4 former NY Jets who still need a team for the 2021 season
By Justin Fried
The NY Jets have undergone quite a bit of roster turnover this offseason, as was to be expected. With upwards of 25 players set to hit the open market either as an unrestricted or restricted free agent, the team was always bound to reshape the roster.
And reshape they did.
Gone are the likes of Jordan Jenkins, Tarell Basham, Joe Flacco, and others who have inked deals with new teams this offseason. Even players like Pat Elflein, Frankie Luvu, and Matthias Farley had found new homes.
Again this was to be expected. General manager Joe Douglas entered his second full offseason with the team and took more drastic measures to overhaul the roster.
That included the signings of Carl Lawson and Corey Davis to bolster both sides of the ball. And that process will continue in the 2021 NFL Draft where the Jets are set to pick a total of nine times, excluding the possibility of any trades.
The Jets have already introduced 12 new players to the roster just through free agency alone. That number will only climb from here on out, meaning that moving on from the vast majority of their in-house free agents was always likely.
Still, although a good portion of them have signed deals with new teams, there remain quite a few that have gone unsigned through the end of March.
We’ll only be highlighting four of the more notable players on this list, so for guys like Frank Gore, Arthur Maulet, and Harvey Langi, they’ll miss out.
That said, let’s take a look at four notable former Jets that remain unsigned into April.
Next: 4. Patrick Onwuasor
4. Patrick Onwuasor, LB, NY Jets
Many Jets fans probably won’t even be aware of Patrick Onwuasor, but he did spend all of last season with the organization. He just occupied the injured reserve far more often than he did the active roster.
In fact, he suited up for just one game in 2020, playing eight snaps, all of which came on special teams. That was the extent of his impact in his lone season with the Jets.
Although that wasn’t supposed to be the case.
When the Jets signed Onwuasor to a one-year, $2 million contract last offseason, the plan was for him to see some playing time. That’s why all $2 million of his contract came guaranteed.
Especially with the injuries the Jets suffered at the linebacker position last year, Onwuasor certainly would have received reps over guys like Harvey Langi and Bryce Hager had he been healthy.
Unfortunately, a knee injury sustained in training camp landed him on IR prior to the start of the season and he would return to the reserve list following a hamstring injury suffered in his only appearance.
Onwuasor finds himself on this list primarily because there have actually been internal discussions about bringing him back. At least, that was the sentiment shared by The Athletic’s Connor Hughes a couple of weeks ago.
Is that still the case? Well, we know they were further exploring adding to the linebacker position given their interest in Keanu Neal. Onwuasor fits the athletic mold of a linebacker Robert Saleh could be looking for.
As of now, Onwuasor remains unsigned. But don’t rule out a reunion sometime in the future.
Next: 3. Bradley McDougald
3. Bradley McDougald, S, NY Jets
Another player the Jets probably expected to make a bigger impact in 2020 was safety Bradley McDougald.
The forgotten piece of the Jamal Adams trade, McDougald was expected to take Adams’ place in the defense and hold down the fort until rookie third-round pick Ashtyn Davis could take over.
In some ways, that is what happened. But Davis only took over because of injury, and it’s not as if McDougald was playing well prior to his stint on injured reserve.
The veteran safety started the first seven games for the Jets before a shoulder injury landed him on IR at the end of October. He’d sit out the remainder of the year, and it was probably for the best.
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McDougald’s 41.0 Pro Football Focus grade ranked a whopping 91st out of just 94 qualifiers at his position. He was one of the worst safeties in football to receive any sort of significant playing time, and that was evident on the field.
It was far and away the worst season of his NFL career with McDougald failing to provide consistency either in pass coverage or in run defense. Put simply, he was just bad.
At 30-years-old, McDougald could get another shot with a different team in 2021, although it certainly won’t be in a starting role. And of the four players on this list, he’s clearly the one with the lowest chance of returning.
McDougald won’t be back with the Jets in 2021. You could count on that.
Next: 2. Neville Hewitt
NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
2. Neville Hewitt, LB, NY Jets
Neville Hewitt is a fine player who can be a valuable part of pretty much every NFL roster. And to his credit, he probably put together the best year of his career in 2020.
Hewitt started all 16 games for the Jets, called defensive plays, and played a vital role on special teams. He finished the year with a team-leading 134 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks, and a forced fumble.
More importantly, his 59.3 PFF grade was a new career-high and ranked 31st out of all off-ball linebackers. Hewitt was a starting-caliber linebacker in 2020, but it’s not hard to see why the Jets haven’t shown interest in retaining him.
Hewitt is a fairly one-dimensional linebacker whose lack of speed and coverage ability doesn’t exactly mesh well in Robert Saleh’s defense — or really most modern NFL defenses.
He’s good for what he is. A solid run-stuffing linebacker who’s proven he can handle the role of defensive play-caller and who will always be a stout special-teamer.
But expecting him to play a three-down role, especially in a Saleh defense, is asking for trouble.
The only chance Hewitt had and has of returning to the Jets is in a strictly special-teams role. And even then, it’s likely that both parties won’t be interested in that.
Hewitt would probably rather go to a team that will allow him the opportunity to play some defensive snaps while the Jets would prefer their backup linebackers to be more athletic.
Neville Hewitt was a pleasant surprise for the Jets over the past few years, but he’ll likely be playing for a new team in 2021.
Next: 1. Brian Poole
NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
1. Brian Poole, CB, NY Jets
Perhaps the most surprising former Jets player that remains unsigned through March is cornerback Brian Poole. Although given the uninspiring market for nickel cornerbacks, maybe that shouldn’t be too surprising.
Poole has been one of the best nickel corners in football over the past two years. And although he missed almost half of the 2020 season with injury, when on the field, it was more of the same.
After earning a stellar 79.0 PFF grade that ranked him as the ninth-best cornerback in the NFL in 2019, he followed that up with an equally-impressive 2020 season that saw him ranked as PFF’s eighth-best cornerback.
Poole shined in former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ man-heavy defense and played the best football of his career. But that right there is why the Jets have been hesitant about bringing him back in 2021.
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The 28-year-old struggled a bit earlier in his career playing in primarily a zone defense with the Atlanta Falcons. Robert Saleh and new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich are expected to run a zone-heavy scheme similar to the one that Atlanta ran.
Given Poole’s early-career struggles in such a scheme, the Jets didn’t feel as though he was a perfect fit. That said, their alternative options are running out.
The Jets were heavily connected to K’Waun Williams, but the San Francisco 49ers managed to re-sign him to a one-year deal. Meanwhile, the likes of Troy Hill, Desmond King, Mike Hilton, and Mackensie Alexander have all inked new deals.
Poole is one of the last remaining starting-caliber nickel cornerbacks on the market. Even if he isn’t a perfect scheme fit, it might make sense just to bring him back at this point.
Don’t be surprised if the Jets ultimately re-sign Poole, despite flirting with other players in free agency.