The early returns are in and many pundits have declared the Jets to be one of the winners in Week 1 of the 2022 edition of NFL free agency.
With cash to splash (estimated to be a little less than $50 million), general manager Joe Douglas stuck to his philosophy of seeking value, addressing needs, and complementing the team's depth on offense and defense. And he's still got some dollars to spend, on draft picks (No. 4 and No. 10 in Round 1, and No. 35 and No. 38 in Round 2) or an additional free agent or two.
"The Jets entered the offseason with a laundry list of roster holes, and they've done a respectable job filling several of those voids," wrote ESPN's Mike Clay as he rated the Jets as No. 3 in moves in free agency. "Perhaps the most notable is long-time 49ers standout [Laken] Tomlinson, who provides an immediate upgrade at right guard."
See the top photos of the newest additions to the Jets roster during their first day at 1 Jets Drive.
On Offense, Tomlinson and Tight Ends
One of the objectives in free agency (and the draft) is to surround second-year quarterback Zach Wilson with more explosive talent while also ensuring that he spends most of his time on his feet.
While the Jets reportedly made a run at Tyreek Hill before the six-time Pro Bowler landed in Miami on Wednesday, the club will have multiple opportunities to address that position in the NFL Draft (April 28-30 in Las Vegas). They have focused on the offensive line, which for discussion purposes, also includes the tight end position.
By signing guard Tomlinson, the potential starters on the line are Mekhi Becton and George Fant (either of them at left or right tackle), Tomlinson and second-year stud Alijah Vera-Tucker at guard, with Connor McGovern at center. Tomlinson was one of the top guards available in free agency -- he's tough and durable (having not missed a snap in the past three seasons).
"I'm intrigued with the Jets' potential for 2022 — and most of all I really like how GM Joe Douglas has put everything into rebuilding the offensive line," said Albert Breer of SI.com. "In Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker and [Laken] Tomlinson, he has very real foundation pieces. And that sort of investment really is an investment in Zach Wilson."
Tight end was addressed with the signings of C.J. Uzomah (from Cincinnati) and Tyler Conklin (from Minnesota), who each give Wilson enhanced options while also bringing with them blocking tenacity in the run game. Uzomah and Conklin combined last season for 110 catches, 1,086 yards and 8 touchdowns; and their ability in the pass and run games will enable OC Mike LaFleur to more adeptly employ 12 personnel (two TEs) sets. With injuries to Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin last season, the Jets only used the 12 personnel set 11% of the time.
Cody Benjamin of CBSsports.com gave the Jets an overall grade of A- for their performance in free agency, writing that "Uzomah is a nice pass-catching addition for Zach Wilson, and Tomlinson helps beef up the line."
Douglas also kept the faith with a number of the Green & White's own free agents, re-signing QBs Joe Flacco and Mike White, RB Tevin Coleman, WR/KR Braxton Berrios, and OL Conor McDermott and Dan Feeney.
On Defense, Doing the Work
The defensive reclamation project began in free agency with the signing of S Jordan Whitehead from Tampa Bay, CB D.J. Reed from Seattle and edge Jacob Martin from Houston.
"Their best moves may have come in the secondary, however, where Reed and Whitehead instantly improve their defensive backfield," wrote Benjamin of CBSsports.com.
Whitehead, 25, cut his teeth playing for the Jets' former coach Todd Bowles with the Buccaneers. A big hitter at safety, he could team with veteran Lamarcus Joyner, who re-signed with the Green & White after missing nearly all of last season with a torn triceps. Their presence, however, does not preclude the team from using an early draft pick (perhaps one of their four picks in the top 38) to snag one of the other top safeties in this class. Reed (who played under Saleh with the 49ers), is also 25 and made 14 starts and had 10 passes defensed last season. He joins a young group that includes Bryce Hall, Michael Carter II and Brandin Echols, and is likely to emerge at the No. 1 CB on the outside.
Martin, who has also played at linebacker, gives DC Jeff Ulbrich another piece in the Jets' D-line rotation. He's quick getting off the ball and is coming off a career year with the Texans.
"GM Joe Douglas also chipped away at 2021's league-worst defense, adding Reed, Whitehead and Martin," wrote Clay. "Reed has quietly emerged into a quality corner in Seattle over the past few seasons and gives New York the No. 1 corner that it didn't have in 2021. Whitehead was a gem find by Tampa Bay on Day 3 of the 2018 draft, and he emerged into a reliable every-down player for the Super Bowl LV champs. And Martin was, at times, the top edge rusher in Houston. He'll be a quality No. 3 behind Carl Lawson and John Franklin-Myers in New York."
Douglas also re-signed DL Nathan Shepherd.