NFL free agency is off and running, and we’re keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2020 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from Bill Barnwell. The new league year begins March 18 at 4 p.m. ET, which means free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2020 NFL draft begins April 23.
The Jets have reached an agreement on a one-year contract with the former first-round pick.
What it means: The Jets needed a speed receiver after losing Robby Anderson to the Carolina Panthers and — voila! — they landed Perriman. Let’s be clear: This is a downgrade, but Perriman gives them a veteran presence and a perimeter burner who can take the top off a defense. For now, he’s their No. 1 outside receiver, not counting the injured Quincy Enunwa (neck). This doesn’t change the draft plan; GM Joe Douglas still needs to invest in a wide receiver. They also could bring in another veteran.
What’s the risk: Are the Jets getting the guy who dazzled late last season or the guy who underachieved for the first 3 1/2 years of his career? Perriman, a first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2016, was a bust until registering 506 receiving yards from Weeks 13-17. For the year, he averaged 17.9 yards per catch, sixth among players with at least 50 targets. Most notably, he had only one drop in 65 targets. Jets personnel director Chad Alexander was a Ravens executive when Perriman was drafted, so they had some insight into the player. The Anderson-for-Perriman swap will save a couple million on the cap. It’ll be a steal if Perriman can continue what he started last December.
The Jets have reached an agreement on a three-year deal with the former Panthers guard.
What it means: That Roten received a three-year contract in the second wave of free agency suggests the Jets see him as a starter on their rebuild offensive line. He was a two-year starter at left guard for the Panthers, who picked him up off the scrap heap in 2017 and gave him a starting gig the following season. Suddenly, the Jets have a glut of interior linemen, with Van Roten and the other new additions — center Connor McGovern and center/guard Josh Andrews. You have to wonder if this is the end for longtime right guard Brian Winters ($7.3 million), a potential cap casualty.
What’s the risk: It’s difficult to assess until the financial terms become available. This much we know: The Jets coveted Van Roten from the start of free agency. Let’s not get carried away, though: He’s a journeyman player (four NFL teams, one CFL team) who didn’t break through as a starter until 2018. The 6-foot-3, 303-pounder is tough and smart (only three accepted penalties in 2018-19), but he’s not a difference-maker. It also should be mentioned that he missed the final five games with a dislocated toe.
What it means: Mired by inconsistent play in the pivot since the end of the Nick Mangold era (2016), the Jets finally have a legitimate answer at center. McGovern will replace Jonotthan Harrison, who was viewed by the organization as a placeholder after the Ryan Kalil debacle. Harrison likely will remain as a versatile backup. McGovern is durable (played every snap in 2019) and smart (no penalties last season). Durability is important, considering all the injuries to the line last season. This is GM Joe Douglas’ biggest signing to date. A crafty center can do wonders for an offensive line. McGovern also can play guard. The Jets haven’t ruled that out; they will play the best five.
What’s the risk: McGovern didn’t come cheaply — a reported $18 million in guarantees. If he bombs or gets hurt, they can’t cut him for two years, depending on how the deal is structured. You also have to wonder why the Broncos didn’t make a stronger effort to re-sign him. He’s a tough player with weight-room strength, but he doesn’t always play to that strength. He can get wobbly at times. But for the most part, this is a safe investment. The Jets hope he can galvanize their O-line.
New York reached agreement with the former Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle on a three-year, $30 million deal that includes $13.7 million guaranteed, according to reporting by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler and Adam Schefter.
What it means: The Jets are entrusting Sam Darnold‘s blindside protection to a former college basketball player who never has started a full season in the NFL. Douglas, who’s supposed to be an O-line guru, sees a lot of upside in Fant, a part-time starter in Seattle. Hence, the $30 million contract, which includes a $13.7 million guarantee. That’s not backup money, to be sure. Fant will replace longtime starter Kelvin Beachum (free agent), who won’t be back. This also reduces the urge to reach for a left tackle with the 11th pick in the draft, although the Jets still could draft a right tackle. Fant also has the ability to play the right side, which gives them flexibility.
What’s the risk: Ideally, you want a sure thing to protect your franchise quarterback — and Fant isn’t a sure thing. The former undrafted free agent (2016) played only one season of college football and was forced into the Seahawks’ lineup as a rookie. He was projected as the starter in 2017, but he blew out an ACL and missed the season. He started three games last season, plus the wild-card game. Overall, he has never played more than 63% of the offensive snaps in a season. He’s an elite athlete, which should serve him well in pass protection — an important trait in Adam Gase’s pass-first offense. But can he anchor in the run game and open holes for Le’Veon Bell?
