The New York Jets have been plenty busy in the period leading up to the NFL’s free agency period, which officially began on Wednesday.
With an estimated $90 million in salary cap space, they haven’t been afraid to go out and acquire roster upgrades despite missing out on top free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins, who will sign with the Minnesota Vikings.
While the signing of former Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been the headlining acquisition for the Jets, they also bolstered their secondary with veteran cornerback Trumaine Johnson along with former Titans linebacker Avery Williamson.
New York also brought back a familiar face in quarterback Josh McCown, who received a one-year extension worth $10 million. It was a deserved deal for the 38-year-old, who put together a career season and put up a respectable 5-8 record in a career year as Jets starter last season.
These moves without a doubt make the Jets better as they will continue to be active in free agency this offseason. But early on, these moves might be indicating their intentions in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Jets hold the No. 6 selection in the draft, a high enough pick that should ensure they get at least one of the more elite prospects in the prospect pool. But speculation has swirled when it comes to what direction the team might be going in at the draft.
There is an abundance of quarterbacks that will go in the first round. As many as five are expected to go in the first 32 picks with USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson leading the way.
With Cousins as the team’s top priority in free agency, drafting a quarterback was considered an option as the organization continues to search for a franchise quarterback; something they’ve been lacking since Joe Namath.
The secondary was also an area of need, specifically at the cornerback position.
Morris Claiborne is a free agent while Buster Skrine is signed through the 2018 season. The two were New York’s top options on the outside last season, though Skrine struggled at times considering his preferred role is as a slot corner.
That made Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick or Ohio State’s Denzel Ward viable options.
The signing of Johnson though gives the Jets an immediate leader among the cornerbacks with 18 interceptions over his first six NFL seasons, all with the Rams. Should the Jets re-sign Claiborne, it would allow Skrine to move inside to the slot while safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye continue to develop.
Now, back to the quarterbacks.
While the immediate future (read as the 2018 season) is set with Bridgewater as the team’s tentative starter while McCown backs him up, the door is still open for the Jets to draft a passer.
Both Bridgewater and McCown are in New York on one-year contracts. McCown’s due to his age while Bridgewater has far-too-many question marks surrounding his standing as a legitimate NFL starter.
A horrific knee injury prior to the 2016 season has limited Bridgewater to just two attempted passes in the past two years, bringing his development to a screeching halt. After all, he was a Pro Bowler in 2015 after leading the Vikings to an 11-5 record.
But there is bound to be plenty of rust to his game along with an acclimation period to get back up to speed. Should the Jets not like what they see, they can always let Bridgewater walk at the end of the season.
That would leave the Jets exactly where they were at the beginning of this offseason, searching for a quarterback for the future.
If they play their cards right in the draft though, they might not need to run that risk again. The No. 6 pick ensures they will get a quarterback considering running back Saquon Barkley, offensive lineman Quenton Nelson and defensive end Bradley Chubb expected to be in the running for a top-five selection. So they could wait to see what is available to them.
But if there is a clear choice as to which quarterback they want, New York could trade up to ensure they get their man whether it be Darnold, Allen or Rosen; the three passers who are undoubtedly the best available in this draft.