Jets' Top Players to Prioritize in 2021 NFL Free Agency

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 8, 2021

Jets' Top Players to Prioritize in 2021 NFL Free Agency

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The start of NFL free agency is quickly approaching on March 17, and that's when the New York Jets will begin to try to complement some of their young players with veterans who can help them try to turn the corner.

    After going 2-14 last season, the Jets are heading into a new era after hiring Robert Saleh as head coach in January.

    New York also has a ton of financial flexibility this offseason. Assuming the NFL salary cap will be around $180.5 million, it would currently have a little more than $77 million in cap space, per Over the Cap, which would be the second most in the league.

    But how will New York opt to spend its money? Is it committed to Sam Darnold at quarterback, and how could that decision shape its offseason moves? The Jets have had five straight losing seasons and last reached the playoffs in 2010, and this offseason could help determine whether they're close to ending that drought.

    Here's a look at three players New York should prioritize during this year's free-agency period.

Marcus Maye, FS

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Marcus Maye is the best player on the Jets' 2020 roster who is now a free agent, and they need to focus on bringing him back for 2021.

    The safety, who turns 28 Tuesday, has spent his first four NFL seasons with New York and has been a consistent presence in its secondary, starting all 16 games in three of them (including both 2019 and 2020).

    This past season, Maye had his best showing yet, posting career highs in tackles (88), pass deflections (11), sacks (two), forced fumbles (two) and fumble recoveries (one), while also tying a career best with two interceptions. A second-round selection in the 2017 NFL draft, he may now be entering his prime.

    And the Jets aren't hiding the fact that they want Maye back to continue to be a defensive leader.

    "We have had productive conversations with his representatives," general manager Joe Douglas said, per Ethan Greenberg of the team's official site. "Our stance on Marcus hasn't changed as well. Marcus is a valuable member of this organization. Someone that started his career here, someone that's been a pro's pro. He's smart, reliable and has provided outstanding leadership. Our plan hasn't changed. We're in the process of working to have Marcus be here long term."

    That's the right decision, and it's a move the Jets should focus on getting done quickly.

Will Fuller V, WR

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Whether or not Darnold is the Jets' quarterback in 2021 and beyond, they still need more offensive playmakers to help out whoever is under center. That's why New York needs to sign one of the top available free-agent wide receivers, of which there are quite a few.

    ESPN's Jeremy Fowler told SportsCenter last month that Will Fuller V is "moving on" from the Houston Texans and the Jets were one of the teams evaluating the receiver.

    Fowler also noted that New York is seeking "yards-after-catch ability" and "speed on the perimeter," which the 26-year-old could bring to its offense.

    Although Fuller will miss the first game of the 2021 season due to a six-game suspension he received for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, he could be a strong addition if he plays the way he did for the first 11 games of last season. During that stretch, he set career highs in receptions (53), yards (879) and touchdowns (eight).

    If Fuller joined a Jets receiving corps that already includes Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims, then their offense could make big strides during the upcoming season.

Joe Thuney, OG

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    The Jets' offensive line is on the rise. They added a franchise left tackle in Mekhi Becton with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft to work alongside some other solid players up front, such as tackle George Fant and center Connor McGovern.

    But New York's O-line could reach another level if it improves at guard, and there's no better player available at the position in free agency this year than Joe Thuney.

    The 28-year-old has spent his first five NFL seasons with the New England Patriots, playing last year on the franchise tag. But it's unlikely he  will be tagged again this offseason, meaning he could be joining a new team for the first time.

    Thuney hasn't missed a game since entering the league as a third-round pick of New England in the 2016 NFL draft. That's likely a big reason why Spotrac has given him a projected market value of a $15.3 million annual average salary, as he's a strong, consistent player up front.

    But the Jets have the cap space to add the North Carolina State product, which would also prevent him from returning to the Patriots, their AFC East rival, or another team.

    With Becton and Thuney potentially on the left side of New York's offensive line, it could have great protection that would help its offense quickly improve.