Jets offseason primer: Team enters most important offseason in long time

With Super Bowl LVIII in the books and the Kansas City Chiefs cementing their dynasty by hitting the jackpot in Las Vegas, the road to Super Bowl LIX in New Orleans has officially begun and the Jets are ready to push all their chips to the middle of the table in hopes of heading to the Caesars’ Superdome on February 9, 2025.

With quarterback Aaron Rodgers returning from his Achilles injury, the Jets are ready to be aggressive again this offseason, get back into contention and end a 13-year postseason drought. Here’s some of what the Jets are working with entering the offseason, including upcoming free agents and salary cap.

Notable free agents

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 15: <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Bryce Huff;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Bryce Huff</a> #47 of the <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:New York Jets;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">New York Jets</a> reacts during the first half in the game against the <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Philadelphia Eagles;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Philadelphia Eagles</a> at MetLife Stadium on October 15, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

The Jets have 24 players set to become free agents, including 18 unrestricted free agents. The biggest name on that list is edge-rusher Bryce Huff. The Jets placed a second-round tender on Huff for the 2023 season and he went on to lead the Jets with 10 sacks, 2.5 more than Jermaine Johnson. For whatever reason, the Jets didn’t lock him up sooner and now there is no guarantee he will be back in New York in 2024.

Another key name that the Jets should be looking to keep is safety Ashtyn Davis. Davis was a key cog on special teams this season and also had some moments filling in from time to time on defense. Justin Hardee, another core special-teamer for the Jets, is also a free agent.

Kicker Greg Zuerlein is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He made 35 pf his 38 field goal attempts and was 15-of-16 on extra points. Only 2017 (95.0%) and 2013 (92.9%) were better, percentage-wise, for Zuerlein. On a similar note, punter Thomas Morstead also had one of his better seasons in 2023. He and Zuerlein gave the Jets stability in the kicking game all season.

The full list of free agents for the Jets:

Unrestricted free agents:

DE Carl Lawson
OT Duane Brown
S Jordan Whitehead
S Chuck Clark
DE Bryce Huff
DT Quinton Jefferson
WR Randall Cobb
K Greg Zuerlein
DL Solomon Thomas
CB Justin Hardee
DT Al Woods
C Connor McGovern
OT Billy Turner
S Ashtyn Davis
P Thomas Morstead
QB Trevor Siemian
DL Ifeadi Odenigbo
CB Bryce Hall

Restricted free agents:

TE Kenny Yeboah
OG Jake Hanson
DE Bradlee Anae

Exclusive-rights free agents:

CB Javelin Guidry
OG Xavier Newman-Johnson
TE Zack Kuntz

Possible cuts

Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Jets tight end <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:C.J. Uzomah;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">C.J. Uzomah</a> (87) warms up before the game against the <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Minnesota Vikings;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Minnesota Vikings</a> at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets will need to free up some salary cap space, as they are only currently working with about $5 million of room entering the offseason. They have some options on players they can move on from and save some cap space, if they want to. Here are some of those potential cap casualties.

TE C.J. Uzomah:

Uzomah feels like the most-obvious cut candidate. He fell to the No. 3 tight end spot as the season wore, as Tyler Conklin and Jeremy Ruckert have easily overtaken him. There is no way the Jets keep Uzomah at $8 million. A pre-June 1 cut saves $5.3 million in cap space and leaves almost $6 million in dead cap for 2024. A post-June 1 cut leaves just $3.2 million in dead cap for 2024 and $2.7 million in dead cap for 2025 while freeing up $8 million in cap space.

OG Laken Tomlinson:

Tomlinson has one year left on the three-year, $40 million contract he signed as a free agent before the 2022 season and the results have been mixed to this point. The Jets can move on from Tomlinson this season and save $8.1 million against the cap but leave $10.7 million in dead cap if it’s before June 1. However, they would save $13 million in cap space and leave just $5.88 million dead money this year and $4.86 million in 2025 dead cap by making him a post-June 1 cut. He is due a non-guaranteed $12.6 million salary for 2024.

QB Zach Wilson:

The Jets will try to trade Wilson this offseason in an attempt to get something of value for him. Cutting Wilson would be a last-resort move, as they would see zero cap relief by doing so — his rookie contract was fully guaranteed. However, if they do find a trade partner, they would free up almost $5.5 million in cap space, as the acquiring team would take on his compensation of almost $5.5 million, unless the teams work out a deal in regard to that. In any event, we have seen the last of Zach Wilson as a Jet.

Salary cap

Oct 8, 2023; <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Denver;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Denver</a>, Colorado, USA; New York Jets linebacker <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:C.J. Mosley;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">C.J. Mosley</a> (57) celebrates a sack in the second half against the <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Denver Broncos;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Denver Broncos</a> at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned earlier, the Jets currently have only about $5 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap. But with just the three players mentioned above, the Jets could open up about $26 million in 2024 cap space, enough to make a run at a wide receiver or offensive linemen in free agency.

