
What Went Wrong:
After the impressive win on Monday Night Football against the Lions, the Jets lost three straight games before winning back-to-back games against the Broncos and Colts to get to 3-3 on the season. Unfortunately, the running game suffered injuries and struggled, forcing more on Darnold’s plate that he wasn’t able to handle and the Jets went on the lose six straight and nine of their last ten games.
While the season was expected to result in an early draft slot, the Jets will be picking third overall and then they won’t pick again till 68th overall because of the Darnold trade. Now hopefully the Jets can take advantage of a poor quarterback class with several needy teams and move back from their number three spot in order to acquire more picks, but in any trade, it takes two to tango.
Outlook for the Offseason:
The offseason for the Jets has already kicked off. Todd Bowles was fired after going 4-12 this season and 24-40 overall in four seasons with the Jets. They hired recently fired Miami Dolphins’ head coach Adam Gase and there are mixed feelings on him. Some think he will give Darnold the offensive-minded coach he needs to take the next step in his development, while others are concerned by Gase’s 23-25 record in Miami and how Ryan Tannehill struggled at times. Only time will tell what the Jets get out of Gase.
Besides changing several coaching spots, the Jets locked up starting wide receiver Quincy Enunwa to a 4yr/$36M extension that will have a very limited impact on their cap space this spring as his cap number for 2019 is just $2.8 million dollars.
Details on Enunwa's contract: 4 yrs/$33.4M. Total guarantee: $20.25M. Full guarantee: $10M (includes $9M sign bonus, pro-rated over 5 yr). Cap: 2019- $2.8M, 2020 – $7.8M, 2021 – $9.6M, 2022 – $11.4M. 2020 base ($6M) gtd for injury only, becomes fully gtd on 5th day of LY. #Jets
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) January 8, 2019
While some Jets fans are concerned with giving Enunwa $9 million dollars average annual value in this extension, the Jets can release him next offseason and save $6 million dollars in cap space provided they do it before the fifth day of the new league year.
According to over the cap, the Jets are projected to have $99 million dollars in cap space but currently have just 30 players under contract for next season and have a few key free agents they need to resign. Anderson is a primary free agent the Jets need to resign and as a restricted free agent they have all the control with him. Other key free agents including starting defensive end Anderson, back up quarterback Josh McCown, starting cornerbacks Mo Claiborne and Buster Skrine, starting guard James Carpenter and return man Roberts.
Of those free agents, the two Andersons shouldn’t be allowed to hit the open market. I’m not saying the Jets should place the transition or franchise tag on either player but Robby Anderson will likely get a first or second round tender and the Jets should do try to keep Henry Anderson from hitting the open market and negotiate a long term deal at the NFL combine.
Of the other free agents, McCown is most likely to return (assuming he doesn’t retire) as I don’t see any NFL team giving him a starting role at 39 years old and he has a really good relationship as Darnold’s mentor. Claiborne should be a priority for the Jets but only at the right price as the draft and free agency class is pretty solid at cornerback. Starting caliber offensive linemen are hard to find and while Carpenter isn’t great, he’s solid enough and should be brought back. It would be nice for the Jets to bring back Roberts but only at the right price as he just turned 31 years old.
With so much cap space, the Jets aren’t likely to have many, if any, cap casualties but Spencer Long was signed last offseason to be the starting center and he was awful this season. The Jets can release Long and save $6.5 million dollars against the cap and I fully expect that to happen at some point soon. The Jets can also release Isaiah Crowell and save $3 million dollars in cap space but I don’t think they will do that unless they can sign an elite running back in free agency.
With plenty of cap space, the Jets should be aggressive in free agency, even overpaying for some players in order to put a complete team around Darnold. Here is a list of some free agents who should be on the Jets radar.
Big Name Options:
- Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers
- Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons
- Tyrell Williams, WR, Chargers
- Adam Humphries, WR, Buccaneers
- Trent Brown, OT, Patriots
- Mitch Morse, C, Chiefs
- Matt Paradis, C, Broncos
- Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE, Texans
- Dee Ford, EDGE, Chiefs
- Brandon Graham, EDGE, Eagles
- Dante Fowler Jr., EDGE, Rams
- Bradley Roby, CB, Broncos (assuming they don’t resign Claiborne)
This list includes a lot of players who probably won’t hit the open market like Morse and Clowney. However, the Jets should look to upgrade every spot on the roster other than quarterback and safety. Adding Bell would give Darnold a multi-purpose running back that can take a ton of pressure off of him. If the Jets miss on Bell, signing Coleman to go along with Crowell would be a nice one-two punch.
