Free Agency Predictions for the Jets

Stephen Zantz provides his free agency predictions.

NFL Free Agency is just a few weeks away and the New York Jets are poised to be big players in 2021. The Jets are scheduled to have the 3rd most cap space assuming no other moves are made to clear additional cap. I put together 5 realistic signings based on the roster as currently constructed.

Juju Smith-Schuster (WR Pittsburgh Steelers) – Juju caused a lot of controversy this past season for dancing on the opposing teams logo pregame to make TikTok videos. This should not be a reason the Jets choose to not pursue him next month. Despite heading into to his 5th season, Juju only turns 25 in November of this year. Fans should not forget how productive Juju was in 2017 and 2018. He caught 7 TDs in each of those seasons while clearing 1,400 yds receiving in 2018. 2019 and 2020 were disappointing seasons for Juju but there are factors that worked against him. In 2019, he had Duck Hodges and Mason Rudolph throwing him the ball most of the season. Both of those guys aren’t viable NFL QBs. Last year, Big Ben looked like he lost a step as the season went on. The Steelers got off to a hot start in part due to their elite defense. Juju was never on the same page as Ben which was a factor in his dip in production. A new situation can certainly benefit Juju and have play like the receiver we saw in his first 2 seasons. Juju signs a 4-year $48 million deal ($27 million guaranteed).

Joe Thuney (Guard New England Patriots) – There was a lot of speculation Joe Douglas planned to break the bank for Joe Thuney in free agency last year. Unfortunately, the Patriots slapped the franchise tag on Thuney which blocked this from happening. It’s not secret the Jets need help on the interior of their offensive line. Thuney would be a massive upgrade from Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten. Thuney ranked as the 10th best guard in the NFL according to PFF’s guard grades in 2020. Thuney allowed 2 sacks and committed 3 penalties. Considering the QB play was brutal for the Pats, the performance could not be blamed on lack of pass protection. Apart from bringing in one of the top FA receivers, Joe Thuney should be atop the Jets board. I personally believe there is no price that is too high to steal him away from New England. Thuney signs a 5-year $66 million deal ($40 million guaranteed).

Jonnu Smith (Tight End Tennessee Titans) – The Jets are in dire need of upgrades at all skill positions. The only player that I believe is a lock to be a contributor in 2021 currently is Denzel Mims. After the 2018 season, Jet fans were optimistic that the team may have found their most talented tight end since Dustin Keller. Chris Herndon flashed big play potential and had a strong connection with Sam Darnold. It turns out Herndon may have been lightning in a bottle because he has failed to consistently show he can be relied upon in the offense. Tight end isn’t the biggest need on the roster but Jonnu Smith is someone worth monitoring. He isn’t known for his ability to block but he is one helluva athlete. Smith reeled in 8 TDs for the Titans and was a major factor in the offense when AJ Brown was out with an injury. His ability to draw attention in the red zone is something that has to be intriguing for the Jets. He has shown incremental growth each season since he entered the league in 2017. His stats have steadily improved in each area and he may be headed towards a major breakout at age 26 if given a larger role. His blocking deficiencies may be a turnoff for Joe Douglas since he wants to build a wall around his quarterback. I think this is worth a swing to push Herndon and give the Jets a legit redzone threat. Smith signs a 4-year $27 million deal ($14 million guaranteed).

Trey Hendrickson (Edge New Orleans Saints) – This may not be a familiar name to Jets fans as Trey busted onto the scene in 2020. He was tied for 2nd in the NFL with 13.5 sacks. A surprising stat considering he is not a household name. The Saints are in salary cap hell, so they will have trouble resigning their top FAs but will also have to cut players who are under contract just to comply to the 2021 cap. There is certainly risk for a player like Hendrickson. He only racked up 6.5 sacks combined in his first 3 seasons in the NFL. Given his age (26), it’s hard to not be intrigued by what he can do over the next few seasons. The Jets have not had a strong pass rush since the days of Shaun Ellis and John Abraham. It’s about time they make a serious play to get some pressure on the QB. Prior to 2020, Hendrickson was also strong against the run (per PFF) which is also a plus to help Quinnen and the rest of the defensive line. Trey signs a 3-year $45 million deal ($20 million guaranteed).

Patrick Peterson (Cornerback Arizona Cardinals) – Since the moment Robert Saleh was hired by the Jets, Richard Sherman has been the most popular name linked to the Jets. He has been thought to be Saleh’s “Bart Scott” in reference to Rex’s first year with the Jets. Pat Pete should be the veteran cornerback the Jets target. His play has definitely taken a step back in the past 2 seasons but his leadership and IQ is something this young defense needs. The Jets are extremely young at the CB position and need someone to help teach the younger players but also be productive on one side of the field. Peterson was a top 3 corner over the last decade and has something left in the tank. He is only 31 (2 years younger than Sherman) and could be had on a 1-year deal. The Jets should absolutely explore bringing him in and I believe they will. Peterson signs a 1 year $11 million deal ($8 million guaranteed).