Considering the weakened state of their roster, just about all of the moves the New York Jets have made figure to be upgrades. However, improving on 2017’s edition of the Jets is but a lowly task. The end goal is to build a championship contender. Have the deals the Jets have made put the team on a healthy path towards contention?
Those are the defining questions. When you bury yourself as deep as the Jets have in recent years, finding upgrades to your roster is not a difficult task. The challenge is improving in the short-term without hindering your ability to improve long-term, both through maintaining draft flexibility and cap flexibility.
Let’s look at a few of the Jets’ highest profile free agent moves and discuss the ceiling and floor of each.
Earlier in the offseason I had Bridgewater as my #1 second-tier quarterback option for the Jets after Kirk Cousins. Mike Maccagnan granted my wish! Thanks, Mike!
The upside is all there. As a very young quarterback thrown right into the fray on a team with a less-than-ideal offensive line, he was a solidly productive passer who showcased a ton of potential with his accuracy and pocket play, along with underrated mobility. He went 17-11 in his first two seasons while posting completion percentage numbers rarely seen from young quarterbacks (over the past decade, only Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson have had completion percentages as high as Bridgewater’s relative to league average in their first two seasons). Despite missing two straight years, he is still only 25 years old (younger than Bryce Petty).
As young as he still is while having played solid, winning football as a raw quarterback, there’s no questioning that the ceiling still hasn’t been constructed yet for Bridgewater.
The reason I love this signing is that the downside is basically non-existent. It’s a one-year, incentive-laden, low cost deal. Bridgewater will be highly motivated and the Jets aren’t locked into anything beyond this year. If he plays well, they can figure out a way to lock up their potential franchise quarterback or they can trade him for a king’s ransom while handing the keys to a 2018 draft pick, like the Chiefs did with Alex Smith and Pat Mahomes. If he struggles or doesn’t hit the field, zero harm done.
Johnson’s size makes him a prototype fit to be a #1 corner in Todd Bowles’ defense. While I thought he was merely “good” as a Ram and not quite “elite,” he has all the tools to reach that level and will have a good chance of getting there with his new surroundings in New York. There have been a lot of advanced numbers circulating supporting this perception.
At the very least, you can expect Johnson to hold down the #1 role respectably, which has a trickle-down effect that helps the rest of the defense. Morris Claiborne is primed to thrive as a #2 (providing he stays healthy, which somebody says in every single conversation surrounding him). Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye get much-needed stress relief and can settle into roles they are more comfortable in.
Johnson is already 28, and the Jets are locked into him for his age-28 and age-29 seasons. Entering his age-30 season, they can finally save $3M in space by cutting him, but that’s while also eating $12M in dead money (see the details at overthecap.com), an enormous amount. Could Johnson avoid becoming an albatross in his early 30s?
This is by all means a bargain signing relative to Crowell’s production. Crowell is still only 25 and ranks top 15 in the NFL in both rush yards and rush touchdowns since entering the league, while still boasting an above-average YPC. Netting him at 3 years, $12M is a steal, especially compared to players like Jerick McKinnon and Dion Lewis who received much more for less production. Crowell’s between-the-tackles style compliments Bilal Powell (if he sticks) and Elijah McGuire well.
Contract-wise, there is little prohibitive about Crowell’s deal. It’s backloaded, with a $2M hit in the first year followed by $5M in each of the next two (details), but the Jets can get out with $3M in savings compared to $2M in dead money after one year.
My concern is that this deal prohibits the Jets from drafting a back. The post-round one running back has been an absolute gold mine in the past few years; one of the best ways to find positive production in not only the draft, but out of any team-building strategy. Jordan Howard. Alvin Kamara. Derrick Henry. Kareem Hunt. Le’Veon Bell. Dalvin Cook. Jay Ajayi. I am missing plenty of tremendous names and I could go on forever with productive backs who were acquired in the middle of the draft. Not that it should matter, but this is also poised to be a great RB class. I hope Crowell doesn’t lead the Jets to settle for what they have in the backfield.
Initially I was very upset that the Jets settled on Long over Weston Richburg and Ryan Jensen. The grades out there will lead you to believe he is a bad center.
However, after digging into some film, I’ve come away convinced that Long is a perfectly average center. He is a good pass protector and decent run blocker, while possessing experience in the zone scheme the Jets figure to run. At only 27 with just a pair of seasons at center under his belt, he has a lot of room to get even better deep into his career. Center is absolutely a position that sees a high rate of players thriving into their 30s.
Injuries. Long missed nine games last year and has yet to play a full season. Whether or not he improves his game, especially as a player with as little NFL experience at his current position as he does, will hinge on his health.
Long’s reported 4-year, $28 million deal will also put him somewhere among the top 10-15 paid centers in the league. As of right now, I think he’s on the outside looking in of that top 15 range. While he is a major upgrade for a talent-starved team, the goal isn’t to get from “bad” to “less bad.” It’s to get “good.” Can Long make that personal progression?
Williamson received a very comparable contract to Demario Davis after having a very comparable season peformance-wise. Since he’s 3 years younger than Davis, who cashed in off of one good season, that qualifies as very good business.
Williamson is a good athlete with strong discipline and finishing ability against the run, along with the range to make plays from sideline to sideline. While his pass coverage has been much-maligned and thought to be his primary weakness, I noticed a lot of legitimate potential from him to be at least an adequate pass defender. He also has been lauded as a very good locker room presence, which is a hole left by Davis.
Most have assumed that Williamson is basically a three-years-younger Demario Davis. He can absolutely be that, and obviously the Jets think he will be, but it’s more projection than you might have thought.
Williamson played only 60% of Tennessee’s defensive snaps last year, coming off the field on most third downs. Davis, despite his infamous coverage abilities (or lack thereof), played 99.8%. The Jets expertly masked Davis’ coverage deficiencies, deferring coverage deficiencies to others (who didn’t do much better, if at all), but he still managed to produce at a high level playing every single snap. Can Williamson do that? Everything I have watched so far has me thinking he is capable. However, it’s still all projection and hope. It’s a gamble to make a player who only took the field on 60% of snaps a top-ten paid inside linebacker.
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