Jets running out of premium options for WRs in free agency

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Sunday, March 17, 2024

FLORHAM PARK, N.J.-- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Receiver wanted: Now that Aaron Rodgers has a new protection detail -- we're talking a revamped offensive line, not the Secret Service -- the focus shifts to wide receiver.

When Rodgers arrived 11 months ago, his receiving corps included holdovers Garrett Wilson and Corey Davis, newcomers/old friends Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb and newcomer Mecole Hardman -- a deep and balanced group on paper.

It never worked out. Wilson and Lazard are the only ones left, and Lazard, who was benched last season, could be on thin ice. Rodgers, who has said in multiple interviews they need to add a receiver, might be wondering about the state of his weaponry because the Jets failed to address the position in the first wave of free agency.

The options are rapidly dwindling, and there's mounting pressure on general manager Joe Douglas to deliver for his future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Douglas, who had some degree of interest in Jerry Jeudy and Keenan Allen before they were traded to the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears, respectively, still is exploring the trade market, a source said. Tee Higgins has requested a trade from the Cincinnati Bengals andSan Francisco 49ersstar Brandon Aiyuk is rumored to have wandering eyes, but there's no concrete evidence to suggest either one is available.

The most sensible plan for the bargain-hunting Douglas is to sign a moderately priced free agent and then dip into the deep pool of receivers in the draft. Talent evaluators believe the quality will stretch into the third round, when the Jets make their second pick (they traded their second-round choice for Rodgers).

As for free agents, it's a middling group that includes a fading star (Odell Beckham Jr.), a star coming off ACL surgery (Mike Williams), a steady WR3 (Tyler Boyd) and another Rodgers crony (Marquez Valdes-Scantling). Williams is reportedly visiting this week. Also keep an eye on Beckham, whom they almost signed last year.

Davis, who applied for reinstatement after opting to sit out last season, is available. The Jets would welcome him back to compete for a roster spot, but the sense is that he will explore the market and prefers a team closer to his home in Nashville, Tennessee.

For now, the Jets' top three receivers are Wilson and second-year players Xavier Gipson and Jason Brownlee, the latter two of whom combined for 26 catches as rookies. Perhaps soon Rodgers will be on the campaign trail -- for a receiver.

2. Tyron's impact: The addition of former Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith does three things: It completes the initial phase of the offensive line rebuild; it allows the Jets to keep Alijah Vera-Tucker at guard; and it opens the draft board with the 10th pick.

The Jets' current starting five, from left to right: Smith, John Simpson (via free agency), Joe Tippmann, Vera-Tucker and Morgan Moses (via trade). On paper, it's a significantly better line than last season.

Before the Smith deal, most folks in the mock drafting world had the Jets selecting a tackle at 10, but now they could go wide receiver or tight end, perhaps Georgia's Brock Bowers. In a perfect world, they'd like to trade down to pick up another top-100 pick. Right now, they have only two.

The additions of Smith and Moses won't preclude them from drafting a tackle -- they're 33 years old, on one-year contracts -- but it certainly reduces the need.

3. All-in: The Smith move reflects the sense of urgency felt throughout the organization, which was put on alert by owner Woody Johnson after another disappointing season. Smith is a quick-fix/high-risk player.

If the eight-time Pro Bowler is on his game, the Jets will have their best left tackle since D'Brickashaw Ferguson a decade ago. If injuries remain an issue (37 missed games over the past four seasons) and he succumbs to Father Time, it will draw comparisons to the Duane Brown and Ryan Clady disasters. Smith allowed two sacks in his last game, Dallas' playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. Maybe it was just a bad day at the office.

Financially, the Jets protected themselves with an incentive-heavy, one-year contract that includes less than $7 million in guarantees.

4. Clowney on the radar:With Bryce Huff and Quinton Jefferson signing with the Philadelphia Eagles and Browns, respectively, the Jets lost 33% of their sack production. They're in the market for an edge rusher and reportedly will host former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney on Tuesday for a free agent visit. Clowney, 31, recorded 9.5 sacks last season for the Baltimore Ravens as a three-down player. It will be interesting to see if the Jets view him as a situational pass rusher -- essentially, Huff's role -- or as a starting defensive end. In other words, do they see him as a potential replacement for John Franklin-Myers?He's still is a productive, three-down player, but his cap charge is $16.4 million.

5. Jefferson memorial: When the Jets signed defensive tackles Javon Kinlaw and Leki Fotu, the natural assumption was that they had moved on from Jefferson. Not so. They wanted him back.

The Jets were given a chance to match the one-year, $3.6 million contract offer he received from the Browns, but they took too long to respond, two sources said. Jefferson had agreed to terms with Cleveland by the time the Jets answered.

Jefferson's agent, Jared Fox, said: "Quinton is agreed to terms with the Browns and, from my perspective, the Jets handled the situation professionally, with appropriate speed, and without any delay."

6. Oldies, but goodies: The Jets might be getting younger at some positions, but not quarterback.

Rodgers is 40 years old. Newly-signed backup Tyrod Taylor will be 35 by the start of the season. The Jets will have the oldest quarterback room in the league. In fact, they will be the first team to have two quarterbacks in the 35-and-up category on their Week 1 roster since the 2020 Atlanta Falcons with Matt Ryan (35) and Matt Schaub (39), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It also happened with the 2016New Orleans Saintswith Drew Brees (37) and Luke McCown (35).

This isn't the first time for Taylor as the junior quarterback. In 2019, he backed up Philip Rivers (38) on the Los Angeles Chargers.

7. Tough dude, but ...: Taylor showed last season that he can still play. With the New York Giants, he ranked 19th out of 41 quarterbacks in expected points added/play, based on a minimum of 200 dropbacks. (By the way, Zach Wilson was 40th). The question with Taylor is his durability.

In his 13-year career, he's had fractured ribs and four documented concussions, plus hamstring, wrist and groin injuries. Now he's backing up a quarterback with a surgically repaired Achilles. The Jets are hoping the injury gods smile on them for a change.

8. For sale: Speaking of Wilson, his New Jersey condo went on the market about 10 days ago, the New York Post reported. The Jets are trying to find a new home for him, but the trade market hasn't been kind.

9. One for the team: By reworking his contract and providing cap relief, middle linebacker C.J. Mosley secured his roster spot this season and enhanced his chances of returning in 2025. This was important to their defensive captain, who turns 32 on June 19. He's a heart-and-soul player who has often talked about wanting to be around when the Jets break through.

In terms of basic accounting, he took a pay cut, converting $17 million (nonguaranteed) for the final year of his deal into a two-year contract for $17.25 million ($13.25 million guaranteed).

It took a while to get it done. Talks were dragging until this past week, when former Jets linebacker Demario Davis reworked his deal with the Saints-- the exact same deal Mosley accepted a couple of days later. The Davis deal provided a framework.

Mosley's original deal (five years, $85 million in 2019) was always an outlier for off-ball linebackers. His new yearly average ($8.625 million) is tied for 11th at his position.

10. Reed-ing the tea leaves: Cornerback D.J. Reed changed agents recently, fueling speculation that he's looking for a contract extension. One of their better players over the past two years, Reed is due to make a nonguaranteed $10.5 million in the final year of his contract.

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