The New York Jets have made some great moves this offseason, but their plans for the cornerback position evidently remain unclear.
The New York Jets 2019 free agency period has been, for all intents and purposes, an overwhelming success. Sure they’ve missed out on addressing a few key areas but overall, the team is in a much better position than they were a couple of weeks ago.
But one positional plan that has been perplexing thus far has been that of the cornerback position.
While the focus going into free agency was primarily on beefing up the offensive line and adding an edge rusher — not to mention the everlasting saga that was Le’Veon Bell — one of the biggest positions of need was at cornerback.
With the expected departures of both Morris Claiborne and Buster Skrine, the Jets went into the offseason with just Trumaine Johnson as a viable starter under contract. Almost a week into free agency, and there still isn’t a clear plan for the position.
The Jets did sign nickel cornerback Brian Poole who is expected to take over for Skrine in the slot, but even that signing isn’t as promising as it may seem. Although Poole will be four years younger than Skrine at the start of the 2019 season, his skill set and more importantly his weaknesses are reminiscent of the recently departed former Cleveland Brown.
Poole is an excellent blitzer and is great in run support but struggles at time in coverage as he is oftentimes too aggressive. The Florida product was called for eight penalties in 2018 with three of them coming courtesy of defensive holds, something that Skrine has struggled with as well.
Ultimately, Poole may be a slight upgrade over Skrine, but it’s not by much. The Jets would have been better off exploring the market for former Chicago Bears slot corner Bryce Callahan who would have demanded a larger premium but would have also been a substantial upgrade.
But Poole would have been an acceptable edition had it not been for the apparent lack of a plan opposite No. 1 cornerback Trumaine Johnson.
The team re-signed versatile defender Darryl Roberts ahead of the start of free agency and at the time it looked like a great signing. Roberts had impressed when given the chance in 2018 and showed positional flexibility playing both cornerback and free safety in place of the injured Marcus Maye.
But once the terms of the contract were revealed, the apparent plan seemed to be clear. The Jets re-signed Roberts to a three-year, $18 million contract which is more than just depth money. At the moment, he is slated to be one of the team’s two starting outside cornerbacks.
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Now, Roberts played very well in 2018 but the Marshall product is 28-years-old and has never been counted on as a starter before. Going into 2019 with a trio of Johnson, Roberts, and Poole manning the Jets secondary would be a mistake, especially considering the options available and the cap space at the team’s disposal.
The Jets could always look to the draft to address the position but it’s unlikely the team drafts a cornerback in the first round — even factoring in a trade down — meaning that they will have to count on hitting on a mid-round selection. Given general manager Mike Maccagnan‘s track record of mid-round draft picks, this isn’t entirely a favorable strategy either.
It’s not as if each of these moves was inherently harmful in a vacuum. But counting on Poole and Roberts to replace Skrine and Claiborne seems more like a lateral move if anything as opposed to a true step in the right direction. Factor in the struggles of Johnson in his first season with the Jets and there’s cause to be concerned.
The Jets improved in many different areas in free agency, but their disregard of the cornerback position could come back to bite them in 2019 unless things change in a hurry.