Playing for your Jets future
🌟 Good morning!
Yesterday I wrote a piece for Jets X-Factor around Joe Douglas’s tendency to offer three-year deals that are front-loaded with guarantees providing the Jets long-term flexibility, it’s a strategy that I love and a strategy that will prove effective when all our draft picks come up for contract renewals, so go check that out to show JetX that I’m worth having on staff 😉
It then got me thinking about guys who are entering the final year of their deal. There are 35 players whose deal is set to expire in 2023 as of today. Obviously, the Jets are carrying around 90 players through the off-season and most of these guys won’t even get to the 2022 season, let alone 2023. Today I wanted to focus on a few guys who will likely play in 2022 and who are likely playing for their Jets futures.
I’m also going to include a couple of players whose deals don’t expire in 2023, but who are still playing for their Jets career and I’ll explain that in more detail.
First, we have some quick throws
👋 Longtime Jets tormentor Rob Gronkowski has decided to retire (again), but there is reason to believe this is his last retirement. Gronk athletically is one of the most dominant players in league history at the position. He’s a 4-time Super Bowl champ and leaves the league with 621 catches, 9,286 yards, and 92 TDs. It’s unfortunate we had to face him so often, but we have to congratulate him on such an incredible career.
💰 Garrett Wilson was recently on the “The Pivot Podcast” and the topic turned to the “rookie dinner”. Most rookies are expected to take all of their positional group teammates out for a slap-up dinner and when he was told how much it was likely to cost by Channing Crowder he responded "They ain’t doing me for 75K," - I think he may have a surprise in store.
5️⃣3️⃣ Rich Cimini posted his way too early 53-man roster projection on ESPN and I actually agreed largely with what he had down. He had the Jets carrying 6 receivers with Denzel Mims part of the group. The one disagreement I have is that he has the Jets taking 5 linebackers and only 3 safeties with Harris making the team and Pinnock missing out, I’d swap those two around and have 4 safeties and 4 linebackers.
This is a difficult one as if George Fant plays as well as he did last year, then he’s going to get some serious money as a free agent next off-season. We know that George is not happy with his current contract which will pay him $11.1 million in the final year of his deal in 2023. I’ve spoken at length about my preference to get Fant signed before the season kicks off.
We know that the Jets have been in contact with his agent, but Fant has also made some comments recently which would lead you to believe that they’re not close to making a deal.
I wrote a piece recently around George with the argument being that due to his inexperience at left tackle and his relative lack of wear and tear, it’s easy to assume that his best years are ahead of him. Consistency on the line is always my preference and Fant showed the signs of becoming a very good left tackle last year when he was given extended time at the position.
I’m a believer in Mekhi Becton, but there are risks associated with him based purely on his size and I’m not sure I want to live in a world where our tackles are Becton, McDermott, Edoga, and Mitchell. We didn’t address the offensive tackle position until the 4th round in the 2022 draft which leads me to believe that the Jets do have a desire to get a deal done with Fant, now it’s about finding that middle ground that’s acceptable to both.
If Fant does play out the final year of his deal then the Jets will need to work hard to keep him in the building. They could decide to tag him with the franchise tag being $16.6 million for an offensive lineman this year, so expect that to be slightly higher next year, or they could decide to trade him (unlikely)…all in all, I want him to be a Jet in 2023 and beyond.
Connor McGovern is another offensive lineman who’s playing out the final year of his contract in 2023. His $10.3 million cap hit will see him earn the 4th highest salary of any center in football. The Jets could have easily moved on from McGovern this off-season and saved $9 million against the cap, but they decided to stick with him and there are a couple of reasons for that.
The Jets organization and the Jets fanbase see Connor in very different lights, although that narrative is starting to shift as more fans are coming to appreciate Connor and his game. The Jets love his athleticism for this system and as I mentioned in a recent article about Connor, the belief is he hasn’t hit his ceiling in terms of his ability as a center in this system based on his play time at the position.
The second thing is that the Jets want consistency around Zach Wilson, and keeping the center in place offers that consistency in terms of calling protections and the obvious transfer of the football. We need to remember that Zach will technically have a new LG, new RG, and new RT this season and although AVT did a job on the left side, the transition will take some time, changing the center as well would have been a lot of upheavals.
