Lichtenstein: Jets' Joe Douglas Sticking To Plan In First Week Of Free Agency

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By WFAN Sports Radio 101.9 FM/66AM New York

I picture Joe Douglas relaxing in his office at One Jets Drive, bemused by the financial craziness swirling around NFL free agency. When he’s not dealing with the nightmarish impact from the coronavirus pandemic, of course.

The general manager hasn’t made much news in the first couple of days of the new league year, acquiring two offensive linemen on team-friendly deals and re-signing two returning starters.

That’s new to the New York Jets, who are often victors in the spring and losers in the winter. A year ago, previous general manager Mike Maccagnan spent extravagantly on running back Le’Veon Bell and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Jets stole headlines in March, but limped to a 7-9 record.

Douglas responded, “Quoth the Raven. Nevermore.”   

I know the Edgar Allen Poe line has a different interpretation, but I’m using it to distinguish how Douglas is transitioning the organization to instead practice the tactics of his mentor, legendary Ravens executive Ozzie Newsome. The old ways of doing business, with big-money contracts given to players of limited value, those days are over.

Joe DouglasUSA TODAY Images

Douglas received the luxury of a six-year contract upon his hiring last June for a reason. As much as the fans are starved for a first playoff berth in 10 years, Douglas does not have a 2020 mandate. The best teams are built through the draft. Since past drafts haven’t yielded much of a crop, this build-up will be slow, as he has always promised.

I did believe Douglas had opportunities to utilize the Jets’ nearly $50 million in salary cap space (before making cuts, including cornerback Trumaine Johnson) to be more aggressive on the market open. Edge rusher Dante Fowler and guard Graham Glasgow were both signed within a reasonable range for Douglas to up his offers. Since I wasn’t a party to the negotiations, however, I don’t know if those players simply took the best deals or were drawn to other concerns. 

It's also possible that Douglas had lower price points. According to The Athletic’s Connor Hughes, Douglas expressed interest in a good number of the top free agents only to walk away when the bidding exceeded his number.

What I do know is those two potentially significant upgrades won’t be suiting up for Gang Green in September. 

That will sting many fans, but it’s nice to know that this GM isn’t abandoning his plan to win short-term PR battles. That’s a nice change.

By holding onto about half his cap space, Douglas might be able to rein in some decent contributors in the coming weeks, like his own free agent wide receiver Robby Anderson, who hasn’t received the attention he expected from suitors. That April’s draft is projected to boast a slew of players at Anderson’s position going in the first few rounds isn’t helping his market value.  

The Jets could also still use another guard to replace oft-injured Brian Winters, who is expected to become a $7.3 million cap casualty. Carolina’s Greg Van Roten, the league’s 20th-ranked guard (minimum 700 snaps) by ProFootballFocus.com, would be a solid upgrade.

He would join center Connor McGovern, who did not commit a single penalty in 1,013 snaps with Denver last season, and tackle George Fant as newcomers to a revamped Jets’ offensive line.    

I’m less enthused by Fant than some. I saw a few Twitter threads that showcased Fant at his best. “What footwork! What athleticism!” How anecdotal. What Brian Baldinger of NFL Network didn’t tell you, when breaking down film of Fant versus Cleveland stud rusher Myles Garrett in Week 6 last season, was that Fant earned a pass block grade of 15(!!!) from PFF in that game for allowing a sack and eight pressures. Maybe Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s insane escapability helped Fant out quite a bit there.

At least Douglas configured Fant’s contract to get a relatively easy ($2 million in dead money) out after one season. Hughes also marveled at how Douglas factored in roster bonuses, which are not prorated if a player is cut before the contract term, versus signing bonuses, which are prorated. Fant ($1.7 million) and extended guard Alex Lewis ($2.4 million) each have significant roster bonuses that the Jets can absorb in 2020 because of their cap space.

In addition, I was amazed that it only took a one-year $5 million offer for Douglas to get slot cornerback Brian Poole done. He was outstanding in coordinator Greg Williams’ defense last season. Remember when the Jets inked Buster Skrine for four years at $25 million to play this position in one of Maccagnan’s first moves?

Nevermore.              

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.