I am writing this after the draft, so apart from picking up undrafted free agents and other free agents, the NFL season is largely over, as training camp has begun. So I thought I’d show you all what I would’ve done if I was GM of the New York Jets, a team I follow because they’ve been mediocre for years, and have so much potential with their history and being in the Big Apple. So let’s pretend that the 2018-2019 season has ended, and we need to prepare for free agency and the draft.
First of all, let’s identify team needs.
We have two outstanding defensive tackles in Leonard Williams and Nathan Shepherd. We have two adequate inside linebackers in Avery Williamson and Darron Lee. We have an awesome young safety duo in Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams. We have a good offensive guard in Brian Winters. We have a solid rotational running back in Isaiah Crowell, and a solid starting tight end in Chris Herndon. We have already extended a solid receiver in Quincy Enunwa, and we can pick up a fifth year option on receiver Robby Anderson’s contract, which we should as he and Enunwa are nice young pieces.
Outside of these guys, every single player are below starting quality. That means that the needs are: quarterback (sorry Sam Darnold), running back (to complement Crowell), every offensive line position outside of right guard (I am assuming the trade for Kelechi Osemeli hasn’t happened yet), another starting receiver or tight end, two edge defenders, two cornerbacks, and a flex defender depending on personnel – but considering 70% of plays in the NFL are with 11 personnel against three receivers, that should mean a cornerback.
Before free agency begins, we need to examine what trades we might like to make. Keep in mind that we are armed with the 3rd pick, 68th pick, 92nd pick, 121st pick, 157th pick and the 196th pick, as well as around $80 million in cap space. First of all, who has been made available on the trade market, who we should offer a deal for before another team swoops in? The answer is Antonio Brown.
What might the Steelers accept in a trade offer? Before the draft I speculated that a third round pick (ie the 92nd pick) and Robby Anderson would suffice. Considering the Raiders gave up a third rounder and fifth rounder in real life, that seems like a pretty good deal.
We could not afford the other receiver on the market, Odell Beckham Jr, so we stay put as far as acquiring troubled receivers via trade.
Now we should look at our own roster to see what sort of contracts we would like to get out of. I proposed a bunch of trades in my Twitter feed here, but I think the best haul would be Travis Frederick, Dorance Armstrong, Connor Williams, and Cameron Fleming (assuming they extended his contract as they did in real life), in exchange for Sam Darnold, Kelvin Beachum and Trumaine Johnson. The Cowboys do it because they might want a player who they perceive to be a better QB in Darnold over Dak, and they don’t want to pay Dak as he will be a free agent in 2020. They get a veteran tackle in Beachum for the right side, and Johnson will bolster their below average cornerback group. They might want to get out of Travis Frederick’s large contract considering his injury history. We do it as I believe Darold is hugely overrated and will bust in a big way, and Beachum and Johnson are both extremely overpaid. This trade works out salary-cap wise, and frees up $11 million in space for us to use in free agency.
Before free agency begins, let’s assess what positions we need to fill in still. I think we should move to a 3-4 front with the addition of Armstrong. Therefore, I think the positions we need to fill are defensive tackle, left guard, running back, quarterback, receiver/tight end, one outside linebacker, and three cornerbacks.
We have around $91 million to play with in free agency. But before we start throwing around money, let’s have a look at who we can get in the draft, who could possibly be superior players to those in free agency on much cheaper deals.
My big board is here for what players I value most in the draft. Thankfully, no-one seems to value those players as highly as I do, which gives me a distinct advantage – I can trade down for more picks because I know my guy will still be there.
Byron Murphy is clearly my #1 target in the draft. I think he has Hall-of-Fame potential at cornerback, and that would fill a big need. Looking down the board to see who might invest a high pick in a corner, I think I can rule out the Raiders (who have Gareon Conley), the Buccaneers (who have Vernon Hargreaves), the Giants (who have Janoris Jenkins and will likely invest in a QB), and Jacksonville (who already have a great corner duo in Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye). I think the Lions might want Byron Murphy, as they don’t have a good corner outside of Darius Slay. Therefore, I think we can trade down before the Lions pick, and take Murphy.
I think the Jaguars might trade up for whoever falls the most out of Quinnen Williams, Nick Bosa and Josh Allen. Therefore I think a fair trade would be giving them the 3rd pick in exchange for their 7th and 98th picks. With the 7th pick, we take Byron Murphy.
The next player on my list to target would be Taylor Cornelius, the stud QB out of Oklahoma State. You can read why I value him so much on my big board. The next pick we have is the 68th pick. I think he’ll definitely still be available there, as he often doesn’t even rank in the top 20 QBs in the draft on many mock sites (he would go undrafted in the real life draft). Therefore we don’t have to use precious draft capital to trade up for him, and we don’t want to risk trading back again and have him taken, so we draft him with the 68th overall pick.
