The New York Jets wasted no time using free agency to fill important holes on their roster. After missing out on Kirk Cousins, their early free agent haul includes includes quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, running back Isaiah Crowell, center Spencer Long, linebacker Avery Williamson and cornerback Trumaine Johnson.
Playoffs, here we come, right?
Not quite. There’s a difference between addressing needs and fixing them.
General manager Mike Maccagnan and his front office staff proved this week that they recognize the areas of their roster begging for improvement. But most of the Jets’ signings are far from certain fixes, which emphasizes how desperately the team must have a great draft next month.
I’ll start with the exception of the bunch – Johnson, the team’s best signing so far. In 2017, even with a revamped secondary that included two top draft picks starting at safety and Morris Claiborne as the new CB1, the Jets allowed 30 passing touchdowns, tied for second-most in the league. It stemmed from their lack of a shutdown cornerback, which, truthfully, they haven’t had since Darrelle Revis’s prime. They may not be getting a future Hall of Famer with Johnson, 28, who has only recorded three interceptions the last two years and has battled injuries. But his ceiling is high and he was the top cornerback available by ESPN’s rankings.
Alright, enough of that positivity. We’re Jets writers, after all.
Thus, let’s explore the quarterback situation. New York paired Bridgewater with Josh McCown, whom they retained on a one-year, $10 million deal and reportedly promised would be QB1 on the depth chart entering training camp. I won’t say I don’t like what they’ve done so far. Bridgewater was the Jets’ best free agent QB option after Cousins went off the market, and the one-year, $5 million deal he signed feels like the right price. It gives him a chance to prove himself but gives the Jets a chance to wash their hands of him if he can’t recover fully from his horrific knee injury.
On one hand, it’s good that the Jets only spent $15 million on these two guys for 2018 and have no money committed beyond that. On the other hand, it speaks to how pivotal this season is for figuring out the position. Re-signing McCown signals that they still want to draft another quarterback to learn under him. Dom Cosentino optimistically compares it to the Seahawks drafting Russell Wilson after adding Matt Flynn to the team. But that’s the point: This week’s signings don’t “fix” the quarterback situation in the long term; it just sets them up to figure it out in the next nine months, be it Bridgewater or an incoming rookie. There’s no certainty they get it right.
Even less can be said of these other signings. With Matt Forte retiring from football, the Jets signed Crowell to replace him. They didn’t sign free agent Demario Davis back and filled that hole with Williamson for slightly cheaper. And I screamed from the rooftops that Wesley Johnson was the worst starting center in football last year, so the Jets went out and inked a deal with… Long, almost an unknown commodity due to the injuries he’s dealt with in four years with Washington.
The common thread among Crowell, Williamson and Long is that they’re all getting their second NFL contracts from the Jets. They’re all in their mid-20s. And, as stated before, they all address a position of need, but in a sort of mediocre way. Wouldn’t some of these have been better solved with a draft pick? Long, for instance, has played 2,062 offensive snaps in four years (515 per year, which isn’t a ton) and only earned below-average grades from Pro Football Focus. He isn’t a sure thing, so I rather would have be on someone in the draft and saved some cap.
Crowell’s is the most baffling deal to me, because of the wealth of second-round running back prospects. He’s only had six 100-yard rushing games in four seasons, splitting carries in three of those seasons with Duke Johnson. Neither Crowell nor Bilal Powell are true No. 1 running backs, and the two of them combining as a two-headed “monster” doesn’t strike me as threatening. Sure, New York can still draft someone who turns out to be this year’s Alvin Kamara or Kareem Hunt, but you can see that ultimately making Crowell a candidate for an August roster cut.
The Jets still have several positions to look at – tight end, edge rusher, even kicker. They still have upwards of $40 million to spend and the free agency period is still young. But the front office had better realize that not every 20-something free agent will solve needs in either the short or long term.