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NY Jets: 5 49ers offensive free agents for Robert Saleh to target

NY Jets, Robert Saleh (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
NY Jets, Robert Saleh (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
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NY Jets, Robert Saleh
NY Jets, Robert Saleh

NY Jets, Robert Saleh Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The evening of Thursday, January 14th, 2021 marked the beginning of a new era in NY Jets football. New York came to an agreement with San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to become their next head coach.

A move that was celebrated by fans alike upon its announcement.

Saleh is the anti-Gase. He is going to build a culture that players want to play in and will show his passion for the game, day in and day out. Already players cannot wait to get started, including star defensive lineman Quinnen Williams.

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With the Saleh era getting underway, he will be working heavily with general manager Joe Douglas to piece together the team they want. New York is rebuilding and has a very young team with some solid pieces in place. Still, there is a lot to be done.

Luckily, Saleh is going to have the opportunity to bring some familiarity with him from San Francisco. It is expected that passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur will be his offensive coordinator. Saleh and Douglas will also have the chance to steal players from the 49ers.

San Francisco has a ton of free agents this offseason and lacks the cap space to retain them all. Gang Green will have cap space galore in order to help bulk up the roster.

That being said, expect the Jets to target a handful of former 49ers players who hit the market who are familiar with LaFleur’s offense and Saleh’s defense. Here are five 49ers players on offense the Jets could target this offseason

Next: 1. A new backup quarterback

NY Jets, Robert Saleh
NY Jets, Robert Saleh

NY Jets, Robert Saleh Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

1. The NY Jets could target quarterback Nick Mullens

This offseason, the quarterback position is going to receive the most attention. Will Sam Darnold be the starter? Will he be dealt, and the team takes one second overall?

This is the most pressing matter for Saleh and Douglas, as it changes the entire outlook for free agency and the draft. After all, the starting quarterback is a position the Jets have spent decades searching for an answer at.

However, the team will also need to figure out what their plan is as to who will be the backup. Veteran Joe Flacco is set to be a free agent and will be 36-years-old this season.

New York also has Mike White and 2020 fourth-round pick James Morgan on the roster, but neither has thrown a pass in an NFL game.

The Jets are likely to transition to a play-action pass offense with LaFleur calling the shots, given he is coming from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree. In recent years, injuries have seen multiple quarterbacks under center for the 49ers, and it just so happens two will hit the market.

Nick Mullens, who started eight games this past season, is a restricted free agent, meaning the 49ers could tender him. Should Mullens become available, he is a top option to back-up whoever may be the Jets starter in 2021.

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In three seasons, Mullens has started 16 of 19 games, throwing for 4,714 yards while completing 64.5 percent of passes. He has plenty of experience with LaFleur and is still young, being he will only be 26-years-old.

If the Jets cannot land Mullens, C.J. Beathard is another San Francisco free-agent quarterback. Unlike Mullens, Beathard is an unrestricted free agent and a former third-round pick.

He has started 12 of 19 games, throwing for 3,469 yards with 18 touchdowns to just 13 picks, and could be another option for Gang Green.

Next: 2. An addition to the backfield

NY Jets, Robert Saleh (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
NY Jets, Robert Saleh (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

2. The NY Jets could target running back Jeff Wilson

Running back is a position the Jets will look to address this offseason. It’s a priority, as no quarterback, Darnold or a rookie, can succeed in the NFL without a sustainable run game — something that has eluded the Jets over the past two years.

The Jets will likely transition to more of a zone run scheme, as well as a committee backfield. La’Mical Perine and Ty Johnson are both under contract for 2021, while Josh Adams is a restricted free agent. As for Frank Gore, odds are he will not be a Jet this season.

Like at quarterback, the Jets could look to snag one of a few free agents from the 49ers at running back. The team has a pair of veteran running backs in Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman, both of who will not command a hefty deal.

At the same time, the most promising choice is another restricted free agent, being Jeff Wilson. The 6-foot-0,194-pound back had a breakout season in 2020, putting up much better numbers than McKinnon and Coleman.

In his third season, Wilson played in 12 games, making three starts. He rushed for 600 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Wilson also did damage in the passing game too, having 13 receptions with three going for touchdowns.

If the Jets could land Wilson, they get a 25-year-old running back who can run and catch, though has had his issues blocking. Luckily, the Jets could turn another free agent for help blocking…

Next: 3. Bring back the fullback!

NY Jets, Robert Saleh
NY Jets, Robert Saleh

NY Jets, Robert Saleh Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

3. The NY Jets could target fullback Kyle Juszczyk

It has seemingly been forever since the Jets incorporated a natural fullback into the offense. In recent years, it has become a forgotten position that surprised fans whenever it came into play. Specifically, Trevon Wesco and Ryan Griffin have shared the responsibility during the Adam Gase era.

And they had mixed results at best.

That could change now, as Gang Green could be a destination for one of the league’s best fullbacks. Kyle Juszczyk is set to be a free agent and has spent the past few seasons being an underrated part of San Francisco’s offense.

This past season, he totaled a career-high six total touchdowns and amassed 266 yards from scrimmage. In eight seasons in the league, the has 1,849 yards receiving and 157 yards rushing, with 15 total touchdowns.

Oh, and he has made five straight Pro Bowls, as he is effective in all aspects of the game.

At 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, Juszczyk is a built blocker, who while is coming off of an average year from a blocking standpoint, remains one of the better fullbacks in the game. The former Baltimore Ravens fourth-round pick in 2013 is going to be 30-years-old in 2021.

New York is searching for experienced playmakers who can be leaders in the locker room. And it just so happens signing a fullback could be the best move they can make towards that cause.

Juszczyk has spent his career with winning organizations in the Ravens and 49ers and would be an excellent influence on the team’s young backfield.

Next: 4. Adding depth at wide receiver

NY Jets, Robert Saleh (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NY Jets, Robert Saleh (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

4. The NY Jets could target wide receiver Kendrick Bourne

It is almost a tradition to include a wide receiver as a need for the Jets each offseason. That is how long the position has been in flux, and how often the team has struggled to solidify the unit. Why not kick off the Saleh era by ending that trend?

At this moment, it seems Denzel Mims will have the upper hand to be a starter. Joining him is Jamison Crowder, that is assuming that the Jets do not elect to cut him to save cap space.

Otherwise, the Jets’ best targets already under contract are Braxton Berrios, Josh Malone, Lawrence Cager, and Josh Doctson.

In other words, the Jets must add depth in case injuries plague the unit again in 2021.

That is where Kendrick Bourne comes in. A former undrafted free agent out of Eastern Washington, Bourne is a versatile 6-foot-1 and 203-pound receiver. Bourne will be 26-years-old this season and is entering his fifth year in the league.

While he is not a No. 1 receiver, he makes for a very capable starter. This past season, injuries once again forced him into the starting lineup, and Bourne responded with career numbers.

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In five starts out of 15 games played, Bourne had career highs of 49 receptions and 667 yards. He split time between the slot and out wide, flashing how useful his versatility can be.

No, Bourne is not the flashy wide receiver signing that would give the Jets a game-changer out wide. He is the signing that because of his familiarity with LaFleur’s passing offense, he would be a phenomenal addition to the unit.

Not to mention, he would provide a massive boost to the lack of depth at the position.

Next: 5. More talent at tight end

NY Jets, Robert Saleh
NY Jets, Robert Saleh

NY Jets, Robert Saleh Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

5. The NY Jets could target tight end Jordan Reed

Lastly, the Jets are going to need to figure out what the future holds at tight end. Currently, the Jets have four under contract this season, none of whom put up starter-worthy numbers in 2020.

Ryan Griffin did not look the same following ankle injury at the end of a strong 2019 campaign. His production dropped, and now he could be a cap casualty.

Trevon Wesco, who is supposed to be a versatile fullback/tight end hybrid, is not living up to his fourth-round draft selection in 2019 and is no lock to make the roster. And Connor Davis has never played an NFL snap.

Meanwhile, Chris Herndon, after a lost 2019 season due to suspension and injury, was expected to have a career year in 2020. Only to see his production and usage dip and leave his status to be the team’s starter in 2021 in doubt.

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Yet, as Herndon will only be 25 this season, there is still hope he can be the player he flashed the potential to be his rookie year.

If the Jets hope to give Herndon one last chance to prove himself, they need an insurance plan in case things do not work out. That is why the Jets should target Jordan Reed.

Reed is no longer the elite, Pro Bowl player he was five years ago, but he proved he can still ball in 2020. He remained somewhat healthy, playing in 10 games, totaling 231 yards and four touchdowns.

The Jets could bring in the soon-to-be 31-year-old to complement Herndon and provide an underneath security blanket in the passing game. Reed also is a great blocker, a skill that none of the Jets tight ends consistently have.

Next. NY Jets: 5 players that will benefit from the Robert Saleh hire

Ultimately, the Jets must take advantage of Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur’s connection to the many free-agent 49ers.

Check back soon for the second part of this story about which defensive players Saleh can recruit to New York.

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