When the New York Jets’ front office finishes its post-mortem meetings and everyone is ready to attempt to move forward once again, the team will have 22 soon-to-be free agents to discuss.
According to spotrac.com, 10 Jets will become unrestricted free agents (UFAs) at the end of the league year, eight will become restricted free agents (RFAs) and four will be exclusive rights free agents (ERFAs).
Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith are the most high-profile names on the list for reason we don’t need to review. Both will be UFAs as Fitzpatrick’s ballyhooed one-year, $12 million contract signed last July will come to an end, and Smith’s rookie contract will expire. It’s generally believed that neither quarterback will return to the Jets in 2017.
But the QBs are just two of 11 of these free agents who started at least one game for the Jets this year. These include regular starters and guys who filled in for injuries late in the season alike.
UFAs are your basic free agents: They’ve played at least four years in the league, their contracts are up and they may negotiate with any NFL team once the period begins. The Jets have no first rights to their UFAs; if they want to leave New York, they will.
In the UFA category, the biggest names besides the Fitzpatrick and Smith are offensive linemen Brian Winters and Ben Ijalana. Ijalana was seen as a backup before the season, but due to injuries to both Breno Giacomini and Ryan Clady, the Villanova product remarkably started 13 games, making him one of the few constants on the Jets’ O-line all year. He’s not as valuable as Winters, however. The fourth-year lineman improved this season and he’s become a worthwhile starter at right guard.
Other players to note: long snapper Tanner Purdum, tight end Kellen Davis, linebacker Bruce Carter
RFAs have played three NFL seasons and at least six games with their current team. The Jets can choose to give a tender, or qualifying offer, to their RFA candidates. (Those who don’t get tenders become UFAs.) Then, other teams can give offer sheets to Jets’ RFAs, determined by which round they were drafted. If that happens, the Jets can either match the offer sheet and retain the player or let the player go, receiving a comparable draft pick from the other team as compensation.
All of the Jets’ RFA candidates are between 25 and 27 years old; there are certainly no superstars on the list, but rather potential “glue guys” valuable on special teams and as backups. Wesley Johnson played well enough at center in Nick Mangold’s absence; if the Jets’ re-sign him for longer than a year, it could signal they view Johnson as Mangold’s replacement. Brandon Bostick managed to be the Jets’ second-best receiving tight end by appearing in all 16 games and grabbing eight catches for 63 yards.
Other players to note: cornerback Marcus Williams, cornerback Dexter McDougle, linebacker/defensive end Mike Catapano
ERFAs are simply guys who have played no more than two years in the NFL whose contracts have run out. If the Jets offers a tender to any of these players, they must sign it or sit out the next season, but lose negotiating rights with other teams.
However, the exclusive rights free agents are not anyone worth being excited about. The only name you’ve probably heard of is Nick Marshall, the one-time Auburn quarterback who fielded some kicks and punts for the Jets in 2016.