So much cap room, so many ways to spend it. The toughest decision for Jets GM Joe Douglas when free agency starts might be where to begin.
Pick a need, any need, and the Jets should be able to fill it by spreading some cash around what could be a rich free agent market, filled with good players who become casualties of a shrinking salary cap. They should have somewhere between $70 million and 90 million in salary cap space once the cap is officially set and they begin making some of their offseason cuts.
Not only is that a lot in general, but it could be more than double the amount of available space for all but a handful of other teams.
In a depressed market, it makes the Jets kings. Whatever they want, they at least have the ammunition to get.
So what – and whom – do they want? Here’s a look at some of the free agents who could or should be on their radar when the market opens next month:
WR Allen Robinson
It’s not clear yet if he’ll be the Jets’ top target, but it’s hard to find a better possibly available receiver than this reliable, 6-2, 220-pounder. In the last two seasons, playing with shaky quarterbacks, he’s averaged 100 catches, 1,300 yards and seven touchdowns. He rarely drops passes. He’s strong enough to win the contested catches. If he ever has a good quarterback throwing to him, he could end up as the best receiver in the league. That’s why he could end up getting more than $21 million per year with $50 million or so guaranteed. And that’s if he’s free. The Bears could use the franchise tag on him (for about $16.5 million) and then try to trade him. Also, by the way, he wants to play for a contender, and several should be interested in him.
WR JuJu Smith Schuster
His down year last year still resulted in 97 catches for 831 yards and nine touchdowns, even though the Steelers had a middling passing attack and their lineup was crowded with receivers. What makes him more attractive is he’s only 24 and back in 2018 he had 111 catches for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns, showing he’s got an enormous ceiling. He’s 6-1, 215 and is the receiver most often linked to the Jets. He probably won’t need Robinson money, but still could fetch $16-17 million per year.
WR Will Fuller
The Jets were enamored with Henry Ruggs in the draft last year because of his 4.27 speed. That’s why they’re likely to be enamored with Fuller, too, since he once ran a 4.33 in the 40. The problem is that his speed has never led to comparable production. He had 53 catches for 879 yards and eight touchdowns last year – all career highs in his fifth NFL season. Thanks to injuries and a drug suspension he also hasn’t played more than 11 games in a season since he played 14 as a rookie back in 2016. By the way, that suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, includes the first game of next season. That could keep his price down a little, but $12-15 million per year might still be required.
G Joe Thuney
The Jets had eyes on him last offseason before the Patriots hit him with the “franchise tag” – something New England is unlikely to do again. Instead, the Jets mostly went bargain hunting as they rebuilt their offensive line last offseason and … well, they got what they paid for. With all their cap room, they have to shop on the top shelf this time and this durable 28-year-old, who has started all 80 games of his five-year career, is the top guard on the market. He made $14.8 million on the tag last season. Presumably the bidding with him will start in the $16 million per year range.
DE Matthew Judon
The Jets’ pass rush was simply non-existent last year, and Saleh knows he needs a fast defensive end to make his defense work. The 6-3, 261-pound Judon could be a perfect fit. The Ravens will surely let either him or Yannick Ngakoue go, and since Judon is three years older he figures to be the odd man out. He had only six sacks last year, but 30 ½ over the past four seasons is enticing. Pass rushers are expensive, but he could be in a second tier at maybe $14-16 million per year.
LB Shaq Barrett
He is a better option than Judon, though surely more expensive -- and that’s if he actually hits the market. The Bucs seem intent on keeping him if they can to help with another run at the Super Bowl in the Tom Brady Era. If they can’t do it, though, the Jets have to jump in. Barrett had “only” eight sacks last season, down from an incredible 19 ½ the year before. At 6-2, 250, he’s not really the defensive end that fits Saleh’s defense. Then again, Nick Bosa thrived and he’s only 6-4, 266. It doesn’t matter, though. He’s such a defensive weapon, they’ll make it work. The downside? He might cost $25 million per year. The upside to that? The Jets are one of the few teams who could afford that this offseason.
CB Richard Sherman
The Jets are going to need help at corner and there are a few ways they can go. If they like the potential of Bryce Hall and Bless Austin, then bringing in a veteran like Sherman, who’ll turn 33 in March, makes sense. He can still play and, maybe more importantly, he’d be a great mentor to Austin and Hall and could really help any adjustment to Saleh’s defensive scheme. He may have options from contenders, so it might take a little extra money to convince him join the Jets no matter how much he loves Saleh (and he does).
CB K’waun Williams
He’s younger and will be cheaper than Sherman. He also knows the defense and a source close to him said Saleh likes him a lot. Best of all for the Jets, he’s a talented slot corner who could replace Brian Poole and allow Hall and Austin to play on the outside. He might cost $6-7 million per year, but a short-term deal with a quick out could be more than enough. Slot corners won’t be big winners in a depressed market.
RB Jamaal Williams
The Jets need weapons in the passing game, yes, but the Kyle Shanahan offense that they’ll be running really centers around running backs. The 49ers had a strong rotation of them and used them as receivers out of the backfield. And the Jets new offensive coordinator, 49ers import Mike LaFleur, won’t be able to run it with just La’Mical Perine and Ty Johnson. He needs someone proven and the 25-year-old Williams has thrived in a part-time role in a similar offense in Green Bay. Sure, the Jets could go after Green Bay’s Aaron Jones instead, but after the Le’Veon Bell fiasco it’s hard to see them spending $12-15 million per year on a running back. Williams could cost half that and might be more accepting of a shared backfield role.
TE Gerald Everett
Running backs were big in the Shanahan offense, but so were tight ends and the Jets’ current starter, Chris Herndon … well, he’s no George Kittle. The Jets have to upgrade that position and they should find good value in the athletic, 6-3, 240-pound Everett who has put up decent numbers while splitting the job with the Rams. He had 41 catches for 417 yards and a touchdown and many observers feel he was vastly underused. The lack of production could keep his price down to maybe $5-6 million per season. But his possibly high ceiling could make him a steal. And he surely will see what Kittle did in this scheme and believe he can do the same.