The NY Jets are expected to make sweeping roster changes this offseason, which might be bad news for the 18 players set to hit unrestricted free agency next month. Among those 18 players is linebacker Neville Hewitt.
Originally an undrafted free agent in 2015, Hewitt spent the first three years of his career with the Miami Dolphins serving primarily as a special-teams ace with sporadic appearances on defense.
He signed with the Jets prior to the 2018 season and was expected to fill the same role in New York. However, just a few years later, and he’s fresh off a season in which he started all 16 games and led the team with a career-high 134 tackles.
Hewitt has started the last two years for the Jets at linebacker, filling in for various injured players. But while he’s never been much more than a reliable run stuffer, he clearly played the best football of his career in 2020.
But does that mean the Jets will bring him back for another year? How much might it cost them?
What is Neville Hewitt’s market value?
It’s interesting to try and project what Hewitt’s market value might end up being. He isn’t a high-enough-profile player for Spotrac to project his value, but it’s safe to say that he’ll go for more than the cheap one-year, $2 million contract he signed a year ago.
But how much more?
Given his lack of athleticism and coverage ability (although improved in 2020), it’s unlikely Hewitt garners serious interest on the open market in today’s NFL. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a valuable player.
Perhaps somewhere between $3 and $5 million per season on a two-year contract makes sense. We could use a player like David Mayo of the New York Giants for reference.
A stout special-teamer, Mayo received an opportunity to start in 2019 and it helped him earn a three-year, $8.4 million contract worth around $2.8 million per year the following offseason.
Hewitt is a better player than Mayo and now has two years of starting experience under his belt. Still, he turns 28-years-old in April and his ceiling is rather limited.
Should the NY Jets re-sign Neville Hewitt?
Hewitt had the best year of his career in 2020 both from a statistical and analytical standpoint. While still an average starter at best, Hewitt received his best Pro Football Focus grade since his rookie season earning a 59.4 grade.
That actually ranked 31st out of all off-ball linebackers — it should be noted that PFF is notoriously hard on linebackers. His coverage grade was still below-average, but his run defense was much improved from previous seasons.
Ultimately, however, his role in new head coach Robert Saleh’s 4-3 defense is difficult to pinpoint. He doesn’t possess the coverage ability needed to be a three-down starter and his normal MIKE role will be taken over by the returning C.J. Mosley.
Perhaps he’s best fit as a SAM linebacker, but even still, his lack of coverage ability would ideally limit him to early downs. Saleh emphasizes speed and athleticism in his linebackers making Hewitt rather expendable.
Still, he’s a core special-teamer, a defensive leader, and a quality run-stopper making him a worthy piece to bring back at the right price.
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Will the NY Jets re-sign Neville Hewitt?
Hewitt is a quality player who proved his worth in 2020, but don’t expect the Jets to make him a priority. Yes, he called defensive plays, played 43 percent of special-teams snaps, and is coming off the best year of his career, but his lack of a defined role in Saleh’s defense could cost him.
And even if they re-sign Hewitt, it’s likely they address the off-ball linebacker position in the offseason regardless.
The Jets will probably make an effort to re-sign Hewitt. But just as Joe Douglas has done in the past, he’ll set a price point and refuse to pay above it. If Hewitt gets a better offer from another team, he’s likely a goner.
At this point, it could go either way.
Odds of re-signing: 50 percent