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Jets stuck in dilemma of their own making with Bryce Huff

Bryce Huff is the player every general manager dreams of.

Undrafted: Discovered as a testament to your scouting department. Developed: A result of your coaches and their system. Now a star: A win that trumps first-round success stories because he is one that you, and few others, believed in — belief now paid off.

You invest in players like Huff. You make them franchise cornerstones.

Yet here the Jets are with the possibility of losing him growing more real by the day.

And they have only themselves to blame as this dilemma is one of their own making.

It’s not that the Jets don’t want Huff back. That’s silly. He’s been one of the league’s most productive pass rushers over the last two years. Huff was at his best in 2023 — his contract year. He finished with 10 sacks (previous career high was 3.5) and 21 quarterback hits (previous high was 10). Maybe most impressive: A pressure percentage of 21.8, better than that of Micah Parsons (21.3), Nick Bosa (17.1) and Defensive Player of the Year Myles Garrett (17.0).

And he did it playing under 45 percent of his team’s snaps.

There are concerns about Huff’s ability to play the run, among the reasons he only plays situationally. His size (6-foot-3, 255 pounds) the primary reason for that and why he wasn’t drafted in 2020. That’s justified. He finished with a ProFootballFocus run defensive grade of 48.0 last year — not good. He’s had a grade better than that just once (64.9 in 2022).

That simply doesn’t matter.

This is a pass-first league. There are few in the league as disruptive as Huff. His skills are why he’ll be among the most coveted players in free agency. A team will compensate him handsomely. One agent told SNY that he believes Huff could sign a three-year deal worth near $15 million annually with close to $30 million guaranteed. Those numbers could increase dramatically if there’s a bidding war, as tends to happen with edge rushers.

It’s deserved. The Jets should be the ones handing it to him. Only their hands are tied.

New York Jets defensive end Bryce Huff (47) celebrates a defensive stop during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at MetLife Stadium.

The Jets had options in last year’s draft. They held the 15th pick. They could have moved up a few selections to draft an offensive tackle (most assumed a run before New York’s pick). They could have stayed where they were and picked a receiver. Both positions considered their two greatest needs.

The Jets did not trade up for a tackle. They did not select a receiver. They took Will McDonald, an undersized defensive end who specializes in rushing the passer — sound familiar? They added him to a room that already included Huff, Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers and Jermaine Johnson.

The Jets are likely a playoff team had Aaron Rodgers not ruptured his Achilles four plays into the season, but his absence exposed a litany of flaws in roster construction.

The Jets believed themselves to be a quarterback away from legitimate title contention last offseason. That’s why they went all-in on Rodgers. That was a gross miscalculation.

They now enter 2024 knowing their offensive line must be rebuilt (a left tackle, right tackle, depth insurance for the oft-injured Alijah Vera-Tucker), they need a No. 2 receiver opposite Garrett Wilson, depth at running back behind Breece Hall and a No. 2 quarterback.

Can the Jets afford to outbid competitors for Huff, who’s made it clear publicly he’s signing with the highest bidder, when ownership made it clear that fixing the offense is the top priority? Can they afford to bring back Huff when they’ve already invested so many resources in the defensive line, specifically with first-round picks in Johnson and McDonald?

Dilemma.

Again: One of their own making.

General manager Joe Douglas stresses the need to select the best player available, as everyone in his position does, but it was the wrong move to select McDonald. He might very well develop into a top-tier edge rusher. That’s fine. But the Jets already had one of those, homegrown, in Huff. They didn’t need McDonald like they did a tackle or wideout. Essentially, the Jets might be forced to let Huff walk and hope McDonald develops into what Huff is, while still trying to fill those other needs. That didn’t have to be the case.

The Jets might not have been in a position to trade up for a tackle a year ago — not after acquiring Rodgers. There were plenty of receivers for them to take, though.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba went to the Seattle Seahawks at No. 20. He finished the season with 63 catches for 628 yards and four touchdowns working behind DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Zay Flowers went to the Baltimore Ravens at No. 22. He finished the season with 77 catches for 858 yards and five touchdowns. Jordan Addison went to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 23. He caught 70 passes for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns.

All three look like potential stars.

Pick the better situation.

Option A: The Jets let Huff walk, hope McDonald develops after an underwhelming rookie year, then pray they can add a receiver in free agency or the draft, while plugging other holes on the offensive line?

Option B: Draft one of those three to solidify the spot opposite Wilson, re-sign Huff, then spend this offseason focused on rebuilding the offensive line.

It’s obvious the Jets are a far more well-rounded team heading into 2024 with Smith-Njigba, Flowers or Addison playing opposite Wilson, then re-signing Huff, than they are right now. This isn’t hindsight, either. The same was clear the moment Roger Goodell read McDonald’s name off the draft card.

The seats underneath Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh have never been hotter, evident by owner Woody Johnson’s remarks at the NFL Honors the week of the Super Bowl. His patience is worn thin.

The longest postseason drought of any team in the four main sporting leagues is not a badge he wears proudly. The two men he put in charge of turning his team around have had enough time to turn it around. It’s time for results.

No one mishap is single handedly to blame. There are many and this Huff situation is simply the latest.

It compounds so much of what’s gone wrong for this team the last five years, though. What the Jets should have done, they didn’t.

So now they’re trying to navigate a problem that never should have been there.