Jets General manager Joe Douglas has 21 unrestricted free agents whose contracts will expire Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. and the team has to fortify a number of areas including offensive line, cornerback, wide receiver and on the edge. In his quest to build the best culture in all of sports, Douglas has a clear mandate with the new league year on the horizon.
"It's about making sure you bring in the right people. You can't be afraid to have tough conversations, you have to be able to communicate," Douglas said. "That's a lot of what we're going to focus on moving forward is just bringing in the perfect New York Jet and what that entails from a character, confidence and commitment aspect part of it. It's the ability to adapt, the versatility, football intelligence. You have to love this game — you have to love football. There are too many easy ways out if you don't."
Overthecap.com projects the Jets have $50 million in cap space, but that number could grow with some veteran releases. Both Douglas and head coach Adam Gase have had time to closely examine the Jets' UFAs, a list that includes WR Robby Anderson, LT Kelvin Beachum, OLB Jordan Jenkins, G Alex Lewis and nickel CB Brian Poole.
"We've had a fully year to talk through a lot of our own guys — positives, negatives and where we want to go from here," Gase said. "Now it's kind of setting everything up and seeing what his (Douglas') guys have been working on for a full year. These guys have been on the road since last August. They've put in so much time and effort into this."
Douglas has stated the Jets won't be a good team minus a quality offensive line. He believes he has a franchise signal-caller in place and that Sam Darnold can be lethal when afforded the proper protection.
"The O-line is definitely going to be a priority for this organization," Douglas said. "The main goal is to protect Sam. When Sam has a clean look, a clean pocket, we've seen how deadly accurate he is as a passer. I think the emphasis will be control the line of scrimmage."
See the Top Images of the Jets Unrestricted Free Agents.
Veteran guard Brian Winters is the only remaining opening-day starter from last season who is under contract. While it's been widely reported the Redskins intend to use the franchise tag with three-time Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff, guards Joe Thuney (New England) and Graham Glasgow (Detroit) and tackles Jack Conklin (Tennessee), Anthony Castonzo (Indianapolis), Bryan Bulaga (Green Bay) and Jason Peters (Philadelphia) are prominent names who could be on the move. Longtime Redskins tackle Trent Williams would like out of Washington and was granted permission to seek a trade. The caveat with Williams is an interested party may not only be required to relinquish draft capital but also re-work his current contract.
In addition to providing a sturdy wall in front of Darnold, Douglas has put an emphasis on speed and explosive playmakers. The Cowboys would like to retain Amari Cooper, but he could become a free agent. The Bengals may elect to use the franchise tag on A.J. Green, a seven-time Pro Bowler, Breshad Perriman is a former first-round pick who had three consecutive 100-yard games to close last season in Tampa and Sammy Watkins, who has averaged 14.9 yards a reception and amassed 31 career touchdowns, may find another address after capturing a championship in Kansas City.
"Speed creates pressure. Pressure bursts pipes," Douglas said. "When you have one guy who can run by you, you worry. When you have three guys, that really puts teams in a bind. When you have that explosive dynamic, you can have three-point shooters and you don't have to worry about the 12-, 15-play drives. You can throw in a couple 1-, 2, 3-play drives, now you're cooking."
The aforementioned Anderson,, who will test the market, can run as well as anyone. Douglas has called the 6'3", 190-pounder, who finished second on the offense both in receiving yards (779) and TD catches (5), a "great player" and Anderson has reiterated that he would like to stay with New York's AFC representative.
"I truly would hope I spend my career here and be like one of these guys, the all-time Ring of Honor players and all-time Jets," he said. "I would hope that is a reality, but it's a business and things have to fall into place and we have to come to an agreement."
Douglas and Gase are also agree on quick-strike capability. The Chiefs might have been crowned champions in February, but they didn't do it by matriculating the ball down the field. Darnold possesses a versatile skillset and one of his specialties is downfield accuracy. And after ranking 31st in scoring (17.2 PPG), the Jets need more players who will help light up the scoreboard.
"Anytime you can throw a 3-yard pass or you hand the ball off and you've got a chance for a 60-, 70-yard touchdown, that makes life a little easier for a play-caller," Gase said. "I know that for sure instead of 12, 14-play drives where you can't have any mistakes. In this league, it's tough to go without a penalty, it's tough to go without a tackle for loss because the other side is pretty good too. Anytime you have some of these guys who are X-factor type guys, that are eraser-type guys that can take a short pass or a run to the pass, it makes life a little easier."
Poole made Gregg Williams' life easier in 2019, thriving at nickel cornerback for the Jets and he would like to return. The corner market will feature Byron Jones (Dallas), James Bradberry (Carolina), Trae Waynes (Minnesota), Chris Harris Jr. (Denver) and Bradley Roby (Houston). Fresh off a career-high 8 sacks, Jordan Jenkins could test the water. Will Jacksonville, Baltimore, Tampa and Pittsburgh elect to tag Yannick Ngakoue , Matthew Judon, Shaq Barrett and Bud Dupree respectively? Dante Fowler, who racked up 11 sacks last season with the Rams, is expected to have multiple suitors.
It's been nine months since Douglas was hired to his general manager post. The past season afforded him invaluable time to study his own team while putting his processes in place. His reshaping of the roster is about to kick into overdrive over the next couple of months, beginning with free agency in March and carrying into the draft in late April. He has promised to work relentlessly to improve not only the talent of the Jets, but the makeup and the character of his team. His time is upon us.