A breakdown of the New York Jets' 2018 free-agent signings.
Morris Claiborne, CB
The New York Jets have agreed to terms with Claiborne, who joined them last season as a free agent. Here’s a closer look at the signing:
Grade: B-plus. Claiborne was the Jets’ No. 1 priority among their own free agents. A strong market never developed for him, and they were able to retain him for one year, $7 million, a source confirmed. It’s a terrific deal for the Jets. A long-term commitment with a big guarantee would’ve been dicey with an injury-plagued player. Claiborne is only 28, so they should get the back side of his prime. Now they will keep their fingers crossed that he can stay healthy.
What it means: On paper, the Jets have a solid cornerback tandem, Claiborne and Trumaine Johnson. If second-year safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye continue to develop, it’ll be a formidable secondary. This means Buster Skrine will slide back into his nickel role, where he belongs. His $8.5 million cap charge has fueled speculation about his roster spot, but Claiborne’s affordable deal should help Skrine to stick around. The signing doesn’t bode well for Rashard Robinson, whom they acquired last season in a trade. They wasted a fifth-round pick, thinking Robinson could emerge as a starter.
What’s the risk: Let’s face it, they’re not going to get 16 games out of Claiborne, who never has played a full season. (In Dallas, he missed 32 games from 2013 to 2016.) He managed to play 15 games last season; the Jets would sign up for that. When healthy, he’s a solid corner. In the first 10 games last season, he was targeted only 46 times and allowed only a 61.2 passer rating, per Pro Football Focus. He suffered a foot injury and his play declined -- a 91.3 rating over his final five games. He also needs to cut down on penalties. Claiborne was called 10 times last season, tied for fourth among defensive backs in the league. He isn’t a ball hawk (only five career interceptions), a quality they desperately need in the secondary.
Spencer Long, C
Grade: C. The Jets didn’t get Kirk Cousins, but they got his old center. The financial details weren’t immediately available -- it’s a four-year deal -- but it sounds like they didn’t want to splurge for one of the top centers (Ryan Jensen), so they settled for Long. There’s risk because of his injury history.
What it means: The 2017 starter, Wesley Johnson, is a free agent and the Jets wanted to upgrade. They accomplished that by landing an athletic center with the movement skills to fit in their zone-based blocking scheme. Long, 27, is in the prime of his career -- a strong theme in the early portion of free agency. A third-round pick out of Nebraska in 2014, he’s a typical Cornhusker lineman -- smart and tough. He’s an excellent pass protector. In 223 pass-blocking snaps last season, he allowed only five pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He began his career as a guard, so there’s versatility.
What’s the risk: Injuries. Long never has played more than 79 percent of the offensive snaps in a season. He had a knee scope last preseason and wound up playing only seven games (39 percent of the snaps). Late in the year, he underwent surgery to repair a quad tendon, finishing the season on injured reserve. When healthy, Long is an above-average center, but the Jets are rolling the dice on this one because of questions about his durability. This is a key signing; they desperately need stability in the pivot.
Avery Williamson, LB
The New York Jets have agreed to terms with Avery Williamson, who spent the past four seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Let’s take a closer look at the move:
Grade: C. Williamson is a two-down run defender who struggles in pass coverage. He’s young (26), plays the Mike position and tackles like nobody’s business, but his lack of third-down ability lowers the grade.
What it means: You probably can say goodbye to middle linebacker Demario Davis, who played every defensive snap in a renaissance season. The Jets were interested in re-signing Davis, but the two sides couldn’t get close to a deal. The Jets like Davis, but his age (29) was a concern. They don’t want to commit to long-term deals with players beyond their second contracts. So, the Jets get younger at the position, but they lose an every-down linebacker in Davis.
Williamson (6-foot-1, 238 pounds), a former fifth-round pick, was the Titans’ leading tackler in 2015 and 2016. The Titans wanted to keep him, but he rejected their reported four-year, $12 million offer.
What’s the risk: After playing 83 percent of the snaps in 2016, Williamson saw his playing time cut to 60 percent last season. Legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau took him off the field on passing downs. In the Jets’ scheme, the inside linebackers usually stay on the field in nickel and dime packages. Coach Todd Bowles probably will give Williamson a chance to be an every-down player, but his deficiencies in pass coverage will surface.
The Jets have agreed to terms with Bridgewater, who spent the last four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Here’s a closer look at the move:
Grade: C+. Is Bridgewater a long-term solution for the Jets, who have been chasing a long-term quarterback solution for decades? Probably not, but he and Josh McCown -- both on one-year contracts -- are solid fallback options after missing out on Kirk Cousins. There’s risk because of Bridgewater’s injury history -- he hasn’t played a full game in two years -- but it’s worth the gamble because he’s still only 25 and has shown he can be a competent game manager when healthy. The realistic expectation is he can be a “bridge” quarterback (no pun intended). Anything beyond that is wishful thinking.
What it means: A quarterback controversy? Not so fast. McCown will go into training camp as the starter, a source said, but he’ll be pushed by Bridgewater. If Bridgewater’s surgically repaired left knee holds up, the Jets have a quarterback with starting experience (17-11 with Minnesota) who has won some big games. He started a playoff game and should’ve won it. (Remember the Blair Walsh miss?)
Bridgewater doesn’t have a big arm, but he’s accurate (65 percent career passer) and fits nicely into the Jets' West Coast scheme. He protects the ball, which appeals to coach Todd Bowles. Bridgewater, known for his high character, will be a terrific locker room fit. He will be highly motivated to prove he can resurrect his once-promising career. What does this mean for Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty? Chances are both are goners because the Jets likely will draft a quarterback.
