Bad luck, bad decisions: Time for New York Jets to flip free-agent fortunes

The Jets could look to shore up their secondary in free agency with a safety like New Orleans' Marcus Williams. Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The franchise that committed $28 million to running back Le'Veon Bell even though the head coach didn't want him ...

That got only 17 games out of cornerback Trumaine Johnson after giving him $34 million in guarantees ...

That saw almost every notable free-agent addition last season go down like a duck in a shooting gallery ...

Yep, that same franchise -- the New York Jets -- is poised again to be active in free agency, hoping to reverse years of bad decisions and bad luck. It has to get better at some point, right?

That point needs to be now because this should be a watershed offseason for the Jets, who have enough money ($48 million in cap room) and draft capital (four picks in the top 38) to lift themselves to relevancy.

"I'll never put one offseason on top of the other," said coach Robert Saleh, perhaps trying to tamp down expectations. "Every offseason is unique to its own. I think what you see around the league is when people put a big emphasis on one offseason over another, you see a lot of panic buying, you see panic selling. You see a lot of odd moves that actually put organizations deeper into a hole, that really make it hard to get out of, especially the ones who feel like jobs are on the line."

Panic? The Jets?

Well, that's exactly what they did with the Johnson and Bell signings in 2018 and 2019, respectively, but that was the work of the previous general manager. Current GM Joe Douglas has demonstrated a restrained approach, having signed four pricey free agents in two offseasons -- center Connor McGovern ($18 million guaranteed) and tackle George Fant ($13.7 million) in 2020, followed by defensive end Carl Lawson ($30 million) and wide receiver Corey Davis ($27 million) in 2021.

McGovern is a serviceable starter who has fallen short of expectations. Fant is a solid player who elevated his standing by holding down the left tackle spot during Mekhi Becton's absence. Lawson didn't play a down after rupturing an Achilles' in training camp and Davis was pedestrian before succumbing to a midseason core-muscle injury. He missed a total of eight games, finishing with only 34 receptions and more drops (six) than touchdowns (four).

No, the Jets didn't get much bang for the buck out of their 2021 free-agent class. Their top 11 free agents missed a combined total of 84 games, a staggering amount of bad luck. Ironically, the player who arrived with the most concerning injury history -- defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins -- missed one game.

Douglas isn't a huge fan of free agency -- he believes in building through the draft -- but he's had to jump into it because he inherited an awful roster in 2019. The roster remains pocked with holes, in part because of his underwhelming 2020 draft, which means the methodical GM has to take another walk on the free-agent wild side.

While Douglas isn't on the hot seat, per se, he knows the team -- 6-27 on his watch -- has to show significant progress or else the temperature will spike.

"Four wins, it's not good enough," Douglas said of last season, his first with Saleh. "We have a lot of work to do, and so I feel like we approach this offseason with the same intensity and focus that we approached last offseason."

This is what we know about Douglas' free agency tendencies and how they might impact the next couple of weeks:

• A market-setting contract is highly unlikely. His predecessor, Mike Maccagnan, broke the bank in 2019, signing linebacker C.J. Mosley for five years, $85 million deal -- and now it's costing them a whopping $17.5 million on the cap. Douglas doesn't want to spend to that degree, yet it's interesting to note the team has interest in New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, a source said. Jackson, one of the top players on the market, is expected to command about $18 million per year. The Jets' interest level is unclear; it's likely just due diligence.

• Douglas tries to address all needs, spreading out the money. This reduces the temptation to reach for specific positions in the draft. He saves the big money for second-contract players in the 26-to-28 age group -- Lawson, Davis, McGovern and Fant all fell into that category. They were the only Jets free agents to get guaranteed money in the second year of the contract.

There are some intriguing options this year, including New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams, 26, and San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle D.J. Jones, 27. But there could be an added wrinkle. Sources say Douglas, looking to add veteran leadership to the locker room, might expand the age window. That means older players such as Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen, 31, Washington Commanders guard Brandon Scherff, 30, 49ers guard Laken Tomlinson, 30, and Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz, 31, could be on the radar.

• Douglas is willing to take on varying degrees of injury risk, as he did last year with Lawson, Rankins, tight end Tyler Kroft and running back Tevin Coleman. Ravaged by injuries the past two years, the Jets are placing a greater emphasis on durability, which naturally will eliminate some free agents. The injury problem is a talking point at One Jets Drive. They don't want to experience another year like 2021.

Or 2020. Or 2019. You get the point. It's time to change the narrative.