NFL teams
Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer 47d

New York Jets free-agency overview: Keep Marcus Maye, add weapons

The New York Jets enter 2021 NFL free agency coming off a 2-14 season in 2020 and have 19 unrestricted free agents.

General manager Joe Douglas doesn't believe in team-building through free agency, which is fine, but he needs to step it up after last year's conservative approach. With a projected $68 million in salary-cap space, the Jets are one of the few teams positioned to spend aggressively. With many ties to the San Francisco 49ers, including coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, the Jets' shopping figures to be Frisco-centric.

Here's what to expect from the Jets when the NFL offseason hits high gear with the start of free agency on March 17:

QUARTERBACK

Under contract: Sam Darnold, James Morgan, Mike White

UFA: Joe Flacco

Game plan: The organization's goal is to find a long-term solution. Is it Darnold? A high draft pick? Deshaun Watson? The answer isn't in free agency, although they will need a veteran backup to replace Flacco, an old-school, dropback passer who doesn't fit the new scheme. C.J. Beathard (49ers) could be a low-cost option because he spent the past four years with LaFleur, who is installing a San Francisco-like system that puts a premium on movement skills in the pocket.

RUNNING BACK

Under contract: Ty Johnson, La'Mical Perine, Pete Guerriero

UFA: Frank Gore

Game plan: The Jets got burned by a big running-back contract in 2019 (Le'Veon Bell), so you have to believe they won't go down that road again. Many unheralded running backs have thrived in this system, so there's no need for a major investment. The best plan is to draft a potential RB1 to complement Johnson, Perine and Josh Adams (restricted free agent). Speed is very important in the LaFleur's outside zone system. It also requires a fullback, so maybe they try to poach Kyle Juszczyk (49ers). Gore, 37, won't be back and could retire.

WIDE RECEIVER

Under contract: Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios, Lawrence Cager, Josh Malone, D.J. Montgomery, Jaleel Scott, Manasseh Bailey, Josh Doctson

UFA: Breshad Perriman

Game plan: Help! Even if they keep Crowder, who has a team-high $11.4 million cap charge, the Jets still need a starter on the outside to pair with Mims. It's hard to envision Douglas spending $20 million per year for a top-of-the-market free agent, but he could go for a middle-range player such as Kendrick Bourne (49ers) or Nelson Agholor (Las Vegas Raiders). Perriman likely won't be back.

TIGHT END

Under contract: Chris Herndon, Ryan Griffin, Trevon Wesco, Connor Davis

UFA: Daniel Brown, Ross Travis

Game plan: Any moves made here hinges on whether the new staff believes Herndon is worth salvaging. He regressed under former coach Adam Gase, but he has the all-around talent as a wide receiver and blocker to have a prominent role in LaFleur's offense. Griffin ($3.3 million cap) could be a cap casualty after a sub-par season. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Jets sign an affordable veteran.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Under contract: Mekhi Becton, Alex Lewis, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, George Fant, Chuma Edoga, Cameron Clark, Conor McDermott, Jimmy Murray, Leo Koloamatangi

UFA: Pat Elflein, Josh Andrews

Game plan: All five starters are under contract, but there will be changes for 2021. The Jets ranked 29th and 30th in pass- and run-block win rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Becton and McGovern are the only locks to return. Lewis ($5.2 million savings if cut), Van Roten ($3.4 million) and Fant ($7.9 million) are on shaky ground. If one or more are cut, they can re-invest the savings in guard Joe Thuney (New England Patriots), who would be a steady rock alongside Becton. They can also sign a center and kick McGovern to guard.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Under contract: Quinnen Williams, Folorunso Fatukasi, Henry Anderson, Nathan Shepherd, John Franklin-Myers, Kyle Phillips, Jabari Zuniga, Bryce Huff and Tanzel Smart

UFA: Trevon Coley

Game plan: Even without Anderson, a possible cap cut that would save $8.2 million, the Jets have solid depth. They will need it, as Saleh is planning to switch to a 4-3 front. The lack of an edge-rushing presence is glaring. There are a few intriguing names in free agency -- i.e. Yannick Ngakoue (Baltimore Ravens) and Carl Lawson (Cincinnati Bengals) -- but the price point will be high. The Jets should be able to address the need in the draft, especially since they have three of the first 34 picks.

LINEBACKER

Under contract: C.J. Mosley, Blake Cashman, Noah Dawkins, Sharif Finch, John Daka

UFA: Jordan Jenkins, Tarell Basham, Neville Hewitt, Patrick Onwuasor, Bryce Hager

Game plan: Between Hewitt, Basham and Jenkins, the Jets are losing nearly 2,400 snaps to free agency. The group needs major work, even with Mosley returning from an opt-out season. They need two off-ball linebackers to start alongside Mosley. Jenkins, the Jets' longest-tenured player, doesn't fit in a 4-3 scheme. Basham, who played well down the stretch, could be a fallback option as the "Leo" role in Saleh's defense -- a OLB/DE hybrid.

CORNERBACK

Under contract: Blessuan Austin, Bryce Hall, Lamar Jackson, Javelin Guidry, Corey Ballentine, Zane Lewis, Kyron Brown

UFA: Brian Poole, Arthur Maulet

Game plan: They have some young talent, but there's no CB1 -- and maybe not a CB2, either. The 49ers have six corners hitting free agency, including Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett and K'Waun Williams. It wouldn't be a shock if one ends up reuniting with Saleh. Poole, 28, is a solid nickel back and could return on a one-year deal.

SAFETY

Under contract: Ashtyn Davis, J.T. Hassell, Saquon Hampton, Elijah Campbell

UFA: Marcus Maye, Bradley McDougald, Matthias Farley, Bennett Jackson

Game plan: Priority No. 1 is retaining Maye, the Jets' top free agent. The franchise tag (an estimated $11.2 million) is definitely in play if they can't agree to a long-term deal. With a drop in the salary cap, both sides might want to kick the can down the road into 2022. If the coaches don't feel comfortable with Davis in the other spot, they can turn to Keanu Neal (Atlanta Falcons), who played for new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

SPECIALISTS

Under contract: Sam Ficken (PK), Chase McLaughlin (PK), Braden Mann (P), Thomas Hennessy (LS)

UFA: None

Game plan: They desperately need a big-time returner. Too bad Leon Washington, the new assistant special teams coach, isn't a few years younger.

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