Let the negotiating begin.
The NFL's free agency period doesn't *officially* begin until Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, but the *unofficial* start is Monday at noon New York time, when teams and player agents are permitted to enter into negotiations for players who can become unrestricted free agents in two days. And Monday is when we'll get a clearer idea of how the Jets plan to handle free agency and trades before shifting into draft mode a few weeks later.
One thing we know is that the Jets have the wherewithal to make a free agency splash if they so desire. According to overthecap.com, the Jets went into last weekend with the fourth-most available cap space in the NFL, in the neighborhood of $48.5 million.
"We're fortunate to be in this position, to have this kind of flexibility," Douglas said at the NFL Combine, then, referring not only to signing free agents but to potential trades, "I think we're always going to be aggressive if the right opportunity presents itself."
It will be interesting to see how active the Jets will be in the opening weeks of free agency, and also to see if their signing have been influenced by recent NFL developments, say, from the teams that played each other in Super Bowl LVI last month. Assistant GM Rex Hogan thinks perhaps there will be, pointing first to the AFC representative in that big game.
"Look at the Bengals and how they chose to build their roster, how they built their team, and got to that point in a quick turnaround of two years," Hogan tells Eric Allen on the upcoming edition of The Official Jets Podcast. "They've got some incredible skill players, Joe Burrow is playing at a very high level, and they did some things defensively through free agency and upgraded their team quickly.
"I think we've talked about that as a group and about our different ideas, concepts and philosophies. How do we try to get to that level? What are these teams doing? What can we take from what they've done? How can we adapt and change and learn?"
And the team that beat the Bengals also underscores a talking point of Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh about helping their own young QB, Zach Wilson, by bringing in weapons on defense to help the offense.
"The Rams did that," Hogan said, "making some significant moves and trades, going out and getting Von Miller, that final piece to their defense to add pressure. Matched with Aaron Donald and the rest of that front, when it came time to put it on the defense's backs and win the game, the stars played like stars."
This is not to say the Jets are leaning in free agency toward defensive end or wide receiver, cornerback or tight end. Douglas and his front office team are still holding their cards close to their vests.
But in terms of attracting a few of the big-name/big-ticket players to One Jets Drive, Saleh doesn't see that as a problem like some analysts and fans do.
"It's the same thing we continue to talk about with regard to the culture we're building, the atmosphere we're trying to create, in terms of everything that we do is for the players. It's all player-centric," Saleh told season ticket holders on an exclusive conference call recently. "We have a young group, we're moving in the right direction, and we have an exciting young quarterback that I think people will recognize is going to be a heck of a football player.
"From a free-agent standpoint, that's the selling point. You have an opportunity to come out here, make a difference, and you're in the greatest city in America. You're in New York where all eyes are on you and you have a chance to do something special. When you do something special, it's pretty cool. I think the New York brand speaks for itself and it's our job to answer any questions they may have and really showcase all the youth and experience we have here."
Take a look at the Jets players slated to become unrestricted or restricted free agents when the NFL's free agency period begins on March 16.
Saleh then turned his sales pitch toward both sides of the ball.
"I think Mike LaFleur did a really nice job as an offensive coordinator and he's a really attractive coordinator for players to get the ball if you're on offense," he said. "Defensively, there are ways for us to get better and there's a lot of opportunities for us here on all three levels. It's kind of an easy sell, to be honest with you."
Many of the new arrivals will be exciting enough, but the juices will really get flowing as the offseason unfolds, from the start of the strength and conditioning program through the draft, the rookie minicamp, OTAs, the mandatory minicamp at the end of spring, and then on into training camp and deeper into 2022.
That's when the veteran free agents start to mesh their talents with the Jets' draft choices and the holdovers from last year's roster. And make no mistake, the free agents won't be alone in trying to make the coming season a special one for the organization and its fans.
"The financial flexibility that we have and the draft capital and how we can change the course of the organization is huge and it's exciting," Hogan said. "We talk about it as a player personnel staff. You've got to wake up every day and just be excited that we've got a chance to change the Jets, change the culture and change our future. And so we're all looking forward to it."