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The NFL’s legal tampering period starts today, leaving teams around the league little time to polish off their final plans for the official start of the league year.
The NY Jets have unfortunately had a few names that were surely on their list taken away after franchise tags were handed out.
While targets like Allen Robinson and Chris Godwin have now become more of a fantasy than truly realistic possibilities, there are still a number of targets that Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh must be interested in bringing onto the roster.
It is possible the Jets are not finished with their roster cuts, with the most obvious separation being made by releasing Henry Anderson at the beginning of the month.
The Jets must make some aggressive moves in free agency this year. It is a rather deep class, even after several big-name players were taken off the market thanks to the franchise tag.
But free agency isn’t won by signing the biggest fish on the market.
The Jets need to sign players for depth, as well as acquiring talent that may be overlooked. Joe Douglas has shown he can get deals done that don’t harm the team’s future in cap space.
Here are five sleeper targets the Jets could pursue in free agency.
Next: 5. Janoris Jenkins
NY Jets Free Agency Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
5. NY Jets free agency sleeper: CB Janoris Jenkins
As more cap casualties come rolling in, cornerback Janoris Jenkins was released by the New Orleans Sants in order to save over $14 million.
Considering the Saints have already widdled their way down from being $100 million down to just $25 million over the cap, it isn’t hard to see why the Saints sent Jenkins walking.
Jenkins is getting up there in age. At 32, he isn’t exactly a spring chicken anymore, and will likely only find some short-term deals on his plate unless a team is extremely desperate for cornerback help.
And while the Jets are desperate, it’s highly unlikely they will break the bank for him.
Still, Joe Douglas is likely giving Janoris Jenkins a look, as the team is in need of some serious reinforcements in the secondary.
The former All-Pro wouldn’t be a number one cornerback, as it’s unlikely that Joe Douglas would go all-in on him as their top cornerback in similar fashion to Pierre Desir.
Drafting a cornerback is the only true option the Jets have at a long-term solution, as well as hoping Bryce Hall and guys like the other Lamar Jackson continue to develop.
It isn’t as though Janoris Jenkins has fallen off a cliff. And it never hurts to have reinforcements.
Next: 4. Malcolm Butler
4. NY Jets free agency sleeper: CB Malcolm Butler
Another victim of the salary cap slaughter, the Tennessee Titans breaking up with Malcolm Butler is one that came as a bit of a surprise. The former undrafted free agent suddenly found himself out of a job last Wednesday as the Titans decided to move on from the former All-Pro.
Butler did not play terribly in 2020, totaling 100 combined tackles on the season that helped Tennessee win the AFC South crown — doing so for the first time since 2008.
However, it seems that the Titans organization wanted to save the $10 million in cap space that Butler would have eaten up. Now on the wrong side of the 30, Butler will surely find a home somewhere else in the NFL.
The Jets appear to be staying on the young end of things after selling off just about any piece to the highest bidder at mid-season, and cutting any loose ends to save money and help get the team younger talent for the future.
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Of course, Butler wouldn’t be the true number one cornerback that the Jets need, but he wouldn’t be a terrible option either. By the end of the 2020 season, the team was fielding a handful of rookies to attempt and finish the season.
A veteran presence could help.
It is likely that the best of Malcolm Butler is in the past, but that does not mean the Jets should not take a look into what it might take to acquire his talents. At 31, there is clearly still gas in the tank.
So long as it is not an expensive addition, there is little harm done.
Next: 3. Keanu Neal
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3. NY Jets free agency sleeper: S Keanu Neal
Keanu Neal was once seen as one of the best young safeties in the NFL. However, an Atlanta Falcons team that looked like it was begging to be put out of its misery in 2020 pretty much set the organization up to blow it all up.
Letting Neal walk in free agency is not as surprising as it likely would have been if he was on any other team. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and Keanu Neal is anything but trash.
His 2019 season was not one to remember, being the victim of an Atlanta defense that was as good as defending as the team is holding leads.
Neal was a rookie at the time of the Falcons’ Super Bowl run, acting as an important member of the team once the defense found its groove.
For the Jets, Marcus Maye has been brought back to the team after being franchise tagged. Ashtyn Davis has yet to reach his full potential, meaning that Neal would either be a rotational player, or competing to put an end to Davis’s short time as a starter in New York.
Davis has plenty of time to develop. The Jets won’t be looking to replace him full-time just yet.
But after a down season hampered Neal’s market value, it’s a strong possibility that Joe Douglas could bring in the former Falcon for cheap, giving new head coach Robert Saleh some interesting toys to play with this season.
Next: 2. Trey Hendrickson
NY Jets Free Agency Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
2. NY Jets free agency sleeper: DE Trey Hendrickson
Trey Hendrickson is a prime example of showing off a player’s full potential when given the proper amount of playing time. Hendrickson has seen an increased amount of playing time over the last few years, racking up an incredible amount of sacks in 2020.
The New Orleans Saints are still in the midst of freeing up more cap room, so it’s likely that Hendrickson will not be returning to the Big Easy in 2021. He hasn’t had his name thrown around much, with big players like Joe Thuney predicted to land in New York.
Hendrickson saw some moderate production in 2019, tallying 3.5 sacks before letting loose in 2020 with 13.5.
Fitting a prime 26-year-old pass rusher into a Saleh-headed defensive line would allow Hendrickson to truly reach his full potential.
Considering the Jets haven’t had any success getting to the quarterback in recent years, it’s safe to say that buying into somebody who has shown production is a no-brainer.
Without any other players putting pressure on the quarterback, Hendrickson likely would not see his playing time limited with the Jets. Fitting in with Quinnen Williams would finally give a decimated secondary some much-needed support.
Loading up on some former Saints might not be such a terrible idea.
Next: 1. David Andrews
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1. NY Jets free agency sleeper: C David Andrews
Patriots’ offensive linemen seem to hit free agency every year. While the rumors of Joe Thuney being the Jets’ prime free agency candidate, David Andrews should be another to pursue.
While the draft this season is full of NFL-ready offensive linemen, it would not hurt to buy into one that can play anywhere on the inside. If the Jets feel confident with Connor McGovern starting at center, Andrews can swing out to guard.
However, it’s more likely that McGovern, who has experience playing guard, would shift over.
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It’s safe to say that the center job is anything but secure. Everywhere on the offensive line could stand for an upgrade if their name isn’t Mekhi Becton.
Hopefully signing Andrews does not turn into a Nate Solder situation, but it’s a risk the Jets need to take. A new quarterback will all but certainly be at the helm next season, and the team cannot afford to allow him to sustain the same punishment as Sam Darnold.
Joe Douglas spent a good deal of money trying to patch up the offensive line in 2020, meaning he isn’t opposed to the idea.
Not all of his signings worked out, but that doesn’t mean that the team should opt-out of signing more players in an attempt to give the quarterback some time.
The Jets have some of the most cap space available to bring in free agents this year. It would be wise to fill up on all the talent they can afford.