NY Jets massively overpay just to downgrade with Javon Kinlaw signing

The Javon Kinlaw contract is WAY more expensive than expected

Javon Kinlaw
Javon Kinlaw / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

The NY Jets bolstered the interior of their defensive line on Monday, unofficially agreeing to terms on a one-year deal with former San Francisco 49ers first-round pick Javon Kinlaw.

The signing reunited Kinlaw with Robert Saleh, who was a strong advocate for the South Carolina product ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft. The move made sense too, especially with both Quinton Jefferson and Solomon Thomas entering free agency.

The expectation was that Kinlaw was a quality reclamation projection — a possibly cheaper alternative to Jefferson, whose market might have grown following a career-high six-sack season in 2023.

Then, the actual terms of Kinlaw's contract were revealed. All of a sudden, the prevailing belief that Kinlaw was a worthy low-risk, low-cost signing was gone — and with good reason.

Javon Kinlaw's contract with the NY Jets is a major overpay

Ari Meirov of The 33rd Team reported on Tuesday that Kinlaw's deal is worth $7.25 million with $6.9 million in guarantees. That's a large chunk of money to give to a player with just 3.5 sacks over the last three seasons.

For reference, the Jets signed Jefferson, a well-traveled veteran with a knack for rushing the passer, to a one-year, $3.6 million contract 12 months ago. The Jets paid double that to acquire Kinlaw, who by all accounts is a downgrade in the short term.

This isn't to say that the signing was a poor decision in a vacuum. In fact, I quite liked the move before the contract details emerged.

A former first-round pick, Kinlaw was brought in to be DeForest Buckner's direct replacement after the Pro Bowl defensive tackle was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. Unfortunately, Kinlaw fell well short of expectations in his four seasons with the 49ers.

Injuries derailed his development, as Kinlaw appeared in just 10 total games between 2021 and 2022 due to multiple knee injuries. He returned healthy in 2023, appearing in all 17 games and putting together the best season of his career.

Kinlaw remains a very poor run defender, but his pass-rush metric improved quite a bit in 2023. He finished with a career-high 3.5 sacks and 31 pressures on 322 pass-rush snaps. Those are solid numbers for a rotational interior rusher.

The issue is that Jefferson is simply better, more durable, and more proven. In contrast, Jefferson finished with six sacks and 29 pressures on just 240 pass-rush snaps last season. Despite playing nearly 30 percent fewer pass-rush snaps, he only recorded two fewer pressures.

Jefferson also recorded over 40 pressures in each of the previous two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders and Seattle Seahawks. Kinlaw's 2023 season was far and away his most productive as a pro, and it still wasn't better than anything Jefferson has done over the last three years.

Even if a rapidly growing defensive tackle market inflates Jefferson's value, it's hard to believe he will command over $7 million on his next deal. For added context, Kinlaw is now set to have the 25th-highest cap hit among all defensive tackles in 2024.

Essentially, the Jets paid a large amount of money to downgrade at defensive tackle, when they likely could have paid less to keep Jefferson. Even if Kinlaw stays healthy — which is a major question mark at this point in his career — he's quite literally never had a more productive season than Jefferson.

This obviously isn't the end of the world for the Jets, but it's another misstep in what has been a disastrous 12 months for the organization. Joe Douglas' success rate with roster decision-making is approaching an all-time low, and puzzling moves like this certainly don't help.

The Jets will hope that Saleh can maximize Kinlaw's athletic traits and that he can stay healthy. If not, they'll likely regret passing on Jefferson for this unexpectedly expensive contract.