The next decision in regard to what player to take next is a difficult one, as LJ Scott is a better running back than Yodny Cajuste is a guard in my opinion, however Cajuste as Hall-of Fame potential as a tackle, so drafting him would be based on his ability to play guard in the short term and play tackle in the long term, where we can potentially trade Cameron Fleming or let him go for a compensatory pick. That’s why we take Cajuste with the 92nd pick.
The next best player we need is LJ Scott at running back. We can simply take him with the Jaguars’ 98th pick. With the 121st pick, we can take Cole Holcomb at outside linebacker. At 157, we can take Kris Boyd at corner, and with the 196th pick, we can take Michael Dogbe at defensive tackle.
This is all just a plan for the draft, and things might not go so well, but let’s assess to see if this plan doesn’t work out. If we miss on Byron Murphy (by someone swooping in and taking him early, assuming the trade with the Jags goes down), we can take Kris Boyd later on. If the Jaguars don’t accept a trade down, we can trade down with the Giants, Bucs or Raiders, and if that doesn’t work, we can just take Murphy 3rd overall anyway. If we miss on Cornelius, we can always get other less-heralded QBs like Jordan Ta’amu or Tannger Mangum. If we miss on Cajuste, we can take Isaiah Prince, David Edwards or Bobby Evans. If we don’t get an additional pick from trading down from 3rd, we can pick up an undrafted guy afterwards (and trust me, some really good players went undrafted). If we miss on Scott at running back, we can get Bryce Love or Elijah Holyfield. If we miss on Cole Holcomb, we can get Darryl Johnson, Wyatt Ray or Cece Jefferson. If we miss on Boyd at corner (or we took him earlier), we can get Derrick Baitty or Mark Fields. If we miss on Michael Dogbe, we can take..ok, there’s not great defensive tackle depth because all of the good ones would be taken earlier, but I know that Trenton Thompson out of Georgia from last year’s draft went undrafted and would be available as he last played in the AFF, despite being a potential All-Pro player. So it is a gamble to not go after certain free agents because we project to get good players at their positions in the draft, but it is a wise one, as we can save money, get better players on cheaper deals, without losing the starting-level players that could fall to us if Plan A doesn’t work.
With this in mind, the only positions that we need to bolster as starters in free agency are receiver/tight end and cornerback. In real life, quality players such as Jakobi Myers and Donald Parham at receiver and Derrick Baitty and Mark Fields would go undrafted, and could be immediately signed. But we cannot rely on this happening, so we’d better offer some free agent contracts.
Therefore, I think we should offer Tarvarus McFadden a 3 year deal of around $5 million per year, which I understand is allowed even if he’s on the Niners practice squad. You can see my evaluation on McFadden from my big board in the 2018 draft here. At receiver, I think we might as well offer the best tight end on the market, Jesse James, a 3 year, $7 million per year deal, as it’s handy to have two tight end sets anyway. He and Herndon can provide mismatches, where they can dominate as run blockers or be flexed wide against linebackers.
I think Josh McCown at quarterback, Elijah McGuire at running back, Jordan Jenkins at outside linebacker, Brandon Shell at tackle, and Jordan Leggett at tight end are adequate backups, unless we can find far superior backups at a cheap price at those positions. What other positions need to be filled with backups then? I think a third receiver is a big need, so the budget for what we should spend on that spot is $7 mil, while the budget for the rest of the positions should be around $5 million. Those positions are: guard, center, free safety, strong safety, two backup corners, linebacker, and defensive tackle. We also need a kicker, so it should be a priority to sign Pro-Bowler Jason Myers, and return man Andre Roberts also provides value. We can worry about third stringers later. We have around $79(!!) million to spend. Here are the contracts I would offer:
- Martavis Bryant, WR – 3 years, $5 million per year. Bryant can come cheap as he is still unsigned at time of writing, so demand for him is low. He provides a great deep threat to complement Antonio Brown’s finesse-style game and Quincy Enunwas YAC ability.
- Jason Myers, K – 3 years, $4 million per year. He and Aldrick Rosas had the best years of any kickers last season. He’s worth the reinvestment.
- Trenton Thompson. DT – 3 years, $3 million per year. I don’t get why he went undrafted. Maybe there’s character concerns? That’s the only thing that would make sense. He is dominant on the interior with a good get off and hand usage. He can be gotten so cheaply as his last football action was in the AFF.
- Kamari Cotton-Moya, SS – 3 years, $3 million per year. Undrafted after last season, Cotton-Moya is a bit like Quandre Diggs with his explosiveness and hitting ability at a smaller than average size.
- Tre Boston, FS – 2 years, $4 million per year. Boston was great as a starting free safety two years ago in San Diego, but has had trouble getting a long term contact since – he played well with the Cardinals on a one year deal last year though. He’s still a free agent, so he can be gotten for cheap, and can be given minutes to give Marcus Maye some rest or in nickel or dime packages.
