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The NY Jets are expected to be significantly more active in free agency this offseason than they were a year ago. And with up to $80 million in cap space after roster cuts take place, they’ll have plenty of ammunition to do some serious damage.
General manager Joe Douglas was understandably conservative in his first offseason with the organization.
Rather than target the bigger names such as Byron Jones or Jack Conklin, Douglas opted for cheaper free agents like Pierre Desir and George Fant. The results were mixed, to say the least.
In some cases, the cheaper option paid off as the Jets were able to bring back players like Brian Poole and Jordan Jenkins on super-affordable contracts.
But in other cases, it resulted in the Jets choosing Breshad Perriman over Robby Anderson or relying on the aforementioned Desir to be their No. 1 cornerback.
This time around, things are expected to be different. With a new coaching staff and a renewed sense of optimism, Douglas and the Jets can’t afford to sit on their hands again in free agency.
Unfortunately, some of the top players that they want to target might not even hit the open market. The franchise-tag window is officially open and there are a host of players around the league who appear destined for the tag.
Which Jets’ free-agent targets could ultimately receive the franchise tag? We take a look at four likely candidates.
Next: 4. Kenny Golladay
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4. NY Jets free agent target: Kenny Golladay (WR)
The 2021 free-agent crop of wide receivers is one of the strongest and deepest we’ve seen in recent memory. However, it’s unlikely that many of the top names actually hit the market.
That sentiment is true for Detroit Lions star Kenny Golladay.
Golladay is coming off an injury-riddled campaign in which he played just five games, but is just two years removed from a Pro Bowl 2019 season where he led the league in receiving touchdowns and put together his second consecutive 1,000-yard season.
And at just 27-years-old, he’d likely receive a hefty payday if he actually hit the open market. Unfortunately for teams looking for an upgrade at the wide receiver position, that seems unlikely.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport listed Golladay as a “strong candidate” for the franchise tag and it seems rather unlikely that Detroit just lets him walk for free.
In all likelihood, the Lions will try to work out a long-term extension with their star wide receiver and if the two sides can’t come to an agreement, they’ll slap the franchise tag on him.
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With pretty much their entire wide receiver corps set to hit free agency, the Lions aren’t going to let their top receiver and best offensive playmaker sign with another team.
The Lions need Golladay, especially with new quarterback Jared Goff arriving in Detroit. As much as it would be great to see a trio of Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims, and Golladay in New York, it’s highly unlikely.
Golladay isn’t going anywhere.
Next: 3. Chris Godwin/Shaquil Barrett
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3. NY Jets free agent target: Chris Godwin (WR), Shaquil Barrett (EDGE)
Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to do everything they can to run it back in 2021. But with a number of high-profile players preparing for free agency, that could prove difficult.
Most notably, the likes of Chris Godwin and Shaquil Barrett — two of the Buccaneers’ best players — are set to hit free agency. And as far as the franchise tag goes, they could only place it on one of them.
Tampa Bay tagged Barrett a year ago after a breakout 2019 season that saw him finish with an NFL-best 19.5 sacks. And after another stellar 2020 season, he likely wants a new extension this offseason.
And he might just get it too as the latest reports indicate that the Bucs plan to use the franchise tag on Godwin instead of Barrett.
Godwin has developed into one of the NFL’s best receivers and, at just 25-years-old, would generate a ton of interest on the open market. The Buccaneers know this, and they’re unlikely to just let him walk.
What does that mean for Barrett then? It’s unclear, but the Buccaneers would certainly want to work out a contract extension.
Their cap situation is a little tricky meaning that there’s a chance Barrett, arguably a top-five pass-rusher in football, hits the open market. If that’s the case, the Jets should be all over that.
Either way, whichever one of these players doesn’t get tagged will have a robust market awaiting them.
Next: 2. Brandon Scherff
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2. NY Jets free agent target: Brandon Scherff (OG)
This one has seemed obvious for quite some time. After playing on the franchise tag in 2020, it seems as though the Washington Football Team is ready to give star guard Brandon Scherff a well-deserved extension.
If not, however, expect him to get tagged.
Scherff has developed into one of the best guards in the NFL, having made the Pro Bowl in four of the last five seasons. And he’s coming off arguably the best year of his career where he was named first-team All-Pro.
There are legitimate concerns about his injury history as the former top-five pick hasn’t played a full 16-game slate since the 2016 season. But that wouldn’t stop teams from paying a sizable chunk of money on the open market.
The latest reports indicate that Washington plans to reach a long-term extension, but that the franchise tag is still an option. Either way, it doesn’t appear as though he’s going anywhere.
However, the same can’t be said for New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney.
Thuney was also tagged a year ago but it seems increasingly unlikely that the Patriots opt to do so again. And with no extension in the works, Thuney seems destined for free agency.
Scherff might not be hitting the open market, but that doesn’t mean the Jets or other teams won’t have a top-tier guard to target.
But for those holding out hope that both Thuney and Scherff test free agency, don’t hold your breath.
Next: 1. Allen Robinson
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1. NY Jets free agent target: Allen Robinson (WR)
Perhaps no player, other than the aforementioned Joe Thuney, has been more often discussed at the top of free-agent wishlists this offseason than Chicago Bears star wide receiver, Allen Robinson.
Robinson is arguably a top-10 receiver in the NFL and has consistently put up stellar production despite being saddled with lackluster quarterback play throughout his entire career.
Playing with the likes of Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, Mitchell Trubisky, and others, Robinson has still managed three 1,000-yard campaigns. He’s a contested-catch monster who excels in pretty much every aspect of the game.
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And for that reason, he’s expected to receive perhaps the largest payday this offseason. That is, of course, if he actually hits free agency.
Robinson has made it very clear that he does not want to play on the franchise tag in 2021. But the Bears have also made it clear that it’s an option they will consider.
Whether or not the two sides can work out a long-term deal, it seems increasingly unlikely that Robinson gets his wish to test free agency.
That doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to play in Chicago in 2021 — a tag-and-trade is a possibility. But it does mean that teams shouldn’t expect him to actually hit the open market.
The free-agent wide receiver class looks stacked at first glance, but a number of the top names likely won’t be free agents for much longer. Allen Robinson is at the top of that list.
He’s a pipe dream, but probably not a reality.