Eyes on Joe Douglas to Fix New York Jets Safety Unit

Jets Safety

In 2022, the New York Jets primary starting safety tandem was made up of veterans Lamarcus Joyner (free safety) and Jordan Whitehead (strong safety). These two were joined by the rotation of Will Parks, Ashtyn Davis, and Tony Adams. However, despite offering more sustainability compared to 2021, the group was not great. Masked by elite cornerback play by the trio of Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed Jr., and Michael Carter II, coverage struggles and inconsistencies in run defense were ignored more often than not.

That being said, the safety position is a top need for the Jets this off-season. For starters, both free agency and cap space play a role in the potential remake, as well as the question – how much is General Manager Joe Douglas willing to commit to the position?

Eyes on Joe Douglas to Fix New York Jets Safety Unit

History of Joe Douglas and Safeties

It is now a story as old as time – Joe Douglas does not believe in overpaying safeties. It is not considered the most impactful nor valuable position on defense, and Douglas has made it clear before. He shipped All-Pro safety Jamal Adams to the Seattle Seahawks after he demanded a trade, and the Jets wouldn’t extend him. Then, Douglas placed the franchise tag on Marcus Maye rather than extending him, only to let him walk in free agency in 2021. Simply put – the Joe Douglas regime does not like paying safeties.

Similarly, Douglas has not invested a significant amount of draft capital in the position either. Outside of 2020 third-round pick Ashtyn Davis, he has not selected another safety in three drafts. If not then, then now is the time for Douglas to change the course, as he can look to set the position up long-term during the 2023 off-season.

Current Safety Position Makeup

For starters, only one of the previous five mentioned safeties is not already under contract for 2023 – Lamarcus Joyner. The nine-year NFL veteran has spent the last two years with the Jets, though missing almost all of 2021 with a torn triceps. Coming back this past season, Joyner’s play was underwhelming. He started 14 games, his most since 2018, with 57 total tackles, three interceptions, and six pass deflections. Surface level, those appear to be fine numbers. Then again, Joyner gave up a 110.6 quarterback rating when targeted, with the average yardage per reception being 19.9. The Florida State product was a big-play liability as his age (32) began to show. Thus, signaling the Jets need to move on and upgrade from Joyner.

Meanwhile, all four of Whitehead, Parks, Davis, and Adams are all under contract. That does not guarantee their place on the roster though. Whitehead, one of Douglas’ top signings a year ago, may be a cap casualty. If Douglas wants to clear significant cap space, he can save over $7 million by cutting Whitehead. But then the Jets would be down two starting safeties. Parks is a solid backup and an excellent special teams contributor. Tony Adams is entering his second year after going undrafted out of Illinois, and by season’s end was seeing legitimate snaps on defense. Whereas Davis, enters the final year of his rookie deal, with the Jets potentially saving over $2.5 million in cap space with his release.

In essence – Joyner is gone, and there is the possibility Whitehead and/or Davis could follow. Only Parks and Adams are locks to enter training camp, leaving both starting spots up for grabs.

NFL Free Agency Options

At safety, the big fish on the market will be Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III. The former second-round pick has missed one game over five years, being the staple of the Bengals defense. As Cincinnati doesn’t want to overpay to retain Bates, should Douglas want to give out a blank check at safety, Bates is the player to cash in on as he will only be 26 years old next season. Other safeties under 30 years old entering 2023 New York could consider include Vonn Bell, Terrell Edmunds, Keanu Neal, Nasir Adderley, Taylor Rapp, Julian Love, and Juan Thornhill.

Another approach the Jets could take is going the experience route, allowing for a safety to be drafted and developed. Amongst older safeties on the market who would bring leadership to the locker room is Jordan Poyer, who has led a stout Buffalo Bills defense for years now. Jimmie Ward is familiar with Head Coach Robert Saleh from his San Francisco 49ers days. Adrian Amos, Duron Harmon, and Tashaun Gipson are also names to keep an eye on.

Safeties in the 2023 NFL Draft

Luckily for Joe Douglas, the 2023 NFL Draft has a handful of great options at the safety position. Safeties Brian Branch (Alabama) and Antonio Johnson (Texas A&M) offer versatile, modern-day playmakers who could go anywhere from the 1st-2nd round. Late day two, expect names like Jordan Battle of Alabama, Jammie Robinson from Florida State, and Georgia’s Christopher Smith are all potential day-one starters. Lastly, New York could also find a hidden gem in Brandon Joseph (Notre Dame) or JL Skinner (Boise State) early on day three.

The Bottom Line

For as good as the New York Jets cornerbacks are, they need to bolster their safety room. With or without Jordan Whitehead back, General Manager Joe Douglas needs to utilize capital in both free agency and the draft to stabilize the position for multiple years. Otherwise, the Jets will be caught in the endless band-aid safety approach following the Adams-Maye fallouts.

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