- Andre Roberts, WR – 2 years, $4 million per year. A great return man and can be a downfield threat at receiver.
- Andy Levitre, G – 2 years, $4 mil per year. Is ageing but can still provide solid backup depth.
- Bashaud Breeland, CB – 2 years, $4 million per year. The Chiefs offered him a one year, $2 million deal, so this one beats it, even if he is far down the depth chart.
- Jonathon Harrison, C – 1 year, $3 million per year. The center market, outside of Matt Paradis and Mitch Morse, was quite weak in the offseason. So Harrison, a former Jet, will suffice.
- Moe Claiborne, CB – 2 years, $4 million per year. Claiborne has been injury riddle of late but has some ability when healthy, so it’s worth bringing him back. He’s still a free agent in real life so his market is not strong.
- Dez Bryant, WR – 1 year, $4 million per year. Bryant is still unemployed and coming off an Achilles injury, but I still think he can win on jump balls and middle of the field yardage.
- Brett Hundley, QB – 3 years, $5 million per year. Hundley is far better than McCown, so signing him is worth it as a backup. See what Nick Foles did when Carson Wentz went down in 2018. This offer would blow the Chargers out of the water, as they got him for just under $2 million for just one year.
- Bruce Irvin, OLB – 2 years, $5 million per year. Irvin signed a one year $4 million contract with the Panthers, so if we offer our deal I think we can beat it. We already have Jenkins, but Irvin would be a big upgrade.
- Elijah Penny, FB 2 years, $2 million per year. It doesn’t hurt to have a full back in 21 formations, and Penny is the best on the market.
- Malik McDowell, DE – 3 years, $5 million per year. This signing doesn’t fill a need on first viewing, but there weren’t many cheap quality inside linebackers on the free agent market, so I’ve come up with a different plan. We can start Bruce Irvin at outside linebacker, have Jordan Jenkins back him up, and move Cole Holcomb to inside linebacker, where Darron Lee can back him up. McDowell can play base end on a 4-3 front of move inside in a 3-4 front. Winning!
- Alex Collins, RB – 2 years, $3 million per year. Collins was driving while stoned, was arrested and released by the Ravens, so he comes with a cheap price tag. I think players should have a second chance, and we could have staff to help support Collins if he has a problem with drugs. Beside, we’d get a Pro-Bowl level back lol.
That money spent equals $64 million. That’s a lot of money to spend on backups or rotational players! But it is worth it, as those players are good enough to either give spot minutes or start if a starter goes down with an injury.
That’s 46 players at the moment. We also have: Rashard Robinson CB, Josh Bellamy WR, Rontez Miles SS, Brandon Copeland DE, Brent Qvale T, Eric Tomlinson TE, Charone Peake WR, Neal Sterling TE, Tarell Basham OLB, Davis Webb QB, Parry Nickerson CB, Foley Futakasi DT and Trenton Cannon RB on the roster. I might have left out some other guys who were on the roster prior to the offseason but I can’t be bothered finding out who they were. These guys aren’t good enough to deliver quality production in 11 vs 11 play, but they come cheap and can be used on special teams. However, they might still be cut in place of superior undrafted free agents, whose availability we can’t accurately forecast.
So, the depth chart that I intend would get minutes in 2019 would look like this:
QB: Taylor Cornelius, Brett Hundley, Josh McCown,
RB: LJ Scott, Alex Collins, Isaiah Crowell, Elijah McGuire,
WR: Antonio Brown, Quincy Enunwa, Martavis Bryant, Dez Bryant, Andre Roberts
TE: Jesse James, Chris Herndon, Jordan Leggett, Elijah Penny
Tackle: Cameron Fleming, Connor Williams, Brandon Shell
Guard: Yodny Cajuste, Brian Winters, Andy Levitre
Center: Travis Frederick, Jonathon Harrison
Safety: Marcus Maye, Jamal Adams, Tre Boston, Kamari Cotton-Moya
Cornerback: Byron Murphy, Tarvarus McFadden, Kris Boyd, Moe Claiborne, Brashaud Breeland
Inside linebacker: Avery Williamson, Cole Holcomb, Darron Lee.
Outside linebacker: Bruce Irvin, Dorance Armstrong, Malik McDowell, Jordan Jenkins
Defensive tackle: Leonard Williams, Nathan Sheperd, Michael Dogbe, Trenton Thompson.
Kicker: Jason Myers
Punter: Lachlan Edwards
Considering that every single starter in the 11 vs 11 squad has a value of atleast $7 million per year, and the team features Leonard Williams, Taylor Cornelius, Byron Murphy, Yodny Cajuste, Nathan Shephard, Jamal Adams, Travis Frederick, Antonio Brown and LJ Scott as potential All-Pro caliber players with great depth around them, I think this team can be championship contenders. All while being $15 million under the salary cap.
Let me know what you think by commenting here or tweeting at me at @bskinnreports.