INDIANAPOLIS — After nine months on the job, Jets general manager Joe Douglas will finally get to really shape the team’s roster.
Yes, he already has made a few trades and signings since he was hired last June, but when free agency begins on March 18, he can truly begin to reshape the Jets. The Jets currently have $49 million in salary-cap space, according to Over the Cap, but can push that number over $70 million with a few cuts in the coming weeks.
Just how aggressive will Douglas be in his first free agency go-round as GM?
“We’ve got a lot of holes,” Douglas said. “You don’t want to sit on your hands. You want to be aggressive, but you don’t want to be reckless either. There’s a fine line about being judicious with your spending and your decisions. Those are things as we put our [unrestricted free agency] plan together with our coaches next week those are going to be things that we talk about.”
Douglas has a major task in front of him. The Jets had one of the least talented rosters in the NFL last season. They also have 21 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next month. That means he is going to have to add a lot of players between now and May when the team is on the field for OTAs.
Douglas learned under legendary Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, who was known for not splurging in free agency but waiting for the market to come down and then finding bargains other teams did not see. Newsome is fond of saying, “Right player, right price” to describe his philosophy.
“I think you have to choose the right targets,” Douglas said. “First you have to make sure they fit with what you’re trying to do from a team-building, character perspective. How they fit with [coach] Adam [Gase] and [defensive coordinator] Gregg [Williams’] scheme. And if the right opportunity presents itself, you can’t be afraid to pull the trigger. We’re going to have different tiers of free agents … with what money they’re going to make. But it’s going to be important for us to choose the right person.”
Douglas’ top priority this offseason needs to be rebuilding the offensive line. The Jets could have four new starters. To get the most out of third-year quarterback Sam Darnold, Douglas knows the Jets must keep him upright.
“Obviously we need to have a strong offensive line. We have to do a good job of taking care of Sam moving forward,” Douglas said.
Free agency is not the only path for the Jets to improve. They are at the NFL Scouting Combine this week looking at the prospects for April’s draft. There is a good chance the Jets use the No. 11 overall pick on an offensive tackle. Douglas said he’s been impressed with this crop of linemen.
“I think it’s a good group,” Douglas said of a group that includes Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas and Louisville’s Mekhi Becton. “I think you’re going to see a lot of guys who become starters in the NFL.”
The Jets offense, which ranked dead last in the NFL last season, needs more than just linemen. The unit needs some explosive playmakers, especially if it loses Robby Anderson in free agency.
“I think you saw that in the two teams that competed for the Super Bowl this year,” Douglas said. “How many explosive players they had on both sides of the ball. Everyone is trying to get bigger, faster, smarter, tougher. We need explosive guys. We need explosive, dynamic playmakers.”
NFL draft experts feel this is one of the deepest receiver classes in years, with Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy among the best in the class. Douglas sounded like he agrees.
“You’ve probably heard every GM and coach talk about this wide receiver class; it’s a good one,” Douglas said. “Just watching them go across the stage, there’s a lot of talented players and we see how much the pass game affects the National Football League. So we do feel good about this group.”