I can see this going one of two years. The Jets will extend and restructure McGovern to give him some more security and lower his cap hit, as much as I’ve come to like McGovern, I don’t think anyone other than him and his mother thinks he should be earning top 5 money at the position. Or they let him play out his contract and then either resign him for a lower cost or replace him with a pending free agent or draft choice.
Evan Brown from Detroit is a name to watch, as is Bradley Bozeman from Carolina, and while there is no Tyler Linderbaum in the draft next year there are a couple of very good prospects like John Michael Schmitz of Minnesota.
I’m still not 100% convinced that Sheldon Rankins will be on the team in 2022, let alone 2023. He’s set to make just under $6.2 million this season in the final year of his deal but according to over the cap he can be cut saving the Jets $5.4 million…which would come in handy if they wanted to restructure and extend the likes of Fant and McGovern. Let’s just assume that he does return though, as I still think that’s the most likely outcome, Rankins will need to drastically improve on his 2021 performance to secure another deal with the Jets.
The Jets struggled all season to stop the run, and although he wasn’t the only culprit, he was certainly more of a hindrance than a help in that one area. Of all interior defensive linemen who played in at least 300 snaps, Sheldon Rankins was ranked 108/114 in terms of his run defense according to PFF. Missed tackle percentage is a little spotty for defensive lineman, but he was ranked 107/114 in that regard as well with a 20.6% missed tackle rate.
Rankins seemed to be living up to his first-round selection back in 2018 when he recorded 8 sacks and 46 total pressures, but since tearing his Achilles in the playoffs that year he’s never looked the same, he picked up more injuries along the way and only registered 2 sacks in 2019 and 2020 before making a jump with the Jets to 4 in 2021, but that came at a big expense in the run game. If he is with the Jets this season I expect him to play quite as much as he did last year, despite the depth issues on the line.
He needs a big bounce-back season if he hopes to be in NY in 2023.
The three mentioned above are all in the final year of their contracts, but I also just wanted to highlight a few guys who aren’t in the final year, but who will still be playing for their future.
Corey Davis - Will have one more year after 2022 on his contract but he’s out of guarantees. The Jets could save $10.5 million on the cap next season with only $666k of dead money if they choose to. Davis had some drop issues in 2021 and struggled with injuries, he’s going to need to earn that $11.1 million cap hit next season if he wants to return. He’s a bigger body and serves a big role in this offense on the outside, I fully expect him to have a bounce-back year where his troubling 15% drop rate from 2021 returns to his career average of around 7.3%.
Carl Lawson - You may think this is a strange one but Carl Lawson carries a big cap hit and nobody knows how he’s going to return. As mentioned with Sheldon Rankins, sometimes players just don’t return to their previous form after an injury like an Achilles tear. I’m betting on Lawson because the guy is a beast and one of the hardest-working players on the team, I don’t think he’ll allow himself to be anything but great, but the fact remains there is an unknown here. Lawson’s contract was structured in such a way that the Jets could cut him next off-season saving $15 million on the cap with just $333k of dead money…I don’t expect it to happen, but another bad injury or ineffective play and it’s possible the Jets can’t risk carrying that cap number in 2023.
There are a couple of other obvious players that need to be mentioned in Ashtyn Davis and Denzel Mims, both need a strong 2022 if they hope to still be here in 2023, and both need to drastically improve on what we’ve seen so far.
Michael Nania had a great piece on Jets X-Factor on the strengths and weaknesses of the Jets offensive line - “Together, they have an average PFF zone-blocking grade of 75.0, which would have ranked third-best among NFL offensive lines in 2021 behind the San Francisco 49ers (80.0) and the Los Angeles Rams (78.0).”
Peter Schrager of Good Morning Football believes the Jets are the most improved team in the league heading into 2022: "They got four guys that they look at as first-round picks and they added them in one draft class," he said on "Good Morning Football." "Obviously Sauce Gardner, we've talked about him at length. Garrett Wilson, the Ohio State receiver, too, but I love the Jermaine Johnson selection, who they viewed as a top-eight player on their board. And they weren't done. I learned that after Jermaine Johnson was selected and everyone was doing cartwheels in the Jets' draft room, Joe Douglas got back on the phone and tried calling other teams to trade up and get Breece Hall at the end of the first round.”
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