Jets’ free agency shows they aren’t poised to dethrone Tom Brady-less Patriots

Jets’ free agency shows they aren’t poised to dethrone Tom Brady-less Patriots

The NFL free agency negotiating window opened on Monday. The Jets were pretty quiet, but here are a few thoughts on the first day of free agency and the Jets:

1. The biggest news of the first 24 hours of free agency for the Jets is not about a player they signed or let go. It is Tom Brady’s announcement that he is leaving the Patriots. I wrote about the effect that this news could have on the Jets earlier in the week. Now, it is a reality. The AFC East actually feels open for the first time since 2003. Since the Jets won the division in 2002, it has largely felt like they are playing for second place. Whether it was Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles or Adam Gase last year, Jets coaches knew they were chasing the Patriots.

That appears to be over. I say appears because Bill Belichick is still the best coach in NFL history and may figure this thing out without Brady.

The question for the Jets, though, is are they ready for this? The organization has been talking about this moment for years and being prepared to pounce once the door opened in the division.

Sitting here this morning, it does not feel like the Jets are close to being ready to take over the division. They still have a lot of roster holes. The Bills are clearly ahead of them and the Dolphins significantly beefed up their defense on Monday.

Now, free agency is only a day old. Joe Douglas has a lot of time to beef up his roster, but the Jets still feel like a multi-year project to me. I don’t think this roster can be repaired in one offseason. Poor drafting and free agency decisions over the past decade still haunt this team.

But there is a glimmer of hope now. The AFC East is no longer decided before the season even starts. Maybe Sam Darnold makes a major leap in Year 3. Maybe Douglas finds some hidden gems and nails the draft. With no Brady, anything feels possible.

2. The Jets’ first agreement with a free agent is not one that is going to grab headlines or make fans dance. Tackle George Fant was the first player to reach a deal with the Jets. He has mainly been a backup in Seattle, starting 24 games over four years. The Jets gave him a three-year, $30 million deal with $13.7 million guaranteed, according to sources.

This may seem a bit puzzling for those waiting for the Jets to sign a big-name offensive lineman. But Douglas is committed to not overpaying in free agency. He knows how many holes he has to fill and wants to be prudent in free agency. Some of the reports of “interest” in players is overstated and that is agents using the media to try to leverage other teams. I don’t think the Jets were ever that interested in Jack Conklin because they knew his price would be high. It can seem like the Jets are getting “beat” on these players, but I’m not sure that is fair. I don’t think they are willing to spend what others are so the players choose the higher bidder. I’m not sure that is getting “beat.”

As for Fant, the Jets feel like they are getting an athletic player who can get outside in their zone running schemes and on screen passes, a staple of Gase’s offense. Fant’s athleticism is evidenced by his background as a college basketball player at Western Kentucky. He only played one year of college football and that was as a tight end.

Fant has long arms (35 inches) and ran a 4.84 40-yard dash out of college.

The Jets have him penciled in as their starting left tackle, but he could move to the right side.

Fant gives Douglas some flexibility now. He does not necessarily have to draft a left tackle in Round 1, but he still can and then slide Fant to the right. Or if they draft a tackle that they feel is not ready to start at left tackle, he can play on the right side and Fant can stay on the left.

There are some people around the league that feel the Jets may land Trent Williams from the Redskins. At the moment, I think the asking price is probably too high from the Redskins and from Williams. Washington is reportedly looking for a second-round pick and Williams is seeking a contract that would pay him $20 million per year, according to ESPN. The Jets are not doing that. But if the price drops dramatically over the next few weeks, maybe the Jets make a deal for Williams and move Fant to the right side.

It is still early in the team-building process. We won’t know how this move looks until we see the complete picture that Douglas paints.

3. It was really quiet around wide receiver Robby Anderson on Monday. The Jets’ top free agent is now the No. 1 wide receiver on the market with Amari Cooper re-signed by the Cowboys and A.J. Green getting the franchise tag in Cincinnati. Anderson’s market should heat up now. The Jets are monitoring that market and would still love to bring Anderson back if the price is right. No teams have been linked to Anderson yet. That could happen over the next 24 hours. We’ll see what kind of payday Anderson is in line for.

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