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Joe Douglas did well to land Robert Saleh as New York’s new head coach. Now it’s time for Gang Green’s general manager to give him a competitive roster he can work with.
From wide receiver to the offensive line and secondary, the Jets are littered with holes. Having the second-most salary cap space in the NFL entering free agency will allow Douglas to address some of New York’s most glaring needs however he sees fit. Douglas did not make any splashy signings in his first offseason as Jets general manager, but with the amount of talent littered across this year’s crop of free agents, there is a chance he spends big in an effort to get New York back on track.
Which top free agents should the Jets target come March? Here are 10 that should be at the top of Douglas’s wish list.
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Dupree's 2020 season was cut short due to a torn ACL, but his production over the last year and a half speaks to what he can bring to a Jets defense in desperate need of a pass rusher. The 28-year-old broke out with 11.5 sacks in 2019 and was on pace to eclipse that total with eight through 11 games last season. Dupree struggled early in his career with the Steelers but seemed to have turned a corner before hurting his knee. As long as his medicals are clean, Dupree is an edge rusher New York should take a long look at once free agency begins.
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Troy Hill wasn't one of the biggest names on a star-studded Rams defense in 2020, but he was among Los Angeles' most impactful defenders working opposite Jalen Ramsey. Hill made his presence felt in coverage throughout last season, registering 10 pass deflections and a career-high three interceptions. The 29-year-old isn't the biggest cornerback in free agency this offseason, but he is as physical as they come at the position. He's also a willing participant in run support, which could check another box for Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich. Hill isn't a star but the Jets need a ton of help at corner. Adding a player of his ilk would pay dividends for New York's secondary as it looks to right the ship following a dreadful year.
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Joe Thuney was rumored to be a top free agent option for the Jets last year before the Patriots franchise tagged him. Could New York be interested in adding him to its offensive line again this offseason? Thuney fits what the Jets are looking for in the trenches -- a gritty, interior offensive lineman. The 28-year-old was a second-team All-Pro in 2019 and was one of New England's few bright spots in 2020. Bill Belichick and company would likely prefer to keep Thuney in Foxborough, but the Jets have the salary cap space to make a competitive offer.
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Corey Davis’ first three seasons with the Titans left plenty to be desired, but the former No. 4 overall pick broke out in a big way in 2020, tying a career-high with 65 receptions and posting new career-highs in receiving yards (984), yards per reception (15.1) and touchdown catches (five). It’s worth questioning how Davis would fare operating as a No. 1 wide receiver — he undoubtedly benefitted from defenses keying in on A.J. Brown last season. However, the Western Michigan product has the physical tools to build on his recent success and is just entering his prime. As long as the Jets avoid overpaying, Davis is a solid mid-tier target.
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As good as Thuney is, he still isn't the top interior offensive lineman on the market this offseason. That distinction belongs to Brandon Scherff, who has quietly become one of the most dominant guards in football. Scherff earned his first All-Pro selection in 2020 and has made four trips to the Pro Bowl with Washington. The Iowa product's stock is at an all-time high and New York has the financial freedom to make an offer lucrative enough to lure him to the Big Apple.
Will Fuller V
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Injuries have plagued Fuller throughout his career — he has only played in more than 11 games in a season once — but he is a legitimate threat to burn a defense every time he runs a route. A PED suspension brought a screeching halt to Fuller’s 2020 season and serves as another red flag, but it was the Notre Dame product’s best year yet, registering career-highs in receptions (53), receiving yards (879) and touchdowns (eight). The Jets have almost no way of ensuring Fuller stays healthy if they sign him. The nature of his PED suspension is also worth vetting. With that being said, Fuller is the kind of talent a team like New York takes a chance on.
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JuJu Smith-Schuster quietly showed why he is one of the best possession receivers in football throughout 2020, catching 97 passes for 831 yards and nine touchdowns with the Steelers. Smith-Schuster isn’t much of a vertical threat, but he is a YAC machine, which could make him an intriguing option as a fit in Mike LaFleur’s west coast offense. There’s also a familiarity factor if the Jets opt to stick with Sam Darnold, as the two played together at USC. Smith-Schuster has said he wouldn’t mind reuniting with his former college quarterback, making New York a more intriguing destination than it already is if Darnold is with the team next season.
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Saleh and Ulbrich’s defense is predicated on applying pressure and getting after opposing quarterbacks. Why not go after one of the top pass rushers on the market to help fortify the unit? Shaquil Barrett is likely to land back with the Buccaneers. He expressed his desire to remain in Tampa Bay long-term last offseason and the Bucs would benefit from keeping 2019’s NFL sack king in town. If he hits the open market, though, a bidding war presents the Jets with the opportunity to enter the mix and make the 29-year-old an offer he can’t refuse. This is Barrett’s chance to cash in on the big contract he has worked his entire career for. If the Buccaneers cannot offer it, New York has ample salary cap space to make a run at the kind of pass rusher it has been lacking for over a decade.
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Godwin only had 840 receiving yards in a crowded Bucs offense this past season, but he is the complete package at receiver. Between his route running ability and ball skills, he has exactly what it takes to be a top wideout for years to come -- which is exactly what the Jets need. Godwin turns 25 at the end of February and is just entering his prime, making him a lock to earn top dollar on the open market. That should not cause Douglas and company any sort of hesitancy in their pursuit.
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New York’s pursuit of a No. 1 wide receiver -- or any free agent, for that matter -- should begin with Allen Robinson. The 28-year-old was dominant with the Bears in 2020 despite lackluster play under center, hauling in 102 passes for 1,250 yards and six touchdowns. Robinson is a freak athlete who can beat defenses downfield with ease, but he also has a diverse route tree and the ability to make plays underneath. The Penn State product isn’t exactly a speed demon, but he has a knack for making defenders miss in space and racking up yards after the catch when asked to do so. Robinson’s recent social media activity has suggested he might welcome the Jets as a suitor this offseason. If that’s the case, Douglas should do whatever it takes to bring him to the Big Apple. Robinson is the definition of a difference-maker and would alter the trajectory of New York’s offense upon his arrival.