NY Jets: Predicting what happens to the team’s top 4 free agents

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The NY Jets will have a decision to make on 19 unrestricted free agents this offseason. As per usual, some of those decisions will be easier than others.

With general manager Joe Douglas going into his second offseason with the organization, it’s safe to say that he’s looking to overhaul a majority of the roster. Especially after an abysmal 2-14 season a year ago.

That means don’t expect players like Josh Andrews or Bryce Hager to be re-signed this offseason. But we’re not here to talk about those players — we’re here to talk about the Jets’ top pending free agents.

Even with plenty of cap space — perhaps up to $80 million when all is said and done — there’s no guarantee that the Jets look to bring back all of their top pending free agents.

For some, it’s just a matter of scheme fit under a new head coach and coaching staff. For others, maybe their talent just isn’t worth the payday they could receive.

Or maybe it’s because the Jets’ “top” free agents just aren’t that good. Such is life for a 2-14 team with one of the least talented rosters in the NFL.

Of the 19 players set to hit unrestricted free agency, there are really only a couple of difficult decisions that will have to be made. We’re set to take a look at some of those difficult decisions today.

A few players that just missed the cut are Breshad Perriman, Tarell Basham, and Joe Flacco. But as a general rule of thumb, just expect that none of them will be back in 2021.

Next: 4. Jordan Jenkins

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4. Jordan Jenkins, OLB, NY Jets

Jordan Jenkins has been a serviceable starter for the Jets ever since he was drafted in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. And as it stands, he’s currently the team’s longest-tenured player.

But don’t expect that to carry over into the 2021 season.

After amassing 15 sacks over his previous two seasons, Jenkins entered 2020 free agency looking for a sizable payday. However, after his market failed to develop the way he had hoped, Jenkins signed a dirt-cheap one-year, $3.75 million contract to return to the Jets.

It was seen as a steal at the time, but that was before Jenkins went on to have his least productive season in a few years.

Battling injury, Jenkins finished with just two sacks and six QB hits in 12 games marking a steep drop-off from his previous two campaigns. That said, his play might have been better than the stat sheet suggests.

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The 26-year-old actually received the highest Pro Football Focus grade since his rookie season clocking in at a 69.4 which ranked 36th out of all edge defenders.

Unfortunately for Jenkins, however, the Jets’ switch to a 4-3 defense pretty much eliminates any chance he has of returning. He isn’t agile enough to play a stand-up role and he hasn’t played a five-technique defensive end role since high school.

Jenkins’ best bet would be as a SAM linebacker, but even then his lack of coverage ability would make him a detriment. Don’t expect the Jets to look to re-sign Jenkins this offseason.

But just as they did last year, don’t be surprised if the crosstown New York Giants come calling.

Next: 3. Neville Hewitt

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3. Neville Hewitt, LB, NY Jets

Neville Hewitt has played some of the best football of his career with the Jets. Originally nothing more than a special-teams ace, Hewitt was given the opportunity to start on multiple occasions and he made the most of it.

In fact, he’s now started each of his last 32 games with the team dating back to the end of the 2018 season. Now set to hit the open market again, will the Jets opt to re-sign him once more?

It’s possible, but not probable.

The 27-year-old is a valuable player to have on any roster. He’s a core special-teamer, a highly-regarded leader, and the fact that he called defensive plays last season while playing nearly 50 percent of special-teams snaps shouldn’t be overlooked.

Hewitt is a valuable NFL player, but his limitations as a player are evident.

Although he’s coming off the best year of his career, Hewitt just doesn’t have the speed or athleticism to be competent in coverage. He’s a one-dimensional run-stuffing linebacker.

That isn’t going to work in Robert Saleh’s defense that emphasizes linebackers who are athletic and can cover. Moreover, Hewitt is more of a traditional MIKE and with C.J. Mosley set to return, he wouldn’t really have a role.

Hewitt’s best bet is to return on another cheap one-year deal where he could double as a core special-teamer as well as additional linebacker depth. But given his starting experience, it’s more likely he finds a better deal on the open market.

It’s not a guarantee that Hewitt walks in free agency, but certainly don’t count on his return.

Next: 2. Brian Poole

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2. Brian Poole, CB, NY Jets

Brian Poole is perhaps the Jets’ most intriguing free-agent case. A standout nickel cornerback over the last two years, Poole has been one of former general manager Mike Maccagnan’s strongest free-agent finds.

The former undrafted free agent has played the best football of his career over the last two years with PFF grades north of 77.0 in each campaign.

After ranking as the No. 9 cornerback in football in 2019, he followed that up with an equally impressive 2020 season in which PFF graded him as the 11th-best player at his position.

He is, by all accounts, one of the best slot corners in the league. That said, there’s no guarantee that he returns.

Poole was re-signed last offseason to a cheap one-year, $5 million deal — something that surprised many given his breakout season. And now after another strong year of play, he seems destined to earn a pay raise.

Depending on how expensive Poole’s market gets, the Jets could opt to look elsewhere. Players like K’Waun Williams or Mike Hilton could be cheaper alternatives, with Williams having prior experience under Robert Saleh.

It’s something the Jets could consider, especially if they’re looking to spend more at other positions. Also consider the fact that Poole’s best play has come in a primarily man-coverage defense.

Under Saleh, the Jets will likely be switching to more a zone scheme which could also affect his chances of coming back.

Ultimately, this one seems pretty split. Give it a 50/50 chance that Poole is back in 2021.

Next: 1. Marcus Maye

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1. Marcus Maye, S, NY Jets

There is no more important free agent for the Jets this offseason than safety Marcus Maye. Maye has long been one of the more underappreciated players on the roster.

But in 2020, he took his game to another level.

The former second-round pick finished with career-highs in tackles, tackles for loss, QB hits, sacks, forced fumbles, pass deflections, and interceptions en route to his best season as a professional.

All of that was good for a stellar PFF grade of 82.9 which ranked him as the No. 5 safety in football and the best player on the Jets. As such, it was no surprise to see him receive a team-leading four All-Pro votes.

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Maye elevated his play from that of an average-to-above-average starter to a top-five safety in 2020. And now, he’s looking to get paid for his services.

By all accounts, it seems the Jets have every intention to re-sign Maye in the offseason. As they should.

But if for some reason the two sides can’t work out a long-term extension, it seems wise to slap the franchise tag on him. Especially given how affordable the tag for a safety is.

The projected tag number for a safety is just over $11 million which would give Maye the seventh-highest cap hit at the position going into 2021. Given how well he played in 2020, it’s hard to argue that isn’t worth it.

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Whether it’s via an extension or a franchise tag, expect Maye to be playing for the Jets in 2021.