This free agency period was a busy yet productive one for the New York Jets. They left no stone unturned…besides the tight end position.
The New York Jets have so far aced the 2018 offseason. Their free agency class addresses needs at quarterback, running back, center, inside linebacker, cornerback and even kicker. Enough holes were filled to where general manager Mike Maccagnan sold the farm to acquire the third overall pick from Indianapolis.
The lone complaint a fan can make is the tight end situation, and it’s certainly a valid one. Maccagnan played hardball with Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the 25-year-old wanted none of it.
He’s now a Jacksonville Jaguar after signing a two-year contract worth $10 million. He can make an extra $1 million with incentives, according to Bleacher Report. Gang Green offered him a two-year deal worth $8 million in January which he turned down. Maccagnan was unwilling to cough up the extra $2-plus million to retain him.
Now there’s concern settling in. With a young quarterback likely at the helm, it’d be wise for the Jets to provide him a big security blanket. New York has bodies on the current roster worth noting, but none as impactful as Seferian-Jenkins was in 2017. The Washington product tallied 50 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns in 13 outings. Kellen Winslow Jr. was the last tight end to post numbers of that caliber in green and white.
As for how things stand now, Eric Tomlinson is at the top of the depth chart. Tomlinson spent time on Philadelphia and Houston’s practice squad before joining New York in 2016. The undrafted free agent concluded last season with 121 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions as the team’s second option.
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His 70.5 pass blocking grade on Pro Football Focus was far and away his most impressive stat. Only 24.8 percent of his snaps were in the receiving game while the other 75.2 were blocking, per PFF. Given that distribution, it’s hard to trust him as your TE1.
Neal Sterling is the other rostered experienced tight end. The 2015 seventh-rounder had six catches for 82 yards in 2017, five of which came in the season finale against New England. He logged just 100 snaps with 59 of them as a receiver. His 73.1 overall and 74 run blocking grades are encouraging, but they come under a small sample size with a large chunk of his snaps coming from one contest. Like Tomlinson, he simply isn’t capable of leading the unit through the air.
Jordan Leggett is the candidate who has the most upside. The 2016 National Champion racked up 46 receptions for 736 yards and seven touchdowns in his senior campaign at Clemson. He totaled another 862 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first three years.
Leggett was pegged a third-round talent by quite a few analysts prior to the 2017 NFL Draft. He then slipped to New York at 150th overall. It was undoubtedly a score for Maccagnan and the scouting department, however, no one expected him to play a prominent role in his rookie season. He missed the entirety of it due to a lingering knee injury and there’s no telling he’ll rebound strongly enough to lead the way in 2018.
The Jets would be hard-pressed not to dive back into the market for their answer. It’s slim pickings between Eric Ebron, Julius Thomas, and Richard Rodgers, although any of those three are upgrades over what’s already in place. They’re also cost-friendly.
New York no longer has a second-round pick and rarely does a team find an instant starting tight end in round three or four. Free agency is the path to follow, but Maccagnan has to hurry before it’s too late.