New York Jets: Top 10 2020 NFL free agents Gang Green should chase
By Paul A. Esden Jr.
The New York Jets will once again have a lot of money in 2020. Here are the top 10 free agents they should seriously consider chasing.
The New York Jets went 7-9 in 2019 and their hopes of ending their nine-year playoff drought ended in disappointment. Which means the green and white have been thinking about the offseason for a while.
In 2020 once again the Jets will have plenty of cap space available to make some moves and fill some holes. Right now the team has around $60 million in available cap space, but they can create a lot more with some roster finagling. We detailed how the team can create an additional $30 million in cap space this offseason here.
2019 has proven without a shadow of a doubt that the Jets aren’t one or two pieces away from contending for a Super Bowl championship, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get in the mix for some of the top free agents available in 2020.
As we’ve seen in history, free agency can help plug several of your roster holes and provide you flexibility in the NFL Draft. The Jets have a host of needs including but not limited too: offensive tackle, offensive guard, center, backup offensive line, edge, cornerback, among others.
If the Jets do decide to dip their toe into the free-agent waters here are the top 10 names that’ll be available at positions of need for the green and white.
Next: 10. Plug a hole on the OL
The New York Jets No. 1 goal this offseason is to explore every available offensive line option in free agency, the NFL Draft, and through trade. After years of neglect, it’s finally time to give the position the proper tender, love, and care it deserves.
That should finally happen this offseason with new general manager Joe Douglas at the helm. As a former offensive lineman, he understands the importance of the position and why it’s paramount to protect his franchise quarterback Sam Darnold.
Anthony Castonzo is the second-highest-paid offensive linemen that’s projected to be a free agent in 2020, per Spotrac. With the Indianapolis Colts, he’s making just under $11 million in his contract year with the team.
He’s 31-years-old, will be 32 by the start of the 2020 NFL season. In his nine NFL seasons, he has played in six full regular seasons, including this past season. Anthony throughout his professional career has played left tackle and the Jets are about to have a gaping hole at the position with Kelvin Beachum a pending free agent.
Next: 9. Rekindle a fire that should've happened
Dante Fowler Jr. has almost been a member of the New York Jets several times throughout his young NFL career. When he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars he had some issues with the law and with injuries.
All of those issues delayed his impact, but when he was on the football field he’s been incredibly productive. Dante has played five years in the NFL (his rookie season he never played a snap due to injury), so in four years he’s registered 27.5 sacks.
The Jets tried trading for him at the deadline in 2018 and were close according to a source, but couldn’t agree on the compensation. So instead of heading to Gotham, he ended up heading to Los Angeles to play for the Rams.
Fowler is in the last year of his deal ($12 million) and will be looking for a big payday coming up this March. Per Spotrac his calculated market value is perceived to be a four-year $42 million contract that pays him $10.5 annually. That would place him just inside the top-10 at his position, which could provide a team like the Jets solid value for a player that still hasn’t reached his ceiling yet at 25 years of age.
Next: 8. Take a gamble on a talented WR
Now, this is a name you probably haven’t thought of in a while.
The Michigan product is a raw, big-bodied (6-foot-4, 225 pound) wide receiver who has shown flashes of brilliance in his career.
This past offseason he decided to test himself on the open market and couldn’t find a team willing to give him the big-money deal he was looking for so he decided to bet on himself with a one year prove-it deal with the Indianapolis Colts.
In theory, the move made sense, Funchess could be one of the top targets for a pass-happy Andrew Luck offense then cash in during the 2020 free agency period. But sadly, everything didn’t work out the way Devin had originally planned it.
First off Luck surprised the NFL by retiring from the game of football a few weeks before the 2019 NFL season kicked off. On top of that news, Funchess suffered a broken collarbone on September 10 that forced the team to place him on injured reserve. He sadly never made it back on the field.
Funchess, despite some of his issues, is still a unique talent that would provide the Jets something they don’t have: size, youth (25 years old), and a potential No. 1 wide receiver for Sam Darnold.
Next: 7. Invest in youth on the OL
An argument could be made that every name on this list should be an offensive lineman. Jack Conklin is a super intriguing name on the 2020 free-agent-to-be list.
Conklin is still young (25), has a great frame (6-foot-6, 326 pounds), and could immediately plug in at right tackle for the green and white. But if he’s all of those things, why would the Tennessee Titans let him go?
A few things to note here:
- Small injury history (torn ACL, concussion), besides that he’s been super durable for the Titans since being drafted out of Michigan State with the eighth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Doing some additional research into the matter it seems like the Titans have a laundry list of players to pay and exercising the fifth-year option on his contract would’ve restricted some of their future spending. So instead of picking it up, they declined it, and now they’re going to play a dangerous game of poker to see if they can retain him ahead of free agency.
Next: 6. Invest in the edge department
If the New York Jets want to bet on traits and limited production, Shaquil Barrett would be an interesting decision come free agency.
When you think of the best pass rushers in the NFL, it would seem highly unlikely that you’d think of Barrett, but in 2019 he’s been a new man.
For the first four years of his NFL career, Shaquil was a situational pass rusher with the Denver Broncos and accumulated 14 sacks. His highest number was 5.5 in his rookie season, but he never pushed past that.
The Broncos decided to let him hit free agency last season and Barrett signed a modest one-year $4 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019. Fair to say they got the bang for their buck.
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Who would’ve thought that Shaquil Barrett would lead the league in sacks? But that’s exactly what he did in 2019. Shaq registered 19.5 sacks in 16 games, which is more than he did in 61 games with the Denver Broncos (14 sacks).
