New York Jets Free Agency Grade: The World Awaits Aaron Rodgers and Allen Lazard Reunion in the Big Apple

The New York Jets haven’t been very active thus far in free agency, and it’s not hard to figure out why that’s the case. The Jets and Green Bay Packers must come to an agreement on the trade compensation for Aaron Rodgers, or both teams remain in a state of free agency limbo.

What the compensation will look like is fascinating and quite unknown. Obviously, Brian Gutekunst and the Packers want the world, while Joe Douglas and the Jets want to give up a bit of dirt on a run down one acre lot. And while the Jets are Rodgers’s only suiter, that doesn’t necessarily give them the leverage in this situation.

The Jets don’t have a ton of salary cap space to work with, so they’re unable to make many moves until the Rodgers deal is done. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of players from PFN’s Top 100 Free Agents who remain available. Additionally, there are more than enough players being released that would provide a spark to each roster.

Overall New York Jets Free Agency Grade

Thus far during free agency, New York has lost eight players from the 2022 roster and has signed seven players overall. The difficulty for the Jets is they’ve already toyed with the contracts of John Franklin-Myers, Tyler Conklin, Laken Tomlinson, D.J. Reed, and C.J. Uzomah.

They converted base salary into signing bonus money and added void years to get their cap situation to where it is now. Those moves created over $23 million in cap space, but New York will need to find more money somewhere if they’re to be more aggressive in the latter stages of free agency, should their trade be finalized sometime soon.

Overall, the Jets have done well with what they have, but they don’t have much to spend. Robert Saleh stated the team would be “judicious” with free agency and that he wanted to “run it back with the guys we have” on defense. So their inaction shouldn’t be surprising for fans.

Grade: B

Chuck Clark Brings Undying Reliability to Jets Secondary

Nobody in the NFL has played more consecutive snaps on defense than Chuck Clark. The 27-year-old safety played 1,091 snaps in 2022 and hasn’t missed a snap since Week 16 of the prior season, making his total iron man streak 1,248 snaps. Additionally, Clark has played more than 1,000 snaps in each of the past three seasons for a Baltimore Ravens team that wasn’t exactly the gold standard for keeping players on the field.

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For the low price of a seventh-round pick, the Jets traded for the Ravens’ green dot bearer. Clark is a solid contributor added to a defense rife with playmakers.

Grade: A

New York Keeping Defense a Family Affair With Quincy Williams Extension

Before teams could begin tampering with Quincy Williams on March 13, the Jets swooped in and extended him to the tune of a three-year deal worth $18 million. Williams is an ascending player on a defense that needed a legitimate contributor standing beside C.J. Mosley.

He’s also the older brother of Jets star defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, so extending the linebacker solves issues surrounding the superstar as well. Sure, there are rules surrounding teams’ abilities to communicate with contracted players. And sure, it wouldn’t be legal for teams to wink-wink-nudge-nudge Quincy regarding Quinnen, but New York made it so that wouldn’t even be a concern.

But the contract is also one of good faith toward Quinnen after multiple years of rumors that the team could possibly trade the former Alabama DT. The Jets are committed long-term to Quinnen, and his brother keeps improving on the second level behind him.

For the Jets, it was a win-win. And if, for some reason, things fall apart and Quinnen goes elsewhere after his fifth-year option in 2023 and Quincy plays poorly, the Jets can get out of the linebacker’s deal pretty easily after 2024.

Grade: B

Allen Lazard Rejoins Nathaniel Hackett

Allen Lazard is a great fit for the Jets, no matter who ends up becoming the team’s QB. If New York and Green Bay somehow aren’t able to agree on compensation for Rodgers, Lazard is a fine $33 million investment in a No. 2 receiver for a team with a No. 1 on a rookie deal.

Even though last season was a career-high in receptions (60) and yards (788), Lazard brings a level of blocking ability that exists in very few receivers around the league, if any can match his ability there. And although he produced more upon Nathaniel Hackett’s departure to Denver, Lazard had a ringing endorsement of the coach during his introductory press conference. He said Hackett was, “the best teacher I’ve ever had in my life.”

It should come as no surprise, considering the Jets’ wide receiver is the size of a modern-day move tight end. In fact, there isn’t much separating Lazard and Evan Engram based on their Combine testing numbers. Plus, Lazard is a better blocker than Engram.

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Breece Hall will be a huge part of the Jets’ offense when he returns from his injury. The run and play-action game will be a big part of the passing attack. So even when Lazard isn’t producing on the box score, he’s still adding value to the offense every time one of his blocks outside of the formation on wide zone springs an explosive run.

Paying Lazard at the top of the market was a steep price, but considering the market was practically non-existent this offseason, it’s not the worst investment in the world.

Grade: B

If Solomon Thomas Stays With Robert Saleh

If Solomon Thomas has one million fans (he doesn’t), Robert Saleh is one of them. If Thomas has 100 fans (debatable), Saleh is one of them. If Thomas has one fan (realistic), it is Saleh. If Thomas has no fans, Saleh is no longer a head coach.

In 2017 Saleh said, “That young man’s got a chance to be special if he continues working the way he does.” Since then, he’s brought up Thomas’ grit and ability to keep going. He truly believes that, at some point, it will all click for the 49ers’ former third-overall pick.

Re-signing Thomas isn’t the end of the world unless he has to start. Which, unfortunately, as it stands, could be the case. New York’s defense is talented, but their defensive interior is lackluster aside from Williams.

Thomas is an inexpensive piece, but he’s also simply not a very good player. Even in a more part-time role with New York a season ago, he hardly flashed as a pass rusher, the arena many believed he’d be an expert in at the NFL level. Yet, for a team that was begging for depth, Saleh added a familiar piece.

Grade: C

Jets Double Up on Interior Between Wes Schweitzer and Trystan Colon-Castillo

While Wes Schweitzer is a more traditional free agency signing as someone with starting experience at a somewhat inexpensive value, that doesn’t intrinsically make it a good or bad move. Schweitzer isn’t a bad piece to have as a rotational piece on the offensive interior who can fill in at left guard, center, and right guard.

But you don’t necessarily want him to be the starter in Week 1, particularly at center. Alijah Vera-Tucker has already changed from left tackle in college to left guard to right guard at the NFL level. Maybe he’d be open to the middle of the offense if Schweitzer provides better play at right guard.

Vera-Tucker has played every line position except for center at the NFL level. Last season alone, he played LT, RG, and RT before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 7. Sometimes we can point to position changes in-season with offensive linemen as a potential cause of injury, but a torn triceps muscle is a true freak injury.

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Adding Trystan Colon-Castillo is the eyebrow raiser, and in a good way. He’s only played a hair over 300 snaps in his three seasons with Baltimore, but Colon-Castillo’s looked pretty good when he’s been on the field.

The undrafted free agent from Missouri has played center and some right guard and could provide some competition at center in camp. It’s impossible to know if he can sustain the level of play we’ve seen from him in short spurts, but this was a nice way to add depth to the interior for New York.

Grade: B

Losing Nathan Shepherd and Sheldon Rankins Hurts

That is over 1,000 defensive snaps lost between Nathan Shepherd and Sheldon Rankins from a season ago. New York didn’t have the money to allocate to the two players, but keeping one of them around to avoid staring at Thomas as a current starter on the depth chart for the time being would have made Jets fans feel better.

Rankins will make nearly $10 million in 2023, which made him expendable given New York’s struggling salary cap situation. However, Shephard would have been nice to keep around for his $5 million annual value.

The offseason is not over yet, though, and there are plenty of interior defenders still available for New York to steal in the latter stages of free agency.

Grade: D

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