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Impact of Jets’ pending decision on exclusive rights free agent Austin Deculus

We are all familiar with how things work for the NFL’s unrestricted free agents, who are free to negotiate and sign wherever they please. The New York Jets have 21 players who fit into that category this offseason.

However, what about the exclusive rights free agent (ERFA) and the impact of that decision? Offensive lineman Austin Deculus is the Jets’ lone ERFA, and the team needs to make a decision about his future by the start of the new league year on Wednesday.

An ERFA is a player with fewer than three accrued NFL seasons. Although the term ERFA has the words “free agent” in it, these players don’t have the same ability as unrestricted free agents to negotiate with whomever they please.

Instead, if their current team offers them a league minimum contract, they have no choice but to accept it. The only way an ERFA can become an unrestricted free agent is if they are not offered a new deal–essentially, it’s not their decision.

The Jets claimed Deculus off waivers in mid-November after he was released by the Houston Texans.

Deculus did not play any snaps for the Jets and has played only 39 offensive snaps in total over his first two NFL seasons. All of those snaps came at left tackle, where he allowed three quarterback hits.

Deculus was a sixth-round pick by Houston in the 2022 NFL Draft out of LSU. There, he was a very experienced player with nearly 3,400 career snaps over five college seasons, most of which came at right tackle.

The 2021 season, Deculus’ last at LSU, was his best, as he did not surrender a sack and gave up only 17 total pressures. Out of 159 eligible offensive tackles that season, Deculus ranked 32nd in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency.

For a closer look at what Deculus can offer, here is what The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had to say about him in his pre-draft scouting report:

“Deculus checks boxes for his size and arm length, and his technique showed important maturation as a super-senior as his sacks allowed went from four in 2020 to zero in 2021. However, his stiff knees and lack of lower-body flexibility create pad level and balance issues as he lacks the lateral quickness to match speed.

“Overall, Deculus has played a lot of football and has functional length and handwork, but his ceiling is likely capped by average athleticism, which will be tough to mask versus NFL pass rushers. He is a potential NFL backup at right tackle.”

The decision on whether or not to re-sign Deculus will probably be an easy one for the Jets: they should do it.

The purpose of this re-signing isn’t so Deculus can compete for starting snaps at tackle. Hopefully, between having Alijah Vera-Tucker as an option, along with some key additions in free agency and the draft, Joe Douglas addresses that need elsewhere.

But for a thin Jets’ offensive line room, what Deculus provides is depth and competition on the back end of the roster during training camp and the preseason.

Re-signing him is a low-risk move for the Jets. The league minimum contract for a third-year player is only $1.05 million with what I’m guessing will include little or likely no guaranteed dollars.

If Deculus performs well this summer and makes the roster, then the Jets bolstered their in-season tackle depth. If he doesn’t do that, then they release him with really no salary cap impact.

Story originally appeared on Jets Wire