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Stay or Go: Should Jets bring Jordan Whitehead back for 2024 season?

The Jets signed former fourth-round pick Jordan Whitehead to a two-year deal ahead of the 2022 season and he’s started all 34 games over the past two seasons, racking up 186 tackles and six interceptions. That deal has expired now, though, so Whitehead is out of contract.

Whitehead is still only 26 but could command a big contract on the open market after having been such a key contributor for the Jets over the past two seasons. Joe Douglas and the Jets will have to decide if he’s worth the investment.

So, should the Jets bring Whitehead back?

Why Whitehead should be back

Head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich have both noted that the Jets’ defense is getting better and better because key contributors have been in the system for a few years now and are growing more comfortable with their roles and responsibilities. Retaining Whitehead could therefore be seen as essential to maintaining this progress.

DJ Reed indicated on a social media post that fans and analysts don’t realize how important Whitehead is to the team’s communication in the secondary. He’s also one of the few players on the team who knows what it takes to go on a Super Bowl run, having won a ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021.

Whitehead’s statistical production will also be difficult to replace. He was third on the team in total tackles in each of his two seasons as a Jet and led the Jets in interceptions last season, albeit three of his four interceptions came in his sensational performance against the Bills in the opener. He also racked up an impressive 17 passes defensed over the past two years.

New York Jets safety Jordan Whitehead (3) celebrates after an interception with cornerback Michael Carter II (30) during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium.

Why Whitehead shouldn’t be back

Tony Adams played well as the other starting safety in 2023 and Ashtyn Davis did a good job as the third safety and he could be ready for a bigger role. The Jets therefore have options if Whitehead doesn’t return. How high they are on 2023 sixth-round pick Jarrick Bernard-Converse could also be a factor. The forgotten man is Chuck Clark, who was originally brought in to start via trade last season but missed the entire season due to injury. Could he be re-signed instead?

Based on his athleticism and statistical production, Whitehead might command a higher salary than the $7.25 million per year he earned over the last two years with the Jets, while Davis or Clark are likely to be much cheaper options to bring back. If Gang Green end up in a bidding war for Whitehead, the price could get too high. Surprisingly, though, analysis site Pro Football Focus and salary cap analysis site Over The Cap both project his value to be less than $7 million per year.

In terms of weaknesses, Whitehead’s tackling can sometimes be inconsistent, as he had some high-profile missed tackles over the past few years that led to big plays. That’s one area the Jets would want to see improvement if they did opt to sign him to an extension.

Verdict

This isn’t a straightforward decision for the Jets. They’ll be reticent to allow one of their key contributors on defense leave due to the risk that the unit will suffer. However, the team has plenty of other needs to meet during the offseason and they don’t have limitless resources.

While the probability that Whitehead is seeking a bigger contract to remain with the Jets is high, New York probably views him as one of their key leaders and therefore could be prepared to pay a premium to benefit from the continuity his return would give them.