Jets' Last-Minute Guide to 2021 NFL Free Agency

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 14, 2021

Jets' Last-Minute Guide to 2021 NFL Free Agency

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Earlier this week, the New York Jets took care of one of their top offseason priorities, ensuring that safety Marcus Maye will be back with the team in 2021. They used the franchise tag on the 28-year-old, which means he'll make an estimated $10.5 million next season, per ESPN's Rich Cimini, unless the sides work out a long-term deal.

    The Jets still have plenty more work to do, and that will continue this week. NFL free agency begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, but the legal tampering period starts Monday, so that's when teams can begin negotiations with players.

    With the league's salary cap set at $182.5 million for 2021, New York is in a great spot financially. According to Spotrac, the Jets currently have $69.9 million of available cap space, which is second-most in the NFL behind only the Jacksonville Jaguars ($70.2 million).

    How will New York utilize its financial flexibility? What needs will it address through free agency, and which ones will wait until the 2021 NFL draft next month? The Jets went 2-14 last year, marking their fifth straight losing season and extending their playoff drought (which dates back to 2010). So there's plenty of work to do on their roster.

    Here's a last-minute guide for New York's top storylines as it enters free agency.

Jets Should Be in Market for Top Playmaker

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Whether the Jets stick with Sam Darnold or add a new franchise quarterback via the draft, their offense needs more playmakers to reach the next level. They're returning their top receiver from 2020 in Jamison Crowder (699 yards and six touchdowns), but they lack a true No. 1 playmaker.

    Wide receiver Breshad Perriman and veteran running back Frank Gore are about to hit free agency, but even if New York brings one or both of those players back, it could still pursue a top-tier wide receiver.

    "I think [head coach] Robert [Saleh] and I have been on the same page quite a bit," Jets general manager Joe Douglas said, per Ethan Greenberg of the team's official site. "I think we're both looking for explosive, dynamic playmakers that can come in here and not only be fantastic players on the field, but high-quality individuals off the field."

    There are some strong receivers about to hit the free-agent market, such as Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Will Fuller V and Curtis Samuel. Any of these playmakers should quickly provide a boost to New York's offense and help set up its quarterback (whomever that may be) for potential success.

    This should be the Jets' No. 1 priority this offseason, and it's one they could also address via the draft, as there's a strong receiver class about to enter the NFL. But New York doesn't have a group that can wait for a rookie to develop, so it would be beneficial to add a top free-agent playmaker.

Will the Offensive Line Get Shaken Up?

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Much of the Jets' starting offensive line from 2020 is still under contract. But that doesn't necessarily mean they'll send out that unit for the 2021 season opener. The only lock to start is left tackle Mekhi Becton, who was a first-round draft pick last year.

    Guards Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten and tackle George Fant could all be potential cuts if the Jets decide they need to clear more cap space. And if they do that, perhaps they could go after one of the top interior linemen on the free-agent market, such as guard Joe Thuney.

    Over his first five NFL seasons (all with the New England Patriots), Thuney has never missed a game. He received the franchise tag from the Pats last offseason, but they opted not to tag him again this year. Although Thuney is going to require a big deal, he would strengthen a Jets offensive line that could use a boost, and the left side would be set with Becton and Thuney.

    At the end of the 2020 season, the Jets offensive line was ranked 29th in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, so they'll need to get better up front to improve as an offense.

    New York also has many options for what it can do with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, one of which could be selecting Oregon tackle Penei Sewell. But that decision could depend on whether the Jets potentially add to their offensive line during free agency.

Who Will Jets Add for Saleh's New Defense?

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    Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    With Saleh as head coach and Jeff Ulbrich as defensive coordinator, the Jets will be switching to a 4-3 defensive scheme in 2021. So not only could they be adding to their defense during free agency, filling some of their holes, but they'll likely be signing players who can help ease this transition.

    And it's quite possible that New York will add some players who Saleh has coached before.

    "There's always comfort in familiarity," Saleh said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. "It's almost human nature to gravitate to people you've worked with and people you've been around, but there's still a process at which you go to. There's a fit, there's a value."

    After spending the past four seasons as San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator, Saleh has ties with several defensive players on the free-agent market. That includes veteran cornerback Richard Sherman, who could potentially come to New York and be a defensive leader for the Jets.

    While Sherman wouldn't be a huge signing, he could help implement Saleh's scheme. The Jets' biggest defensive need is likely at linebacker, where they could add a pass-rusher or two to help their front seven improve for 2021 and beyond.