New York reached agreement with left guard Alex Lewis on a three-year, $18.6 million deal that includes $6 million guaranteed, a source confirmed to ESPN.
What it means: For now, it’s all about plugging holes on the offensive line. Lewis is a solid, short-term fix at left guard, where he replaced Kelechi Osemele and started the final 12 games last season. He actually outperformed Osemele, who made a lot more money than Lewis. GM Joe Douglas has an affinity for Lewis — he traded for him last summer — so this makes sense. The money ($6 million guaranteed) is reasonable, so they can cut bait after a year, if necessary. Do Lewis and new LT George Fant solve the O-line issues? Of course not, but Douglas sees them as “value” moves. You need cement to stack bricks. These guys are the cement.
What’s the risk: Plagued by injuries throughout his career, Lewis never has played a full season. He started 12 straight games last season before going on IR for the final game with an ankle injury. After a strong start, his performance wavered at times because of wear and tear on his body. So, yes, durability is a concern, but it’s mitigated by the size of the contract. The Jets didn’t break the bank. Lewis also must cut down on his penalties; he had six, too many for an interior lineman.
The Jets will re-sign the veteran cornerback to a one-year deal worth $5 million guaranteed.
What it means: The Jets retained their slot corner for at least another year. In today’s NFL, the slot corner is basically another starter. In fact, Poole played 68% of the defensive snaps last season, more than any corner on the Jets. The surprise here is that he didn’t land a bigger deal. Evidently, the market wasn’t as robust as he expected. Good for the Jets, right? Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes Poole because he’s physical, can blitz and doesn’t commit a lot of penalties (only three).
What’s the risk: Poole’s coverage metrics were only average last season. In fact, he allowed a passer rating of 91.1 when he was the nearest defender, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. No, it wasn’t an elite season from a coverage standpoint. Still, it was better than his performance in 2018 for the Atlanta Falcons, who gave up on him. There’s always the chance he could revert to that player, but he’s on another prove-it contract, so there should be plenty of motivation.
The Jets and Hewitt have agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: The experienced Hewitt, who started 12 games last season, provides inside-linebacker insurance. And insurance is important when you have two players coming off surgery — C.J. Mosley (groin) and Avery Williamson (knee). Both are expected to be ready for training camp, but you never know. There has been speculation about Williamson ($8.5 million cap) as a potential cap casualty, but it makes sense to keep him around as … well, more insurance. At some point, though, something has to give. Williamson and Mosley are eating up $26 million of the cap.
What’s the risk: Not much. Even if Hewitt isn’t a starter or part of the rotation, he can be a key contributor on special teams. Fun fact: Hewitt played more defensive snaps (718) than any linebacker on the team last season.
The Jets are bringing back Maulet on a one-year contract.
What it means: More depth at the Jets’ thinnest position. The Jets are hurting in a big way at cornerback. You could argue their best corner is nickelback Brian Poole, which says a lot. Maulet probably won’t compete for a starting job, but he’s a good role player who can start in a pinch. In fact, he started six games last season. He’s also a key player on special teams; he scored his first career touchdown on a blocked punt.
What’s the risk: None. He’s 26, hungry and a fearless tackler — a Gregg Williams kind of player. And cheap, too, as he likely signed for a minimum salary.
The Jets agreed to a one-year deal with the former Colts lineman.
What it means: You can’t have too much depth on the offensive line. The Jets learned that last season, when injuries forced them to start 11 different players. Andrews, 28, will compete for a backup position. The Jets have lost two backups in free agency (tackle Brent Qvale and guard Tom Compton), so replenishing the depth chart is paramount.
What’s the risk: None, at least not from a financial standpoint. The knock on Andrews is that he hasn’t played a lot of football. He came into the NFL as an undrafted player in 2014 and has played 98 offensive snaps in his career, mostly at center. He was on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2018. Jets GM Joe Douglas was an Eagles executive at the time, so he’s familiar with Andrews. He appeared in six games (57 snaps) for the Colts last season. Fun fact: He has no penalties in his career, albeit a very small sample size.
The Jets agreed to a one-year deal with the former Colts starter.
What it means: It gives the Jets a starting-caliber cornerback who can play on the outside, a commodity in short supply after the release of 2019 starters Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts. Desir (36 career starts) jumps to the front of the depth chart with second-year CB Blessuan Austin, with Brian Poole in the slot, but things could change. The Jets figure to stay active at cornerback. They moved quickly on Desir, finalizing a deal one day after he was released by the Colts in a move that was largely cap-related.
