Joe Douglas wasn't tipping his hand regarding how the Jets will be attacking veteran free agency this year, but the general manager certainly left the door open for an increase in activity in one particular area of the NFL offseason.
"I think you're constantly evolving," Douglas said in January, in a quote Jets fans may have heard but bears repeating now. "There are some core philosophies that don't change, but you have to be open to seeing how things are done and maybe adopting certain principles. Where we are now with the assets we have now, we have great flexibility to be aggressive in a lot of different avenues."
As Douglas also said, the Jets still value the draft, as well they should after last year's strong draft class. But the draft might be viewed not as "the one and only" but more as part of a "dynamic duo" or "terrific trio" of NFL offseason activities.
"We're excited about this offseason," he said. "We're excited about attacking free agency, about attacking the draft, about attacking the combine."
With that said, Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh and their staffs have been preparing for the start of this year's free agency signing period. The so-called "legal tampering" period lasts from noon ET on March 14 to 4 p.m. on March 16, during which clubs are permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of players who are set to become unrestricted.
The green free agency flag then falls on March 16, as the NFL's 32 teams start their signing engines, not to mention their trade machinery as the trading period also begins at 4 p.m. ET after the expiration of all 2021 contracts.
How important will free agency be for the Douglas/Saleh Jets in 2022? A brief look back at the past quarter century of the team's free agency classes shows how big a deal this time on the calendar can be.
1997-98 — The first two offseasons of the Bill Parcells mini-era set the stage for the Jets' advance to the AFC Championship Game in Denver in early 1999. Parcells' first free agency haul in '97 brought in four defensive starters in LB Pepper Johnson, NT Ernie Logan, CB Otis Smith and S Jerome Henderson — five if we count Dwayne Gordon, who took over for the injured Johnson in the middle of the defense at midseason.
What the next offseason lacked in quantity it made up for with quality. Kevin Mawae arrived from Seattle, stepped into the middle of the O-line, and didn't leave the team until eight seasons and six Pro Bowl invitations later, with a Pro Football Hall of Fame selection and Jets Ring of Honor induction in his future. Two other players — RB/FB/TE Keith Byars and G Todd Burger — each stayed only one year but started 16 games and helped get the Jets to the title game.
2008-09 — The brace of offseasons before and after Rex Ryan's arrival fortified the roster for the '09 and '10 Jets' journey to back-to-back conference title appearances. In '08, Alan Faneca and Damien Woody came aboard and were 16-game starters on the offensive line (Faneca went to two more Pro Bowls and recently was voted into the Pro Football HOF), as was Calvin Pace at LB. In '09, Ryan's first Green & White outfit added defensive stalwarts Bart Scott at LB and Jim Leonhard at S.
2015 — The Jets' free agent signing activity picked up in this offseason. And the returns of CBs Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie plus the additions of two more secondary starters in S Marcus Gilchrist and CB Buster Skrine and a four-year rock at LG in James Carpenter helped propel Todd Bowles' first Jets squad to the franchise's most recent season of double-digit victories and to within one win of a playoff berth.
It's too soon to declare last year's UFA class a success, although the group headed by DL Carl Lawson, who missed the entire season with an Achilles injury, and WR Corey Davis, who sat seven games with hip and groin issues, can still do lots of damage in the coming year(s).
Add that class to the group of Jets who could re-sign with the team or move on to other venues. As Saleh said late in the season about Braxton "the Miami Multitool" Berrios but has also said similarly about S Marcus Maye, T Morgan Moses, DL Foley Fatukasi and the rest of the 18-player free agent cohort:
"I've always sat up here and said it's our job as a coaching staff to make Joe Douglas' job as hard as possible with regards to re-signing people."
And all this comes before we even jump into the pool to analyze some of the outside free agents who will be swayed to join Douglas, Saleh and the current roster for a run at the '22 season. We'll start our series of Jets position-by-position free agency previews later this week.