How a 19-day span of trades and free agent moves for vets could make or break the Jets

NFL

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Walk into the New York Jets‘ locker room, make a hard right and proceed about 25 feet. There you will encounter Canton Corner, occupied by at least two future Pro Football Hall of Famers in quarterback Aaron Rodgers and left tackle Tyron Smith.

Rodgers, who moved in last year, welcomed Smith to the neighborhood this spring. In some respects, they symbolize this year’s Jets. They’re older, highly accomplished veterans who play critical positions, hoping whatever greatness they have left can galvanize the star-crossed franchise.

They’re not alone. In the span of 19 days in March, wide receiver Mike Williams, pass rusher Haason Reddick, right tackle Morgan Moses and backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor were brought in as the organization pushed its win-now mantra.

Combined years of NFL experience, including Smith: 50.

Total financial commitment (2024 salaries and total guarantees): $45.5 million, a relatively modest price tag.

The big names came at discounted prices because of age (between 30 and 35) and recent injuries, meaning there’s a level of risk. If they play well and get the Jets into late January, general manager Joe Douglas will be an Executive of the Year candidate. If the plan backfires, it will conjure up comparisons to the Philadelphia Eagles‘ infamous “Dream Team” — the 2011 squad that finished a disappointing 8-8 with several high-profile free agents.

Rodgers, for one, loves the additions.

“I think we’re ahead of where we were last year,” Rodgers said. “A second year in the offense helps. The veteran leadership helps a lot, too.”


WILLIAMS IS THE biggest gamble because he’s coming off a significant knee injury. Nine months removed from ACL surgery, he’s expected to begin training camp on the physically unable to perform list. At that point, he probably will need another few weeks before he’s cleared to practice. He intends to be ready for the season opener (Sept. 9) against the San Francisco 49ers.

He said his goal is “to be able to go out there, play this season, give it my all and give this team a chance to win the big thing.”

The Jets signed Williams to a one-year, $10 million contract because they wanted a big receiver to play opposite Garrett Wilson. At 6-foot-4, Williams is a big target with a big-play reputation. He averaged 15.9 yards per reception over the last five seasons for the Los Angeles Chargers, tops in the league among the 81 players with at least 300 targets.

As a team, the Jets were 31st in yard per catch last season (9.5).

Williams is an expert at winning 50-50 balls. Taylor, his former Chargers teammate, likes to joke that they’re more like 80-20 balls when Williams is the target. Since entering the league in 2017, he’s second in receiving yards (1,403) on tight-window passes, according to Next Gen Stats. A tight window is less than one yard of separation when the ball arrives.

A basketball enthusiast, Williams said he applies fundamentals from the court, such as using his body to box out opponents. If healthy, his presence should relieve some pressure on Wilson and, in theory, create opportunities for others.

“I can’t wait for Mike to come back, to be honest,” running back Breece Hall said. “With him, he’s just like Garrett — a huge playmaker.”

His hope is that the Wilson-Williams tandem will force defenses to play two deep safeties, creating space for the running game.

Of course, there are questions. While Williams produced a career-high 1,146 receiving yards in 2021, he managed only 1,144 over the last two seasons because of ankle and knee injuries. He turns 30 on Oct. 4, just shy of the one-year anniversary of his knee surgery.

Still, he believes he has plenty to offer.

“I think you’re going to see that,” Williams said.


SMITH WAS A was a fixture with the Dallas Cowboys. He was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection who provided supreme blindside protection for quarterbacks Tony Romo and Dak Prescott and now comes to New York at the age of 33. Aside from Rodgers, he’s the most accomplished player on the team. Football royalty.

“I’ve been a fan of his for a long time,” Rodgers said. “He’s a Hall of Fame player.”

But he certainly didn’t arrive with a snobby attitude. Smith participated in the entire offseason program, grinding through tedious drills with players 12 years his junior. He stuck to the same routine from Dallas, where every offseason started in March with captain workouts. His motto: You’re never too old to learn.

“There’s always something you can add to the tool belt,” Smith said.

So far, so good. The big question is: Can Smith make it through an entire season? The last time he played in 75% of the offensive snaps was 2019. He missed 37 games over the last four seasons, a big reason why he attracted little interest on the free agent market.

Smith wound up with a one-year, $6.5 million contract, with another $13.5 million available with incentives. The relatively modest base value reflects the concern with his injury history. The Jets hedged their bet by drafting Penn State left tackle Olu Fashanu with the 11th overall pick, anointing him as Smith’s heir apparent.

They’d rather not have a rookie protecting Rodgers’ blind side, which is why they need Smith on the field. The same can be said for Moses, 33, a nine-year starter whom they acquired in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Moses is returning from pectoral surgery, so he could be on a pitch count in training camp.

Similarly, Smith will be monitored throughout the entire season, which means limited practice reps. The Jets will utilize the maintenance program employed last season by the Cowboys, which Smith deemed a success. He still missed four games, but the residual effect has been positive.

“[My body] feels great, honestly,” Moses said. “I’ve been really focused on taking care of my body coming into this offseason, and I feel great.”


REDDICK DOESN’T HAVE any injury concerns, but there is a contract issue to be resolved — he wants an extension, sources said.

In trading for Reddick, the Jets inherited the final year of the three-year, $45 million contract he signed in 2022 with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Jets were under the impression that he’d be content to play out his contract and become a free agent in 2025. Maybe they misunderstood or maybe he changed his position. Whatever the case, he skipped the entire offseason.

Basically, the Jets traded for a contract dispute, a bizarre twist to what seemed like a sound trade.

It’s a tricky situation. The Jets let 26-year-old pass rusher Bryce Huff walk in free agency — he signed for three years, $51 million with the Eagles — so it would make little sense to pay a bigger contract to Reddick, who turns 30 on Sept. 22. That’s why the Jets will try to satisfy him by sweetening his current deal.

Even though he was a no-show, Reddick has the respect of his new teammates. They know his track record (50.5 sacks over the last four years), and they’ve studied his tape.

“You see Haason popping on the tape, each and every down,” Quinnen Williams said.

Once they get him in the building, Reddick will be their most accomplished edge rusher since John Abraham in the early 2000s.


TAYLOR COMES IN with the largest guarantee ($8.5 million) among the older additions, and, ideally for the Jets, he won’t have to start a game and will simply serve as Rodgers’ backup. The deal speaks volumes; it shows how badly the Jets wanted to upgrade after the Zach Wilson debacle that led them to a 7-10 record after Rodgers went down four snaps into the season.

Publicly, no one on the current team has criticized Wilson, who was traded to the Denver Broncos this offseason, but it’s clear the players and coaches feel more confident with Taylor, who has impressed with his savvy and experience this offseason. He’s 28-28-1 as a starter, having played for six different teams.

Coach Robert Saleh called him “an elite locker room presence,” and Hall said he “brings a sense of calm to the offense.”

Between Rodgers, 40, and Taylor, who turns 35 on Aug. 3, they have the oldest quarterback room in the league. For a change, Taylor isn’t the oldest.

“That’s refreshing,” he said with a smile.

Articles You May Like

BBC team pedal to Paris to highlight sustainability
Blues’ Krug has pre-arthritic changes in left ankle
Man Utd sign Yoro, 18, in €62M deal from Lille
Mac Allister backs Enzo after racist chant apology
Hall of Fame moving enshrinement ceremonies

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *