The NY Jets are not a team of much talent. There are very few players on the current roster who saw great success in the 2020 season, as the Jets were one of just five teams who did not send a player to the 2021 Pro Bowl.
However, there is one player on the roster who for four years has been a cornerstone of not only the secondary but also the entire defense. That player is safety Marcus Maye.
Maye, the 2020 Team MVP, was drafted 39th overall in 2017, 33 selections after Gang Green drafted former Jet Jamal Adams. The hope was for this duo to grow into the top safety tandem in football.
Adams, however, was dealt this past July to Seattle in a lucrative trade that gave the Jets two extra first-round picks and more.
How good has Marcus Maye been?
Marcus Maye has been a very dependable player for New York, acting as the team’s last line of defense so-to-speak as the deep safety. He’s played 54 games over the past four seasons, mostly overcoming the injury concerns that followed him from his time at the University of Florida.
Throughout those 54 games, Maye has grown tremendously as a player. His first season for the Jets saw not-so-great play, as Pro Football Focus gave him a very forgettable grade of 59.5.
In his three seasons since then, though, Maye’s average PFF score has been a very good 79.1. Maye received his career-high grade this past season with an excellent 82.8.
Regarding stats, Maye had an especially productive 2020 season. His 11 pass deflections ranked fifth among safeties, his 88 tackles ranked 22nd among safeties, and his two sacks was tied for 16th among safeties.
Each of those stats represents vastly different skills — pass coverage, run-stopping, and blitzing respectively — and Maye’s production ranged from above-average to elite across all of those statistics.
Along with those deflections, tackles, and sacks have also come takeaways and quite a few of them. Maye has intercepted the ball six times and forced four fumbles so far in his career.
This season, in addition to forcing two fumbles, Maye also intercepted the ball twice, both times in incredible fashion.
His first pick came against Miami on an exceptional catch that forced him to clutch the ball behind his back. For his second pick, Maye batted the ball up into the air and came down with it while in coverage against dominant receiver D.K. Metcalf.
In addition to his counting stats, Maye has also proven to be a clutch player, a valuable trait for a safety. Maye made an incredible game-winning pass deflection in one-on-one coverage on a deep pass against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15 this season.
This play was identical to a play made by Maye last year against Pittsburgh in Week 16, during which he made an equally terrific deflection on a deep ball to win the Jets the game.
Clearly, Maye has been a very solid player for the Jets. One concern about a large contract extension, however, could be Maye’s age.
Maye will turn 28 in March, meaning a four-year contract would take him well into his 30s. While Maye is not that young, his age should not be a concern.
The safety position in the NFL is affected very little by age relative to others. In fact, I would argue that only quarterbacks and offensive linemen are less affected by age.
Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle, Kareem Jackson, Malcolm Jenkins, Devin McCourty, Harrison Smith, and Micah Hyde are all elite safeties who continued their great play into their 30s.
Another risk with a contract extension could be Maye’s injury history. In Florida, Maye got injured on several different occasions, including injuries to his arm and foot. At the NFL level, Maye missed 10 games in his second year in 2018.
Other than that injury-riddled 2018 season, though, Maye has been healthy. He has not missed a single game in his other three seasons, indicating that the injury concerns that followed him out of Florida have not manifested very much in the pros.
Should the NY Jets try to be stingy?
While spending significant money on a safety may not seem like a great use of resources, letting Marcus Maye walk due to a contract dispute would reflect poorly on Jets’ general manager Joe Douglas, whose frugality has already cost the Jets.
Robby Anderson and Jack Conklin were two major targets of the Jets in the 2020 offseason who went elsewhere, likely due to contract disputes, and thrived with their respective teams.
Anderson left the Jets last year when Douglas did not offer him the money he wanted. Douglas has vocalized his regret about not retaining Anderson, who exploded this season with 1,111 yards in his first year with Carolina.
Instead, Douglas went the economical route with Breshad Perriman, who logged a middling 511 yards in 12 games played. Hopefully Douglas learns from this mistake and opts to retain the already proven Jet in Maye, even if it costs a few million dollars more than hoped.
In the other case, Conklin was a very good 25-year-old offensive tackle who left Tennessee last spring for free agency. According to sources, Douglas was very high on Conklin, who was thought to be the GM’s main target in free agency.
Conklin went to Cleveland instead and was one of the best right tackles in football, receiving a phenomenal 84.3 grade from PFF. Douglas again went the cheaper route with George Fant, who posted a very mediocre PFF grade of 61.8 this year.
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What would it cost the NY Jets to keep Marcus Maye?
I think a contract that would prove favorable for both sides would be a four-year, $44 million contract with $18 million guaranteed. According to Overthecap, that average annual value of $11 million would rank tied for ninth among safeties.
After Maye’s terrific 2020 season, $11 million per year would be great value for New York. Making Maye only the ninth-highest-paid safety in football would leave Gang Green with a boatload of cap space to spend on other free agents.
The high guaranteed amount, though, would be attractive to Maye, an aging veteran with somewhat of an injury history.
In addition, this year’s free-agent safety class is far more talented than usual, including the likes of Justin Simmons, Anthony Harris, Marcus Williams, and Malik Hooker.
With so many high-quality players at the position set to hit the open market, Maye might prefer to avoid the risk of testing free agency (especially in what is expected to be a year with lowered cap).
Looking at recent contracts given to safeties, in 2019, Kareem Jackson received a three-year, $33 million dollar contract right after receiving an elite PFF grade of 85.3, two and a half points higher than Marcus Maye’s 2020 grade.
Jordan Poyer received a two-year, $19.5 million dollar extension in 2020 following a very solid season with 107 tackles along with three forced fumbles and five takeaways.
Not since 2014 sixth-round pick Quincy Enunwa has a drafted Jets player received a multi-year contract extension. While the major cause of this has been poor drafting, there have been decent players who have walked.
This common occurrence has had very detrimental effects on the Jets culture, which could be described as nothing but toxic over the past few seasons. Re-signing Marcus Maye would be a great step in improving this team’s culture and retaining home-grown talent.
Maye has shown heart and has put in the work. It’s about time a Jet like him gets rewarded.