The NY Jets have had an image problem for several years. Let's face it — they haven't been a desired destination in free agency for premium players for a long time. It's a byproduct of the Jets being a bottom-tier NFL franchise.
Can Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh finally reverse that trend? It's pivotal that they do this offseason if they plan on turning around the franchise's losing ways.
Attracting top-tier free agents is challenging for perennial losing teams. Often NFL franchises in that predicament will pay way above market value for free agents simply because it's their only and most effective recourse for landing top players.
Long gone are the days when you could entice a player to come to play in the 'Big City.' Many moons ago, that used to be a great selling point. "Come play in the media capital of the world, New York, and you can be a big star." That old bargaining tactic doesn't fly anymore.
Don't get me wrong, playing and winning in New York still holds value. And the Jets, despite their losing ways, will always be relevant and popular, and that's a testament to how loyal and great their fanbase is. But the truth is that playing in New York is not enough of a selling point to outweigh all the other factors that entice players.
The NY Jets are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting free agents
Depending on which city your NFL team resides in, it can deter prospective free agents — financially and in terms of location.
Unless a player has natural ties to the tri-state area, dealing with living arrangements and the taxes in New York or New Jersey is not exactly desirable, particularly for people who have families and the need to consider uprooting them to an entirely different environment.
No matter how irrelevant one could deem the Jacksonville Jaguars, because of their losing ways, most players would strongly consider signing on the dotted line and playing for them because of the perks of being in that part of the country — financially and in terms of the climate.
During this period of the year, Jets fans start salivating at the prospects of landing premium free agents. They simulate who the team will sign in free agency, even though most of the names earmarked for the green and white by them may never get to the open market.
NFL fans tend to think that free agents will choose their team over other suitors. Just because.
But luring free agents to commit to your team takes a lot of convincing. This isn't the Madden video game where you can sign whomever you desire — how players view your franchise's viability and chances of winning plays a significant factor.
When choosing between franchises, players will go to the teams they feel have the best chance of winning consistently. Money always plays a huge factor, but players want to win and cash in.
Last offseason, every Jets fan wanted guard Joe Thuney, and New York had the need and the cap room to spend on him. But the Kansas City Chiefs won out.
There's no question that the Jets reached out and wanted Thuney, but ask yourself this if you were him. If the money is equal, or even if the Jets offer was better, would you have chosen New York over Kansas City?
Thuney made the right football and business decision. Thuney wanted to go to a contender and not gamble on a rebuilding team. The Jets and other teams like them couldn't compete with what Kansas City was offering.
The NY Jets are trying to change the culture
Changing the culture in New York is one of the reasons the Jets hired Robert Saleh. The franchise wanted a CEO type with excellent leadership skills to sell to their fanbase and prospective players, and there's no question that Saleh's impeccable reputation amongst players and coaches is a huge selling point.
However, for the Jets to be a free agent's first choice, New York has to start showing signs that they will be a legit contender.
As romantic as it seems to suggest that everyone wants to play for Saleh because he is a great guy, winning and proving that you have the best environment for players to succeed trumps everything else.
A month from now, lists will come out showing teams and their free-agent acquisitions. Some will applaud the groups of players particular teams land.
But the reality is that often the signings reflect who teams settled for in free agency, rather than an elite group of handpicked players on the market that desperately wanted to join them.
Teams often strike out on convincing top-tier free agents to join them. Usually, this takes place in the first wave of free agency, and the Greg Van Rotens and Dan Feeneys of the world are typically the best a team could do when they strike out on more desirable options.
It's why so many teams like the Jets value draft capital because you can dictate and handpick the talent you want. And in almost all cases, the likelihood of draft picks refusing to play for you is nonexistent. You have players under your full control, whereas in free agency, the players get to choose where they want to play.
Another factor in the free-agent recruiting process is that players and agents talk. If a team doesn't have a strong reputation in how they treat their players, prospective free agents will bypass signing with a franchise based on word of mouth.
For better or for worse, the Jets in recent years have not shown a propensity for rewarding their best players. And the relationships between players and the Jets current management hasn't always been rock-solid.
It's an old cliché, but actions speak louder than words. And the Jets actions in recent years, do not suggest, a franchise that will bend over backwards for players.
The Jets have a football business to run, and with that in mind, they are not in the business of overpaying players for sentimentality reasons.
That said, the potential departure of Braxton Berrios sends a signal to players who could consider the Jets. "If they don't value their own players, why would they value an outsider like me in the long run?"
How the Jets handle the current situation with a player like Berrios also sends a direct message to players within their own locker room — that their hard work might not be rewarded when business comes into play.
Joe Douglas and the NY Jets need to hit on free agents this offseason
Joe Douglas, Robert Saleh, and his entire staff are facing a pivotal offseason. The Jets have won only six games in the last two seasons. There is a lot of uncertainty attached to the franchise and its capability of becoming a legitimate contender.
The Jets desperately need an infusion of talent, and the team lacks difference-makers on the roster at practically every position.
One of the reasons for that is that Joe Douglas' track record in free agency hasn't been stellar. Some of that is due to bad luck, like Carl Lawson's injury last summer.
Notwithstanding that, the bottom line is that the Jets haven't added any real impact players to their roster through free agency. Part of being a good GM is having the ability to close deals with top free agents.
The deals that Joe Douglas has made in free agency haven't produced positive results.
A year after doling out the big bucks to sign wide receiver Corey Davis in free agency, the Jets are still looking for a premier playmaker that can help change the tide of their offense.
Davis, a quality starting receiver, was paid like a front-line No. 1 receiver, quite simply because the Jets had to do that to bring him on board, and it was the best they could do. A year later, the team already has buyer's remorse. The player might have it too.
Some projected big-name free agents could hit the open market in the next couple of weeks like Saints safety, Marcus Williams, Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, or Commanders guard Brandon Scherff. All elite players who would fill great needs on the Jets roster.
Will the Jets convince those types of players to sign on?
Signing any quality players that can help fortify a weak roster will be a welcome practice for New York, but the difference in the Jets turning things around and becoming a legit contender will be if they can land some top-tier players in the free-agency period.
This offseason, the main focus will be Joe Douglas finally cashing in his chips in the draft, but how well he does in free agency to complement his accumulated resources in the draft could determine if he is still the Jets' GM for years to come. And ultimately, if head coach Robert Saleh will be a part of that equation too.