It will be a buyer’s market in the 2021 free agency cycle, and the New York Jets are well positioned to be aggressive. With top-three cap space and new systems on both sides of the football with a new coaching staff installed, it makes sense that the Jets would fill out their roster with free agents to install the system and secure a functional roster for their incoming star rookie quarterback.
Offense is the important spot. The defense already has some solid pieces, and while a revamped secondary is necessary, one or two good moves on that side of the ball will give them a functional unit. The offense could stand for improvements everywhere, but I focused on the positions that will make new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s Kyle Shanahan-inspired system hum, while also checking general manager Joe Douglas’ boxes for toughness.
Joe Thuney, IOL, New England Patriots
Here’s our Captain Obvious fit: Joe Thuney. A player the Jets wanted to grab last season before the Patriots prevented the inter-division signing with the franchise tag now hits free agency in 2021, as the Patriots are unlikely to reapply the tag. The Jets tried to solve their interior offensive line without him last season and were unable to do so—for the same reasons they needed him last year, they need him again.
Of course, the offensive system has changed in New York, and the Jets figure to deploy a wide zone system that won’t be particularly familiar to Thuney from his time in New England, as well as the rest of the incumbent Jets line from the Adam Gase offense. Thuney may not be immediately dominant, then, but he clearly has the athletic ability, angles, and recognition to succeed on the hoof as a wide zone guard.
If the Jets want to secure a scheme fit among the top available interior offensive linemen, Green Bay Packers center Corey Linsley is the best option, but they have a bigger problem at guard than at center. Thuney is a better wide zone projection than Brandon Scherff and a better, younger talent than Gabe Jackson or Richie Incognito. He’s the play.
Gerald Everett, TE, Los Angeles Rams
Put George Kittle’s dominance aside: it is critical to have at least one functional, in-line, Y tight end to run this offense. You need to be able to create wider surfaces on the offensive line, maximize easy boot-action targets, and secure the backside of zone runs with down blocks. The Jets currently do not have that player on the roster—and they’re wanting for depth as well.
Everett is a known scheme fit from his time with the Rams, where he played both attached to the offensive tackle and as an H-back moving on split zone action. Everett’s best ability comes after the catch, so he’ll benefit from the heavy short-target approach of a Kyle Shanahan-inspired offense, but he’s a perfectly solid run blocker who can play on all three downs.
Everett shouldn’t be the most expensive tight end with Hunter Henry in the class, but he’ll be worth a pretty penny. After watching two consecutive seasons of bottom-five tight end targets, Jets fans may be nervous about that—but this offense needs tight end targets to work. Adding a solid tight end is more important than adding a premier wide receiver, in my opinion.
Cordarelle Patterson, WR/RB, Chicago Bears
Pretty much any wide receiver would be good for the Jets. With Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims representing the top of the depth chart, an X receiver with routes to all three levels (Allen Robinson) would make the most sense, but even a catch-point player like Kenny Golladay or a slot separator like Chris Godwin makes sense. If the Jets want to throw a bag at any of those players, they’ll be justified in doing so.
But I think the other free agent Chicago wide receiver, Cordarelle Patterson, makes a lot of sense. The Bears seem interested in returning Patterson, who was a gadget player for them this past season. Patterson took 146 snaps as a running back and 60 as a receiver; hauled in 21 catches to 64 carries; and of course, continued dominating the league as an elite returner.
Patterson immediately boosts the Jets’ 23rd-ranked kickoff return unit (Chicago was third) while also offering a good gadget weapon for LaFleur and that Shanahan-inspired offense. With a heavy amount of wide receiver carries, designed touches, and misdirection plays, Patterson can provide a shot in the arm to the offense on any given week while backing up multiple positions.
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