Resigning Anderson is important for the Jets but adding another wide receiver is critical. Williams and Humphries are the two most underrated free agents at their position and I expect both to cash in this offseason. Williams would give Darnold another big physical deep threat, while Humphries would give him a trustworthy third down move the chains guy.
As flashy as adding playmakers is, the Jets need to do a better job protecting Darnold, as the offensive line allowed 37 sacks this season. Adding Morse or Paradis at center would be a huge upgrade over Long. However, I think the Jets have the best odds of signing is Brown. The Patriots typically don’t pay big money to keep their own free agents and with last year’s first-round pick Isaiah Wynn expected to start next season, Brown could be available and the Jets should jump all over him.
Adding an edge rusher is a must for the Jets this offseason and while that could come in the draft, adding one of the elite guys like Clowney or Ford would be awesome. Clowney is expected to be franchise tagged by the Texans but Ford could hit the open market, if he does the Jets should be on the phone with him the second free agency starts. If they can’t sign either, Graham or Fowler would be a nice fallback plan. With Trumaine Johnson locked in as one starter cornerback the Jets will need to find a replacement opposite of him if Claiborne isn’t resigned and Roby could be a younger and cheaper option.
While money might be the biggest factor for a lot of free agents, the Jets don’t have the best reputation as a well-run organization and if they miss out on some of the bigger name options, they should turn to some cheap bargain values that could include these players.
Cheap Bargain Values:
- Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
- Randall Cobb, WR, Packers
- Devin Funchess, WR, Panthers
- Shaquil Barrett, EDGE, Broncos
- Shane Ray, EDGE, Broncos
- Danny Shelton, DL, Patriots
- Bennie Logan, DL, Titans
- Jason Verrett, CB, Chargers
If the Jets can’t sign Bell or Coleman, Ingram would be a nice veteran option to take pressure off Darnold and youngster Elijah McGuire. The Packers aren’t expected to resign Cobb this offseason and with his history of injuries, the Jets should be able to sign him on a one year prove it kind of deal for cheap. Funchess fell off a cliff in Carolina this season and could be signed for a similar prove it kind of deal.
With Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, the Broncos aren’t likely to resign both if either of Barrett and Ray; both would prove some solid depth and experience at outside linebacker. If the Jets don’t offer 33-year-old Steve McLendon a new contract, Shelton and Logan would both be younger options to replace him at nose tackle. While Verrett has played in just five games over the last three seasons because of injuries, he likely could be signed dirt cheap in hopes of showing he can stay healthy.
When it comes to the draft, Jet fans should be excited and want to know what players they should take with their picks, but I don’t want to give player names because we have over three months of evaluating to do before the draft. Also, free agency and trades will have an impact on how the team drafts so take these suggestions lightly. With three picks in the top 100, the Jets need to have a good year drafting despite no second round pick.
- First Round (#3 overall): Trade back if possible, otherwise Offensive Lineman
Without a second round pick and poor quarterback class, I fully expect the Jets to trade out of this spot to a quarterback-needy team. With the Giants and Jaguars picking in the top seven a team like the Broncos at 10 or Bengals at 11 would be a perfect trade partner for the Jets to move back, add picks and still get an impact player. If the Jets can’t make a trade adding an offensive lineman should be the pick as protecting Sam Darnold is the most important priority this offseason.
- Third Round (#68 overall): Cornerback
Even if Claiborne is resigned or another starter is added as his replacement in free agency, the Jets lack youth and depth at the position. The Jets haven’t spent a fifth-round pick or higher on a cornerback in the past two drafts and this class should have plenty of depth that the Jets can find a future starter in the early third round.
- Third Round (#95 overall): Offensive Lineman
This is the pick the Jets got in the Bridgewater trade and it will come in handy. In case it wasn’t clear earlier, the Jets need to make protecting Darnold their number one priority this offseason. The Indianapolis Colts had one of the worst offensive lines in 2017, then spent two early draft picks on offensive lineman in last year’s draft and now have one of the best offensive lines in the league. For the Jets, there is no such thing as adding too many offensive linemen this offseason.
Many Jet fans will hope that with a big offseason, the Jets will be in playoff contention next season. While that is a possibility as we have seen teams make major offseason changes over the past couple of years and make the playoffs the following season like the Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears, I don’t think the Jets will make the playoffs in 2019. However, if the Jets finish around .500 while Darnold and the offense takes a major step forward, Jet fans should consider the season a success and have big expectations for the 2020 season.
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