The Jets would be taking a risk by buying on traits, in lieu of multiple years of proven production, but with their edge issues, it may be a gamble worth investigating.
Next: 5. Add another talking head in the secondary
Marcus Peters has since agreed to a three-year contract extension worth $42 million including $32 million guaranteed.
The New York Jets have had one of the worst collections of cornerbacks in NFL history in 2019. From practice squad players to free agency busts to no-name guys. It’s time to do their homework and invest in the position.
Trumaine Johnson will forever be a cautionary tale, but the team can’t be afraid to burn its hand and avoid the elephant in the room: they need to add talent to the cornerback room.
Marcus Peters is one of the most talented players in the entire league. He passes the eye test:
- Lanky (6-foot, 195 pounds), but he’s got incredibly long arms.
- Productive: 26 interceptions in six seasons with six touchdowns and a fumble returned for a touchdown.
- Young (only 26 years old).
The problem is he’s been heralded as a basket case.
At Washington, he was suspended for a sideline tantrum and was later kicked off the team due to disciplinary issues. Despite the red flags he was still drafted in the backend of the 2015 NFL Draft.
In four years he has played for three different teams, take that for what you will considering the production he’s been able to make happen.
This feels boom or bust, but the one thing that can’t be denied is his ability to create turnovers. Regardless of what color uniform he has worn in his NFL career, he has always made plays.
Next: 4. Use Joe Douglas connection in Baltimore
It’s time for Joe Douglas to go back through his rolodex and use some of his old connections to bring a baller to the Jets in free agency.
Last year the Jets brought in C.J. Mosley from the Baltimore Ravens to a massive deal making him the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history. Now they can grab one of his old running mates at outside linebacker.
The former fifth-round pick has simply outplayed his contract and has earned the big payday that’s heading his way.
In his four professional seasons, he has tallied 28.5 sacks. While he’s never had a double-digit sack season, his consistent production across the board speaks for itself.
There’s no other way to slice it, this Jets team needs more dogs as Jamal Adams said. Matt Judon is a dog that is willing to move all over the defense to make plays and to open up things for his teammates. Judon is another relatively young guy (27-years-old) and has a lot more gas left in the tank.
Next: 3. Sign one of the most versatile players in the NFL
New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams wouldn’t know what to do with himself if somehow the green and white could lure Byron Jones to MetLife Stadium.
We just harped on why the cornerback position is a huge area of need for the green and white. Byron Jones is the perfect corner prospect on paper.
He’s a long-player (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) who brings versatility to a defense. In his career, he has played both corner and safety and has excelled wherever he has been placed.
The Jets could use someone with that type of athleticism at the corner position. Speaking of athleticism, that’s how he rose to fame in football.
Prior to the annual NFL Scouting Combine, Byron Jones was ranked in the top-30 cornerback prospects in the NFL Draft. 54 corners were invited to the Combine in Indianapolis and Byron set a world record for standing broad jump (12 feet, 3 inches). On top of that, he finished first in the vertical leap event and had NFL scouts buzzing about how that would translate to the football field.
Byron is an incredibly durable player who has only missed one game in his NFL career. Out of all the available free agents, he’s the one you should feel most confident in terms of how he’ll translate to a new team.
Next: 2. Sign the best OL on the board
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Arguably Brandon Scherff could be the No. 1 name on this list.
As we’ve already stated, fixing the trenches is the No. 1 task for Gang Green in 2020. Adding Brandon Scherff would go a long way to filling one of those gaping holes on the offensive line.
Here are the players projected to leave on the offensive line:
- Kelvin Beachum, left tackle
- A pending free agent who could be brought back on a smaller deal. He was never the best-left tackle, but he was never the worst either.
- Brian Winters, right guard (possible cap casualty)
- Long injury history and the team could save all of his $7.5 million cap by releasing him.
- Ryan Kalil, center
- Hasn’t been the same player he was with the Carolina Panthers.
- Brandon Shell, right tackle
- Young guy has talent but has had plenty of mental lapses.
Kelechi Osemele the left guard already was released during the season due to some controversial circumstances.
So, in other words, it is very likely the Jets could have a brand new starting five to start 2020 than they did to start 2019. Considering how poorly they’ve performed in 2019, that wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Scherff is the option available and has proven himself to be one of the better guards in football. At 27 years of age, 28 by the time the 2020 season starts, the team may just want to put a blank check on the table and slide it across to Brandon’s representation.
Next: 1. An unusual talent shakes free
I can almost hear the collective reaction from reading this from a New York Jets fan perspective, “UGH another defensive lineman?!”
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Did I get that right?
Well here’s why Yannick Ngakoue isn’t your grandpa’s defensive end.
In four seasons he has collected 37.5 sacks and no that isn’t a typo. That’s an average of over nine sacks a year.
He’s got a unique frame at (6-foot-2, 246 pounds), but possesses ferocious power and a variety of pass-rushing moves that can confuse even the best of offensive linemen.
If the Jets want him, it won’t come cheap.
Per Spotrac, the calculated market value is a five year $87 million contract with a healthy average of over $17 million per season. A far cry from the $870,000 he’s currently making. The new estimated deal would place him in the top-5 among defensive end contracts in the NFL.
With Leonard Williams gone there’s an opening at defensive end if the Jets want a boost to their pass rush. In 2019 the Jets found ways to do more with less. Their current rotation of linemen features late-round picks and undrafted dudes, it’s time to invest some premium assets into the position.