Lichtenstein: Forget Bell Hype, Jets Offseason Has Been Underwhelming

Steve Lichtenstein
March 21, 2019 - 2:08 pm
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One hundred twenty-two million dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to.

That’s my count of the total reported amount in guaranteed money the Jets committed to free agents, including their own, since the new league year opened a week ago. 

Going into the offseason with about $100 million in 2019 salary cap space, Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan looked to fill holes at many key positions, including edge rusher, cover corner, number one wide receiver and offensive line.

After expending approximately two-thirds of that cushion, the Jets now only have holes at… edge rusher, cover corner, number one wide receiver and on the offensive line.

That’s not all.  In order to lavish outsized contracts on running back Le’Veon Bell and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, Maccagnan downgraded his league-best special teams unit, allowing a pair of Pro Bowlers in kicker Jason Myers and returner Andre Roberts to seek new employers in free agency. 

Maccagnan was also able to save money by getting a cheap deal on a backup quarterback, signing Trevor Siemian to a reported 1-year, $2 million deal on Wednesday.  Josh McCown, the 2018 number two and quarterback whisperer to Sam Darnold, is still weighing whether or not to return for an 18th NFL season.

If only Maccagnan used the extra dough more wisely.  For instance, why sign the most patient running back in football in Bell if he’s only going to get smothered behind the line of scrimmage without the elite blocking he had in Pittsburgh?  And no, r-signing Eric Tomlinson isn’t going to cut it—his 50.7 run block grade from ProFootballFocus.com ranked 62nd among NFL tight ends last season.

Even the Mosley signing wasn’t an absolute necessity, especially at the inflated price required to entice him to move from Baltimore.  He will likely supplant Darron Lee, the Jets 2016 first-round draft pick who will be suspended for the first four games next season.  Lee was the NFL’s fourth-highest graded linebacker in coverage, while Mosley placed 30th.  Mosley excelled versus the run, the area that gave Lee all kinds of troubles.  Weigh which skill set should be the priority, though, and then compare their cap hits.  Will Mosley be worth it in this passing era?

What should Maccagnan have done? 

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After an absolutely hellish 2018 season from his centers, Maccagnan inconceivably took a pass on recruiting the top veterans on the market.  Ex-Bronco Matt Paradis, who is coming off knee surgery, inked a very affordable 3-year, $27 million deal ($12 million guaranteed) with Carolina.  Buffalo previously outbid all competitors for former Chiefs center Mitch Morse with a 4-year, $44.5 million (20.5 million guaranteed) offer.  Maccagnan never sent either a contract proposal, per the Daily News’ Manish Mehta.    

The Jets’ solution to date?  They re-signed Jonotthan Harrison, a nice backup who started eight games last season only after it became apparent (or long after it became apparent) that Spencer Long’s injuries were hindering his ability to merely snap the ball.  Harrison re-upped for two more years at $5 million, with $2.5 million guaranteed. 

That’s not exactly the upgrade the Jets needed.  Harrison received a lousy 54.1 grade from ProFootballFocus.com last season, good (bad?) for 30th among NFL centers. 

Free agent Stefen Wisniewski, who mainly played guard for the Eagles last season but also took 54 snaps at center, visited the Jets on Tuesday but remains unsigned.  He’s also coming off a season where he earned substandard grades.

The Jets took a similar tack at cornerback.  Needing a replacement for starter Morris Claiborne, Gang Green looked inward, re-signing versatile defensive back Darryl Roberts to a 3-year, $18 million ($6.5 million guaranteed) contract.  Brian Poole, who was signed to a 1-year, $2 million deal to compete for the open slot corner role, was flagged eight times in 16 games for Atlanta last season.  Seems like an appropriate replacement for Buster Skrine, who committed seven fouls.

At least Roberts had some success last season (less so when injuries forced him to play free safety late in the season) and Poole is a sneaky blitzer.  Still, this remains an important area of weakness.

It’s been an underwhelming start to the Jets’ offseason, despite the Bell hype.  Two of Maccagnan’s more heralded acquisitions, guard Kelechi Osemele and slot receiver Jamison Crowder, are coming off injury-plagued 2018 campaigns, while Bell didn’t play at all due to a contract dispute. 

I get that the Jets weren’t going to solve all their issues in one free agency period, no matter how much money they had to spend.  To reiterate an old line from ESPN’s Rich Cimini, free agency is where you buy hamburger at filet mignon prices.

The real team building is done at draft time.  Unfortunately, the Jets don’t even have their full allotment of picks, with six in seven rounds.  Assuming they do not trade down from the third overall slot, they will have none between picks 4-67.

The Jets could conceivably get their edge rusher at three, but how many more selections in this draft do you predict will make an immediate impact?  Maccagnan’s four-year record here has been mixed at best.  For every Chris Herndon (4th round, 2018) Maccagnan has drafted, it seems like he’s chosen four Chad Hansen’s (4th round, 2017).

I’m not going to compare this offseason to 2015, when Maccagnan signed or traded for a half dozen players on the wrong side of 30 after another 4-12 season.  The major acquisitions this week are in their primes. 

Maybe that will lead to something more sustainable.  Though the 2015 version went 10-6 under first-year coach Todd Bowles, the flame petered out the following season with a desultory 5-11 campaign.

Two years later, the Jets went back to square one, hiring a new coach (Adam Gase) and trusting that Maccagnan knows what he’s doing to build a roster.

Color me skeptical.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.