What’s the risk: Are they getting the 2019 Desir or the 2018 Desir? He showed enough promise in ’18 to land a three-year, $23 million extension, but his play tailed off last season. One NFL scout said “his mindset seemed to change a bit.” He allowed a 65-percent completion rate, five touchdowns and a 96.5 passer rating, according to Pro Football Focus. He also missed a lot of tackles. The scheme fit also is questionable. The Colts are a zone-based team; the Jets prefer man-to-man. They’re relying on assistant GM Rex Hogan, a former Colts executive who saw Desir at his best.
Burgess, a non-tendered restricted free agent, is returning to the Jets on a one-year contract.
What it means: This is a solid depth signing. With Burgess back, it gives the Jets four experienced inside linebackers. The others are C.J. Mosley, Avery Williamson and Neville Hewitt. They also have Blake Cashman, whose rookie year was cut short by shoulder surgery. Unless Mosley (groin surgery) or Williamson (knee) suffer a setback in rehab, the Jets’ work should be done at this position. Williamson remains a potential cap casualty.
What’s the risk: None whatsoever. Burgess is the ideal backup because he proved last season he can be a credible starter. Because of injuries, he wound up starting 10 games and played 60% of the defensive snaps. He recorded 52 tackles, one interception and one sack. He’s a favorite of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and a feel-good story because of his circuitous NFL journey. He was cut eight times by six teams.
The linebacker agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Jets.
What it means: Not every player hits the jackpot in free agency. After recording a career-high eight sacks last season, Jenkins figured he’d land in excess of $10 million a year on a multi-year deal. The market spoke and he didn’t like what it had to say. His one-year deal with the Jets is worth $5 million, per the NFL Network. The silver lining is that he can return to the table in a year. For the Jets, this is a terrific value. For a change, they keep one of their own. He’s only the third player from the 2012-2016 drafts to get a second contract with the Jets.
What’s the risk: It’s hard to find risk in a relatively modest contract. He’ll be worth the $5 million if he gives them another eight sacks and solid play against the run. Jenkins also is an emerging locker-room leader. For now, they don’t have much else at outside linebacker. They lost Brandon Copeland (Patriots), leaving Jenkins and Tarell Basham as the top players. In Jenkins, they have a complementary pass-rusher who plays about 50 to 60 percent of the defensive snaps. And we know this: He will be highly motivated for his next contract.
The familiar backup returns, agreeing to a one-year deal.
What it means: Fales returns to join Sam Darnold and Mike White in the quarterback room, the same trio that was together for the second half of last season. Coach Adam Gase is comfortable with Fales, having coached him at two previous stops — Chicago Bears (2015) and Miami Dolphins (2017-2018). Comfort and familiarity can’t be underestimated in this time of uncertainty. With the offseason program up in the air due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to have quarterbacks who already know the offense. Fales checks that box.
What’s the risk: Don’t be surprised if they add a more experienced backup at some point. Fales hasn’t thrown a regular-season pass since 2017 and he can’t be counted on to run the offense for any length of time. It would be negligent to stand pat at the position, considering what has occurred over the past two seasons. Without Darnold in the lineup, the Jets were 0-6. Available options are Matt Moore, Joe Flacco, Trevor Siemian and Blake Bortles. Maybe the Jets will wait until after the draft to see if anyone else shakes free.
The Jets bring in Onwuasor on a one-year deal, adding insurance to a crowded but rehabbing linebacking corps.
What it means: Another inside linebacker? Is defensive coordinator Gregg Williams planning to switch to a 2-5 front? Onwuasor gives them six inside linebackers with NFL experience, a group headed by C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson, both of whom are coming off season-ending surgery. Good depth is one thing, but this suggests someone could be the odd-man out. That someone would be Williamson, whose $8.5 million cap charge makes him vulnerable. They’re certainly not going to cut Mosley or backups Neville Hewitt and James Burgess, Jr., both of whom recently re-signed. They also have second-year ILB Blake Cashman, who also is rehabbing from surgery.
What’s the risk: After losing Mosley to the Jets last year, the Ravens handed the middle-linebacker job to Onwuasor, who had been a starter on the weakside. He struggled against the run and lost his job. He injured an ankle and, by the time he recovered, the Baltimore defense was grooving without him. Onswuasor has talent. Playing mainly first and second down, he notched 8.5 sacks over the past two seasons. He’s undersized at 6-0, 227 pounds, but aggressive. General manager Joe Douglas, a former Baltimore executive, is collecting ex-Ravens.