What’s the risk: It’s obvious -- the knee. In August, 2016, Bridgewater suffered a gruesome injury (torn ACL, dislocation and other damage) that could’ve ended his career. He missed the ’16 season and played only nine snaps last season in mop-up duty late in the year. It’s rare for a quarterback to miss that much time and return to past form, so he can’t be trusted to be the wire-to-wire starter. That’s why the McCown-Bridgewater tandem makes sense.
Trumaine Johnson, CB
The Jets have agreed to terms with cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who spent the last six seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. Here’s a closer look at the move:
Grade: A. There were two No. 1-caliber corners on the market -- Johnson and Malcolm Butler -- and the Jets had to get one of them. They paid an enormous price for Johnson (about $15 million per year, according to the NFL Network), but it’ll be worth it if he can be the lockdown corner they haven’t had since Darrelle Revis 1.0.
What it means: The Jets didn’t sign Kirk Cousins, but they landed the Cousins of cornerbacks. After playing on the franchise tag for two straight years (total: $30.7 million), Johnson, 28, hit the open market and cashed in. His Pro Football Focus rankings were only middling last season, but he often covered the opponents’ No. 1 receiver. We’re talking about a 6-foot-1 corner with press-man skills. Coach Todd Bowles must have been doing cartwheels when he received the news. The chance to be reunited with his former Rams position coach, Dennard Wilson, factored into the decision. The Jets outbid the Oakland Raiders, Johnson’s hometown team.
Suddenly, the Jets’ secondary has real potential with Johnson at CB1 and Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye at safety. If they can re-sign Morris Claiborne, they could have one of the better defensive backfields in the AFC. Buster Skrine ($8.5 million cap hit) could be in jeopardy.
What’s the risk: Well, general manager Mike Maccagnan hasn’t had much luck with mega-contracts (see: Revis 2.0 and Muhammad Wilkerson). There are no sure things in free agency. Johnson’s ball skills have to be questioned. After recording seven interceptions in 2015, he made only three over the last two seasons.
Isaiah Crowell, RB
The Jets have agreed to terms with running back Isaiah Crowell, who spent the past four seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Here's a closer look at the move:
Grade: B-minus. Crowell is a solid runner -- nothing special -- and he fills a need. But this move can't be properly evaluated until the specifics of his three-year contract are known. We'll drop the grade if the Jets spent more than $4.5 million per year, depending on the amount of guaranteed money. There's no need to break the bank for a running back this year because the draft is loaded.
What it means: Free-agent running backs can be risky because you always wonder how much tread is left on the tires after at least four years in the league, but Crowell is only 25 years old and never has carried more than 206 times in a season. Crowell and Bilal Powell have similar skill sets, so they should provide an interchangeable one-two punch. The Jets believe Crowell has feature-back potential, but that's a stretch because he has never done it before. They made this move with an eye on the future, as Powell will be 30 years old and is entering the final year of his contract. General manager Mike Maccagnan said he was looking for players entering free agency for the first time; Crowell fits the bill.
Crowell is a tough inside runner, as he averaged 2.0 yards after contract per rush, 13th in the NFL. He rarely fumbles (one last season, six for his career), and he can catch the ball a little bit. The downside of this move is that it shows a lack of faith in Elijah McGuire, a sixth-round pick last year. If they felt he could be a tandem back, they wouldn't have spent the money on Crowell.
What's the risk: Crowell's attitude bears watching. He vexed the Cleveland coaching staff because he complained about a lack of touches. He played 50 percent of the offensive snaps, splitting time with Duke Johnson (53 percent). In 2016, he posted on Instagram a disturbing, anti-police image. He deleted the post, apologized and donated money to the Dallas Police Department. In college, he was thrown out of the University of Georgia for carrying a gun in a school zone. The Jets developed a good locker-room culture last season. They don't need any headaches.
Josh McCown, QB
The Jets have agreed to terms with quarterback Josh McCown, who joined them last season as a free agent.
Grade: B+. After missing out on Kirk Cousins, the Jets made the wise move to re-sign the popular McCown, who landed a $4 million raise after a career year. It's a one-year contract for $10 million, a source said. The Jets' work isn't done. While McCown is a solid quarterback and terrific for the locker room, he's 38 years old with a history of injuries. The Jets need to add another veteran. Teddy Bridgewater, anyone?
What it means: McCown was told he will go into training camp as the starter, a source confirmed. It makes sense, considering he performed well last season. The Jets have three quarterbacks under contract, the same three as last year: McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. They will not -- repeat, will not -- go into the season with this depth chart. Another veteran probably is on the way, along with a high draft pick. Yes, Petty and Hackenberg are on thin ice.
For now, the Jets have the quintessential bridge quarterback in McCown, who is admired by his teammates and beloved by the coaching staff and front office. When his return was announced on Twitter, teammates Jamal Adams and Kelvin Beachum responded immediately, welcoming him back. McCown has a good relationship with new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, promoted from quarterbacks coach, and that will help everybody as they transition to a new offense (again).
What's the risk: What are the odds of McCown duplicating last season? The Jets made a similar move in 2016, re-signing Ryan Fitzpatrick after a career year, and it backfired in a big way. This franchise usually doesn't get lucky with this sort of thing. McCown set career highs in the major statistical categories before a broken left hand ended his season in Week 14, which sent the offense into the toilet. You have to worry about his age -- he will turn 39 in July -- which makes it imperative that they bring aboard another experienced quarterback.