From the very beginning, the 2021 New York Jets season was about developing the young players to determine who the cornerstones of the franchise would be moving forward. Considering the cap space and draft capital the team possessed, they were able to view the year as a stepping stone to building something greater in 2022. Now, Jets General Manager Joe Douglas enters the most important year in his role, with high stakes entering free agency.
Knowing who the building blocks are now, Douglas must put the necessary pieces around them to succeed, while his coaches work to let the team’s culture blossom. That being said, why wouldn’t Douglas take advantage of his coaching staff’s connections when piecing together the 2022 New York Jets?
New York Jets Coaching Connections Key to Free Agency
All About “Who you know”
At the end of the day, the NFL is a business. Like most jobs, “who you know” is everything, and when taking a look at the Jets coaching staff’s backgrounds, there are plenty of connections to players who are set to be free agents.
Head Coach Robert Saleh and Offensive Coordinator Mike LaFleur both hail from the San Francisco 49ers, having last been there during the 2020 season. Meanwhile, Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was previously with the Atlanta Falcons in the same role in 2020. Unlike the previous three, Special Teams Coordinator Brant Boyer enters his seventh year with Gang Green. Nonetheless, it is certainly worth it for Joe Douglas to explore which 49ers and Falcons players with ties to the coaches could be signed in free agency.
49ers Free Agents of Interest
Mike LaFleur’s Offensive Targets
Last off-season, the Jets signed Tevin Coleman, who came to New York with Saleh and LaFleur after two seasons in San Francisco. This off-season, Coleman is a free agent, and the Jets could benefit from revamping the backfield around Michael Carter. That being said, two names to look out for are Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson. Mostert, who is coming off of a season-ending knee injury, has proven to be an explosive back when healthy. In six years with the 49ers, Mostert averaged 5.7 yards per carry in the same scheme which LaFleur brought to New York. Moreover, Jeff Wilson is another back with ties to LaFleur, who has been a solid contributor that excels in pass protection. Either one would be a valuable addition.
Elsewhere on offense, the Jets could sign some depth at wide receiver in Mohamed Sanu or Richie James. A Rutgers product, Sanu will be 33-year-old next season but is a consistent veteran who knows the system. Richie James though would provide a solid replacement in the return game should Braxton Berrios walk. Lastly, the Jets may be intrigued by backup tight end, Ross Dwelley. Coming off a down-year in 2021, Dwelley would be a solid signing to add depth to the tight end position. The last time Dwelley saw significant playtime came in 2020 when he hauled in 19 of 24 targets for 245 yards and a touchdown.
Robert Saleh’s Defensive Targets
On the defensive side of the football, Robert Saleh’s connections as the 49ers defensive coordinator from 2017-2020 will come into play. The 49ers do not have many players who will be available and of interest from Saleh’s days, but there certainly are a few worth noting.
Along the defensive line, the Jets may not be able to retain defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi. The former sixth-round pick from Connecticut has developed into a top-notch run-stopper, but his price tag may be too high for Joe Douglas. Two options to replace him from San Francisco would be D.J. Jones and Kentavius Street. Jones has emerged as a well-rounded defensive tackle who can be that second defensive tackle next to Quinnen Williams. As for Street, he’d offer a solid depth piece who is coming off of a career-high three-sack and 27 tackle season.
At safety, both Jaquiski Tartt and Marcell Harris will be free agents who have played for Saleh in the past. Tartt, who will be entering his age 30 season, is a veteran starter who when healthy provides versatility. At 6’1” and 215-pounds, he has the size to play in the box but is also solid in coverage. As for Harris, the former Florida product plays that hybrid safety/linebacker role that Jeff Ulbrich loves to utilize. Both may not offer a long-term solution, yet give the Jets the necessary experience and depth they currently lack in the secondary.
Cornerback is an intriguing spot, with Jason Verrett, K’Wuan Williams, and Dontae Johnson being free agents. Then again, the Jets trust their youth at corner and are more likely to be in the market for a multi-year starter in free agency.
Falcons Free Agents of Interest
Jeff Ulbrich’s Defensive Targets
Focusing on which defenders have ties to Jeff Ulbrich, the Jets have a handful of options to fill out the defense with experience. The team already released defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., who was underwhelming during his Falcons tenure. After 11.5 sacks in 2019 with the Rams, Fowler totaled just three in one year under Ulbrich, and 4.5 this past season. A fresh start with the Jets, who have shown interest in the past in Fowler, could be an affordable option to add high-upside depth off the edge. Two other depth pieces New York could target are Steven Means and Brandon Copeland. Both are past 30-years-old, providing experience and scheme familiarity having played for Ulbrich in 2020.
Chances are, the Jets won’t overpay for a linebacker. Yet, Foyesade Oluokun might be worth it. The 26-year-old linebacker has developed into a do-it-all linebacker who totaled 192 combined tackles in 2021. The former sixth-round pick has started 31 of 32 games played over the past two seasons and could excel playing with C.J. Mosley.
Lastly, at cornerback, should the Jets search for a competition, Isaiah Oliver offers that starting upside they may be seeking. The former 58th overall pick in 2018 started the year strong before going down with a season-ending knee injury. If the Jets view him as a bounce-back candidate, his ties to Ulbrich could give him a shot at competing to start in 2022.
New York Jets Free Agency Approach
Now, there is a lot more that goes into play when signing free agents than past coaching ties. Even so, as Saleh and company build a culture based around developing those drafted and adding experience through free agency, familiarity is key. That being said, don’t be surprised if any of these players make their way to 1 Jets Drive before training camp.
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