Many times in Jets history and specifically the past decade, fans and media members use the term “make or break” when it comes to the Jets and what many consider the Jets time to shine, free agency and the draft. Under Joe Douglas’s regime the Jets are 13-35 and 2-15 (Pending Sunday 2-16) in the AFC East and haven’t won an AFC East game since a meaningless week 17 victory over the Matt Barkley led Bills in the rain. To make the picture even bleaker the Jets haven’t been to the playoffs since 2010 and have had 1 winning season since 2010. Safe to say things have been truly pretty brutal for the Jets but 2021 offered up a chance for true change from top to bottom. In the past the Jets have gone with the quick fix method, the long rebuild method and neither of them have worked. Robert Saleh, Joe Douglas and Zach Wilson as a trio gave fans a reason to hope going into this season. While things haven’t gone fully according to plan things are finally ticking up for a franchise who has experienced almost solely negativity for a decade.
While the 2021 season offered plenty of optimism after a training camp that included a franchise-changing edge rusher, a franchise left tackle, a rookie highly touted rookie QB, a Wide Receiver Core and Defensive Line that provided excitement and depth as well as a young coaching staff and the youngest roster in the NFL that finally gave a fan base with almost zero expectations some hope. In typical Jets fashion Carl Lawson tore his achilles during training camp, Mehki Becton got rolled up on during the season opener and missed the entire season, Zach Wilson took a late hit to the knee against the Patriots and missed 4 games, Corey Davis Elijah Moore, Michael Carter, Marcus Maye, Bryce Huff, Connor McGovern, George Fant, Tyler Kroft, LaMarcus Joyner all missed handful of games if not season ending injured reserve for most of them. The Jets season provided some true excitement from their young core with 3 separate guys being the NFL rookie of the week, impressive breakouts from guys like Alijah Vera-Tucker, Bryce Hall, Michael Carter, Michael Carter II, Elijah Moore, Brandin Echols and others. Zach Wilson who struggled mightily outside of 6 quarters through the first 12 weeks of the season, has started to flash in through the air and with his legs and started to show a true ability to protect the football, leaving fans truly excited for the 2022 offseason. Robert Saleh, Jeff Ulbrich and Mike LaFleur have all had their ups and downs as first time a first time head coach and coordinators abut specifically in the case of LaFleur and to an extent Saleh the Jets should feel really good about their staff and young core. 4 wins and being eliminated by Thanksgiving from the playoffs going forward isn’t going to fly one bit, but there is something to be said for the experience and reps that this young staff and roster got this season.
While the 2021 season brought disappointment with a side of some excitement, the real good times seem to be ahead and the 2022 offseason provides the Jets a chance to build a roster that can win next year and for years in the future. The Jets control the entire draft process this year due to the trades of Jamal Adams, Sam Darnold and Chris Herndon. 4 potential top 40 picks including 2 in the top 7, and 5 in the top 100 in the draft means the Jets have the ability to bring in a ton of top tier talent to build a roster that desperately needs potential pro bowl level players. The Jets also go into the 2022 free agency period with 51.8 million dollars in cap space which is 8th most in the NFL per Spotrac, as well as 32.1 million dollar of dead cap space falling off the books as well as big non-guaranteed contracts that could easily create more flexibility like Shaq Lawson who would create an additional 10 million of space. There are a few free upcoming free agents that Joe Douglas may look to bring back like Braxton Berrios who has impressed in the role of backup slot and as a returner. Berrios likely will get a 3 year, 15 million dollar deal and resign with the Jets. The other name to watch is Marcus Maye. Maye played at a pro bowl level in 2020 and most expected him to be extended last offseason but the Jets and Maye were far apart on money and ended up with the franchise tag. Maye tore his achilles against the Colts and should be ready to go for week 1 next year, but the Jets will have a decision whether to tag, extend or let Maye walk. Joe Doulgas will have a decision to make on 2 interior defensive lineman in Quinnen Williams who is in line for an extension and Foley Fatukasi who is a leader and good run stuffer but could command between 8-9 million dollars a year on a new deal and doesn’t seem like the best allocation of resources for a team struggling to rush the passer. If the team and Fatukasi can agree to a team friendly deal he will likely be back in 2022, but with the drafting of Jonathan Marshall and the NFL moving away from 2 gapping defensive tackles it is more likely that not he will walk. Last but not least Laurant Duvernay-Tardif who has done a nice job since coming over from the Chiefs at the trading deadline. “LDT” in addition to a day 2 guard could help the Jets continue to improve their offensive line and continue to develop their QB.
Looking forward to what some potential options are for the Jets to add likely between 7 and 10 new starters to this roster in addition to depth they have a lot of options. Starting with the veteran trade market, somewhere I believe the Jets have to be very active in there are names like Michael Thomas, Danielle Hunter, Calvin Ridley, Noah Fant and others who could be potential targets depending on the price. When the Jets built a young core in 2007 and 2008 they added veterans through trade like Braylon Edwards, Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes and other with day 2 and 3 picks in order to improve the roster right away. Next there is free agency where the Jets need to start consistently hitting. This has probably been the biggest weak spot in Joe Douglas’ regime and is something that needs to change in order for the Jets to compete for a wild card spot next year and a Super Bowl in years to come. From people I have spoken to, the Jets are expected to be very active in free agency specifically addressing the Tight End and Safety positions where between the draft and free agency the Jets need multiple of both positions. Names like Marcus Williams, Jessie Bates, Dalton Schultz, Robert Tonyan, David Njoku, Evan Engram would be names to watch, as well as other positions where you could see the Jets target guys like Mike Williams, De’Vondre Campbell, J.C. Jackson, Brandon Scherff and others. The Jets need to hit on way more George Fant type signings then Jarad Davis day 1 of free agency signings.
Lastly, the NFL Draft. There is no more exciting day for most NFL fans because everyone matters and everyone has hope during the draft. Like I mentioned earlier the Jets control the 2022 draft and need to bring in a bunch of guys who can contribute day 1. Names to watch for the Jets on the first 2 days of the draft would be George Karlaftis, David Ojabo and Mjayi Sanders at edge, Tyler Linderbaum, Evan Neal, Charles Cross, Ikem Ekwonu and Zion Johnson for offensive line, Drake London, Jameson Williams, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Trey Burks as well as Jahan Dotson and David Bell at wideout, Sauce Garnder, Derrick Stingley, Khair Elam, Andrew Booth and Kyle Hamilton to help the secondary and guys like Trey McBride, Jeremy Ruckert, Nakobi Dean, Jordan Battle, and Devin Lloyd as some other names to watch. Depending on how the board plays out I think it is totally reasonable to assume the Jets will trade back with one of the two top 10 picks in an effort to accumulate more day 2 picks and future capital to add as many talented players to this roster as possible. The Jets aren’t 1 or 2 guys away, they’re probably 10-12 players overall from getting to where they want.
The Jets must use every avenue this offseason to improve this roster both at the top as well as depth pieces. Most importantly for the Jets is going to be Zach Wilson’s improvement and taking a large sized leap next year, but it is just going to be down to Wilson and his improvement. Guys like Mehki Becton and Carl Lawson and Corey Davis need to come back like their 2020 form, they need another leap from the 2021 class and to see if they get anything consistent from guys like Jason Pinnock and Ashtyn Davis at safety and while unlikely anything from Denzel Mims. The expectation for this franchise is going to competing for a wild card spot and being competitive and winning AFC east games. The Jets control the 2022 offseason and excuses are off the table, get it done and go win games.