Despite possessing the second-most cap space in the NFL, the New York Jets shouldn’t rely on free agency to rebuild their roster. It’s a trap that they can ill-afford to fall into.
The New York Jets will enter the free agency period with money to burn. No literally, the team could theoretically burn half of their currently projected cap space and still rank in the top 10 in spending money.
This is a good thing, right? I mean after all having money is good and spending said money on players to improve your roster must be considered a positive.
However, the actual conclusion to be drawn is a bit more complex than at first glance.
Sure having cap space to improve and fix your roster should be considered a good thing. But the better question is: will that cap space even fix the Jets roster? Or rather, can it?
The short answer is yes anything is possible in the world of football but the better answer is, no not really. Or at least it is significantly unlikely that the team will be able to fix their woes in the free agency period.
Conversely, the “fixing” is generally a long, drawn-out process of good drafting and intelligent financial decisions, of which the Jets have very little to show. But let’s take a quick look at that drafting portion because that’s truly where the top teams begin to build a foundation.
Just a quick glance at some of the league’s top teams will show rosters chock full of players drafted by their current team. The Kansas City Chiefs are led by the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Eric Berry, Justin Houston, Chris Jones, Tyreek Hill, and Eric Fisher, all of which were acquired through the draft. In fact, seven of the 10 players accounting for the largest cap hit were drafted by the team.
Looking at their AFC Championship opponents, the New England Patriots are another team built through the draft. Tom Brady, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Dont’a Hightower, Julian Edelman, Sony Michel, and their entire offensive line with the exception of left tackle Trent Brown are all homegrown talents. In actuality, before this past season, the offensive line was completely homegrown before the team let Nate Solder walk away in free agency.
The draft is easily the most effective way to build a team in today’s NFL as players, especially quarterbacks, on rookie contracts serve as quite the bargain for organizations. But some of the league’s top teams have tried a different approach, while still maintaining a solid backbone of good drafting. That would be the more recent phenomenon of trading to acquire good players.
The Los Angeles Rams are the kings of this as they went out and traded for Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, and Brandin Cooks this offseason to help fill out their roster. Their free agent signings were few and far between and each was a calculated move that paid off in the end.
The Rams paid a hefty price for a can’t-miss, established star at an important position in left tackle Andrew Whitworth and made a couple under-the-radar value signings in former Bills Robert Woods and Nickell Robey-Coleman. When you do make free agent signings, that’s how you do it.
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When thinking of recent teams who tried to buy success in free agency the Jacksonville Jaguars immediately spring to mind. Over the past three offseasons, the Jaguars have made major additions to their team in free agency coming through the likes of Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, and most recently Andrew Norwell. While the franchise fell apart this season for a multitude of reasons not necessarily related to their signings, here’s looking at you Blake Bortles, the organization initially found success.
However, that was only because they had already built a solid foundation of drafted players such as superstar Jalen Ramsey, the recently drafted Leonard Fournette, solid starting center Brandon Linder, and athletic linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack. Even though they saw a massive uptick in success following their free agent signings, the foundation was there for the team to build off of.
No such foundation exists for the Jets, at least not yet.
Sure there are a few homegrown players who are solid starters such as Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Chris Herndon, Brandon Shell, and Marcus Maye, among a couple others, but none of those players are going to carry this team. Leonard Williams is someone who the team thought would be a gamechanger, or a team-carrier, but he has regressed to the point of a solid starter by the current year.
The foundation isn’t at ground level, but it isn’t any more than a couple stories high yet. If the Jets are going to have sustained success the team must continue to build through the draft, something they have improved upon in recent years.
They must also make smart financial decisions and not throw their money around at free agents unless they are premier at their position. Don’t overpay another team’s trash to make up for your lack of treasure.
If the Jets are going to make acquisitions elsewhere besides the draft, they should explore the trade market. There are multiple big-name players on the trade block as we treck towards free agency that could make intriguing additions to the Jets squad.
But the one thing they can’t do is fall into the trap of expecting their $100 million in cap space to solve all of their issues.
After all, managing a football roster is more a game of chess than it is Monopoly.