Jets' Early Report Card for Most Impactful Offseason Decisions

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 22, 2021

Jets' Early Report Card for Most Impactful Offseason Decisions

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    The New York Jets were busy during the first week of NFL free agency, looking to begin improving their roster ahead of the 2021 season. And they made some strong moves that should help them as they try to move on from a 2-14 campaign in 2020.

    New York has added numerous standout players to its defense and signed wide receiver Corey Davis, who should make the offense more dynamic. Will quarterback Sam Darnold be the one throwing the ball to Davis? It's still unclear whether he will continue to be the Jets' starter, but there's still time to decide whether to stick with him or to explore potential trades or the options available in the draft.

    The Jets have some needs to address, but the first wave of free agency is close to being over, with many big names now off the market. So New York will need to make smart, low-profile signings and improve via the draft to add to those other areas.

    Here's a look at the players the Jets have added during free agency, along with grades for several of their key early-offseason decisions.

Free-Agent Additions

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    DE Carl Lawson: three years, $45 million

    WR Corey Davis: three years, $37.5 million

    DT Sheldon Rankins: two years, $17 million

    CB Justin Hardee: three years, $6.75 million

    WR Keelan Cole: one year, $5.5 million

    LB Jarrad Davis: one year, $5.5 million

    OG Dan Feeney: one year, $3.5 million

    FS LaMarcus Joyner: one year, $3 million

    TE Tyler Kroft: one year, $2 million

    Moves via ESPN's Rich Cimini. Contract information via Spotrac.

Defense Greatly Improved with Big Additions

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    The Jets defense ranked 24th in the NFL last season with 387.6 total yards allowed per game, and it had various areas on that side of the ball that needed to get better. After the first week of free agency, the unit has already been improved in several ways.

    The defensive line is getting a big boost with the additions of Carl Lawson and Sheldon Rankins, who should help New York put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Lawson was one of the top defensive ends available, as he had 20 sacks over 51 games in four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Rankins had 17 sacks in 63 games over five seasons with the New Orleans Saints.

    Jarrad Davis was a first-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2017, and while he hasn't quite lived up to expectations (305 tackles in 55 games over four seasons), the 26-year-old still has plenty of potential. He could benefit from a fresh start and may turn into an impact player in the linebacker corps.

    Although the Jets brought back safety Marcus Maye on the franchise tag, Lamarcus Joyner could give them more flexibility in the secondary and needed depth. The 30-year-old Joyner has been a reliable contributor for the Los Angeles Rams and Las Vegas Raiders during his seven-year career.

    The Jets addressed various needs and added a top free agent in Lawson, and all of these moves should help New York have a better defense in 2021

    Grade: A

Davis a Solid Addition but Not a Top-Tier Wide Receiver

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Although Sam Darnold has had some struggles over his first three NFL seasons, it likely hasn't helped that he hasn't had many great wide receivers at his disposal. But if he's under center for the Jets in 2021, he will have at least one new option to throw the ball to in Corey Davis.

    The 26-year-old spent his first four NFL seasons with the Tennessee Titans, and he's coming off his best year yet. The 6'3" receiver had 65 receptions for 984 yards and five touchdowns, all of which were career highs, in 14 games. If he continues to improve, he could turn into the type of top playmaker New York has been lacking.

    The Jets have also brought in Keelan Cole, who spent the past four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He played in 16 games every year during that stretch, and he had 55 catches for 642 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in 2020.

    Both players are solid additions to New York's offense, especially Davis. However, the Jets likely could have benefited from adding one of the top receivers on the free-agent market, such as Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster or Will Fuller V, as they may still not have enough offensive firepower to have a top unit in 2021.

    Grade: B-

Opportunity Missed to Bolster Interior Offensive Line

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    Peter Joneleit/Associated Press

    Needing to add to the interior offensive line, the Jets missed out on several top guards early in free agency, including Joe Thuney (who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals) and Kevin Zeitler (who signed with the Baltimore Ravens). New York addressed the position when it signed Dan Feeney, who has experience at both guard and center.

    Feeney spent his first four NFL seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, and he's played in 16 games in each of the past three. However, he had a Pro Football Focus player grade of 48.2 in 2020, which put him in the "replaceable" category, so he may not be an upgrade over the Jets' current interior starters.

    While Feeney can provide depth at numerous positions, there's a decent chance that he won't end up being a starter for New York. So unless the Jets make any other moves, there's a possibility that their offensive line (which ranked 29th in the NFL last season, per Pro Football Focus) looks fairly similar in 2021.

    There's still time for New York to improve up front, though. Perhaps it could use the No. 2 overall pick (or a later selection) on a lineman in the NFL draft so that it has another young player to build around next to left tackle Mekhi Becton.

    While the Jets haven't addressed this need, that could change before the end of the offseason.

    Grade: D+