Author: DAVID WYATT-HUPTON
The New York Jets offseason has officially begun, and across the league we have already seen a number of teams make quick changes. Change is a constant and already there have been established names on the move, with Mike Vrabel leaving Tennessee, Pete Carroll leaving Seattle as their Head Coach and Bill Belichick leaving New England.
For the Jets, Woody Johnson has confirmed that Robert Saleh will return for his 4th year, but there will be and needs to be change within the playing squad before we tackle a brand new season.
Over the next three weeks, we’re going to take a look at three pillars of the NFL offseason. Next week, we’ll focus on free agency and some of the names that will be available; then the week after it’s all about the NFL Draft with the Jets slated to pick #10 overall. But this week, I wanted to take a look at those Jets players who will be heading to free agency.
For the sake of this article, we’re going to focus solely on unrestricted free agents, those who are due to hit the free agent market and negotiate with any team with no constraints.
The Jets are heading into the offseason with 18 players set to be unrestricted free agents. There are a number of difficult decisions that need to be made on players like Kenny Yeboah, Bryce Hall and Ashtyn Davis.
Some players who signed one year deals last offseason are likely to move on, creating space for some roster turnover. I think it’s vital for the roster to experience some turnover; it generates fresh ideas and perspectives, and hopefully improves the overall performance of each unit.
Some of the players who signed one year deals include receiver Randall Cobb, tackle Billy Turner, center Connor McGovern, defensive linemen Quinton Jefferson, Solomon Thomas and Al Woods, as well as safety Chuck Clark who missed the entire 2023 season due to injury.
Besides players who have only just arrived, there are some longer term contracts set to expire at the turn of the new league year.
Carl Lawson experienced a frustrating year in 2023, and the expectation within the fanbase is that he’ll move onto new pastures, considering the strength in depth that the Jets have at the defensive end position.
Jordan Whitehead has been a mainstay for the Jets over the last two years at strong safety, and led the Jets in interceptions this season with four, including three in game one of the season.
Duane Brown has experienced a year of injury frustration and his contract is also set to expire.
Possibly the biggest question mark for the Jets revolves around the contract of impressive edge rusher Bryce Huff, who has experienced a meteoric rise from undrafted free agent to pass rush superstar. The former Memphis man is coming off a season in which he hit career highs in sacks (10), tackles (29), tackles for a loss (10) and QB hits (21).
Huff has already confirmed there will be no hometown discount for the Jets, and he’s looking for an opportunity to show that he’s an every down defensive end. Signing Bryce Huff will be priority number one when it comes to the Jets maintaining their own talent.
Retaining the special teams unit will be pretty high on that list as well. Greg Zuerlein and Thomas Morstead are about to hit free agency, but considering the seasons they’ve had and how much love the fanbase has for them, I imagine Special Teams coordinator Brant Boyer will be banging on Joe Douglas’ door to get the deals done as quickly as possible.
We haven’t always experienced consistency with our special teams, but when you have good players in that unit, it’s important to keep hold of them. Zuerlein hit over 90% of his field goals this year; you don’t want to let that leg walk.
You also can’t talk about special teams without mentioning ST captain Justin Hardee, who’s also set to hit free agency. Hardee is the epitome of energy and conviction, and has been a leader both on and off the field for the Jets since he arrived from New Orleans; if he were to leave, he’d be a big absence.
Another big decision looms over offensive tackle, Mekhi Becton. The former first-round pick enjoyed a healthy season, but an inconsistent one. The Jets will need to decide if they believe that Becton will improve after finding his feet in 2023 following back-to-back injuries that forced him to miss multiple seasons.
As fans, we become attached to certain players and saying goodbye is sometimes the hardest thing to do. But just as General Managers will make the best decision for their own teams, players will make the best decision for themselves and their families. Some will sign on and stay in New Jersey, while others will see their future elsewhere.
All we know is that it’s going to be a key off-season for the Jets who have Super Bowl aspirations in 2024.