The Jets spent the week in Mobile, Ala., At the Senior Bowl, where the coaching staff, as the National Team coaches, got to see prospects up close. It was great access for the Jets to players they will be evaluating for the next 2 ½ months heading into the NFL draft.
Here are some thoughts and observations after spending some time in Mobile this week and talking to people inside the team and people around the league:
1. The Jets have not started their in-depth meetings on free agency yet. That will begin this week and go for the next few weeks, before the combine begins on March 1.
It is too soon to know what they might be thinking regarding free agency, but there are some indications when it comes to their own free agents. There is a good chance that Braxton Berrios and Folorunso Fatukasi will hit the open market. That does not mean the Jets will not re-sign them, but they may get to test the market and see where their value is with other teams.
Berrios is a tough contract to figure out. Is he primarily a returner who can play some receiver? That may be how the Jets view him. Or is he a starting slot receiver? That is probably how Berrios and his agent see it. Those would be two very different looking contracts.
As for Fatukasi, he is a very good run stopper and a leader inside the locker room. He does not affect the quarterback, so he will not get big money. But he and his agent might want to see what he can fetch on the open market before taking whatever the Jets offer.
Things will become clearer at the NFL Combine during the first week of March. That is when tampering heats up and everyone gets a clearer picture of a player’s value. It is possible the Jets will lock up the players between the combine and the opening of free agency on March 16, once they see what their markets look like.
2. As early as it is to be talking free agency, it is premature to be talking about whom the Jets might draft. But one thing that is clear is that Joe Douglas is going to be lobbied by the defensive coaches for help. Douglas and the Jets used their first four draft picks last year on offensive players. Their top investment on defense in free agency, Carl Lawson, was lost to a season-ending injury in August. It was no coincidence the Jets had the worst defense in the NFL.
Other than Quinnen Williams, they have not used a premium pick on a defensive player in the past four drafts. Under Douglas it has been all offense in the first and second rounds of drafts. The Jets need playmakers on defense. They really need help at edge rusher, cornerback and safety. It would be a surprise if Douglas did not hit at least two of those positions in the first two rounds of the draft.
3. Head coach Robert Saleh made some headlines in Mobile when he said that Mekhi Becton would have to compete with George Fant to win back his starting left tackle spot. Inside the Jets, this was seen as an obvious statement. They were not going to just hand him the job back after Fant played so well in his absence.
The Jets still believe very much in Becton and the skill he showed as a rookie. It is clear they want to see how he responds to this challenge. Whatever happens, he will be part of the starting offensive line, either at left or right tackle. But the Jets want to see if Becton becomes more of a professional and attacks this offseason.
4. The most impressive player I saw was Boston College interior offensive lineman Zion Johnson. He was primarily a guard in college, but moved to center at the Senior Bowl. He was strong at the point of attack and I did not see him get beat in practice. Jets coaches were impressed with his grasp of the offense, too. He is a name to watch for the Jets in the draft.