The salary cap is projected to be around $242 million for 2024. The Jets will roll over about $6 million in 2023 cap space and currently only have about $2.5 million in dead money. $2 million of that comes from the man that just caught the Super Bowl-winning touchdown, wide receiver Mecole Hardman.

The largest cap hit for 2024 currently belongs to linebacker C.J. Mosley at $21.476 million.

Draft picks

Oct 28, 2023; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive lineman <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Joe Alt;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Joe Alt</a> (76) leaves the field following the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets hold the 10th pick in April’s draft, a pick they were able to keep because quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not come close to playing 65 percent of the offensive snaps in 2023, the condition that would have turned the second-round pick into a first. So the Jets have their top pick but will give up their second to the Green Bay Packers.

Offensive tackle will be thought of as the biggest need with that pick and there are plenty of options that should be available for the Jets. In Dane Brugler’s latest top 100 big board, six offensive tackles — Joe Alt, Olu Fashanu, JC Latham, Taliese Fuaga, Amarius Mims, Tyler Guyton — are among his top 18 players overall. Wide receiver could also be an option. Could the Jets make a move for Georgia tight end Brock Bowers?

The Jets currently have five picks in the draft: their own picks in the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th rounds as well as Denver’s pick in the 4th round (the Jake Martin trade).

New York is also projected by Over the Cap to receive three compensatory picks in the 7th round for OG Nate Herbig, QB Mike White and OG Dan Feeney. That would give the Jets eight total picks entering the draft.

Free agent targets

Jan 2, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Tampa Bay Buccaneers;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Tampa Bay Buccaneers</a> wide receiver <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Mike Evans;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Mike Evans</a> (13) catches the ball in front of New York Jets safety <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Will Parks;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Will Parks</a> (39) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

With the likely cap space the Jets will create, they figure to be aggressive again in free agency and wide receiver and offensive tackle should be the positions the Jets hit the most in their shopping.

When it comes to the wide receivers, some of the top options include Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman Jr. and Mike Evans. Higgins and Pittman are prime franchise tag candidates. Evans could get to the market and if he does, the Jets should be looking to throw money at him. Evans has yet to have a season with less than 1,000 yards. That streak should continue with the Jets as he would have Aaron Rodgers throwing him the football and Garrett Wilson on the other side to take pressure away from Evans.

Another possible option would be Calvin Ridley. The Jaguars receiver came back after missing the last two seasons due to his gambling suspension in 2022 and stepping away from football in 2021. This one is interesting because if the Jaguars choose to sign Ridley to an extension, they would send a second-round pick in this year’s draft to the Atlanta Falcons instead of a third. But if Jacksonville lets Ridley hit the open market, New York could come calling.

And while he isn’t a free agent, there will continue to be speculation that the Jets try to acquire Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams. Vegas has no plans to trade their top players but Aaron Rodgers will do his best to lure Adams in.

As far as offensive tackles go, Patriots tackle Trent Brown is a name to watch. Injuries have been aplenty of Brown over his career but he did resurrect his play in 2023 and also hit contract incentives by keeping his weight in check. Because of his injury history, his contract may not be all that expensive and whoever does sign him could include clauses similar to what he had with the Patriots. Brown could slide in at either tackle position and help give Rodgers time to find his weapons.

Brown isn’t the only Patriots tackle that could intrigue the Jets. There’s also Mike Onwenu. The nice thing about Onwenu is he has experience at multiple positions, so there’s flexibility here. He would likely be more expensive than Brown, but that shouldn’t be a factor for the Jets at this point. They need to spend, spend, spend to upgrade the offensive line. Onwenu would be a strong addition.

Backup quarterback will likely also be addressed in free agency, with Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Tannehill and Gardner Minshew among the potential options to work behind Rodgers in 2024.

Hardest decision

Dec 11, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets guard Laken Tomlinson (78) on the sidelines before a game against the <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Buffalo Bills;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Buffalo Bills</a> at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The hardest decision for the Jets could be what they decide to do with Laken Tomlinson. The cap space is there for the taking, but it would also open up another hole on the offensive line. Maybe a contract restructure could be in the cards for Tomlinson.

On a similar note, where do the Jets plan to work Alijah Vera-Tucker? His last two seasons have ended before Halloween with season-ending injuries — both in Denver, at that. Do the Jets keep him at guard or do they move him to tackle? If the Jets think they can get someone like Brown or Onwenu, does that make it easier for the team to keep Vera-Tucker inside? The Jets also have to decide on Vera-Tucker’s fifth-year option this offseason. Exercising the option locks him in for $15.4 million in 2025.

Story originally appeared on Jets Wire