Although the New York Jets‘ offseason talk thus far has been completely focused on the quarterback position, points of importance go much further than that. Not only does the team have shortcomings at other positions but even some of the isolated talent is set to depart via free agency. The most crucial roster piece New York will need to obtain through the Jets 2021 free agency is star safety, Marcus Maye.
In the Jets 2021 free agency, they have 17 players scheduled to hit the market in March, as well as eight restricted free agents. New York experienced one of its worst campaigns in history. They finished with a 2-14 record, a season only outshined by the 1996’s awful 1-15 record. For such a team, it’s no surprise that most of the departing players had terrible seasons last year. Those included Breshad Perriman, Bradley McDougald, and Frank Gore, among others.
However, two key starters stand out above the others as assets the Jets could desperately desire to bring back. Undoubtedly, Brian Poole and Marcus Maye have both turned very pleasant performances over their past two campaigns. Nonetheless, the Florham Park-based organization needs to re-sign its free safety more than any other player in the Jets 2021 free agency. Without such a move, the much-needed secondary upgrade becomes impossible.
Jets 2021 Free Agency: Marcus Maye Is the Top Priority
Marcus Maye joined the New York Jets after being selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft – the same event which saw the Jets pick Jamal Adams. While Adams has received much of the attention, Maye has been just as good throughout his four-year tenure in pass coverage, if not better. He’s an important piece to New York’s future success, making him a must-sign in the Jets 2021 free agency.
The former LSU prospect registered a strong rookie year, starting all 16 games. That is an achievement he has accomplished in three of his four campaigns. The lone exception was in 2018 when he was present for just six matchups due to thumb and shoulder injuries.
Furthermore, the 27-year-old free safety showed promising signs in that limited time, allowing a passer rating of just 86.9 in 13 targets. However, he sharply declined the following year. Marcus Maye’s surrendered passer rating in coverage increased to 103.8 in 32 targets over 16 games in 2019. That was a noticeable hit on the perception of his ceiling, but Maye made sure he reversed that outcome in 2020.
Now, after his best year yet, the stakes are much higher for Marcus Maye. He lacked the support previously provided by Adams, who was traded to the Seattle Seahawks. However, he had no problem standing his ground without such help. Across 46 targets in coverage, passers only managed a rating of 80.4. This marked the second-best figure for a defensive back with more than 30 targets, after Poole.
Moreover, Maye allowed a completion percentage south of 60% against him in each of the last three seasons. He plays an important piece for New York and should be re-signed during the Jets 2021 free agency period.
Marcus Maye is now entering his fifth year in the professional game. He has already been very impressive. Meanwhile, the display he put on in 2020 was one of the best of any safety with such a workload in the NFL. Therefore, as his peak and ceiling approach in the middle part of his career, Maye should not only be able to keep this level with more than 50 targets but, potentially, also maintain that performance over a few years, consistently.
The State of the Secondary
Marcus Maye was one of the best safeties last year. But that is not the only reason the team will strive to re-sign him during the Jets 2021 free agency.
It is also no secret that New York’s defensive pass-coverage unit was abysmal and will continue down that path without additions. The secondary allowed the fourth-most yards in the league, as well as the fourth-highest passer rating. Furthermore, it conceded the third-highest completion percentage in the National Football League.
All of that came after the team brought in limited help in the offseason, to an absolute failure of an extent. The bet the Jets made on former Colts corner Pierre Desir might have been one of the worst signings last spring. The front office should be urgent to replace him during the Jets 2021 free agency.
Nonetheless, the main problem going on at 1 Jets Drive was that the team didn’t inquire for a corner that had already been in such an upfront position on the depth chart. His misfortunes helped the team’s staff discover Bryce Hall‘s potential. However, having him as a starter on the outside would be a significant risk the team might not be willing to take again. But, perhaps, they should not be inclined to with $67 million cap space, per OverTheCap.
Heading into next year, not only is Marcus Maye on the Jets 2021 free agency block but Poole could follow him out of the Meadowlands. Even if the team retains both of them, notable upgrades have to be made for the unit to climb the ranks. However, if one of them leaves, replacing him and adding those upgrades could be too difficult amidst other woes on the Jets roster. Specifically, the safety market seems weak and overpriced when compared to both the price and potential of Maye. The same applies to Brian Poole and the plethora of free agents at nickel.
Jets 2021 Free Agency: Market Value and Demand
According to Spotrac, Marcus Maye is expected to get about $13.2 million per year as a free agent this spring. This is a figure that is solely based on his performance, particularly during the past two seasons. A slashed ability of teams to spend due to financial losses of not allowing fans could result in a lack of demand. Therefore, he could be even cheaper for any interested side.
This is just another reason for New York to pursue him in the Jets 2021 free agency. Not to mention that all three more expensive free safeties, per Spotrac, are not significantly better on a statistical basis, if at all.
The Jets will be perfectly capable of retaining Maye at that price or cheaper. As already mentioned, the club is slated to have almost $70 million in cap space, the second-biggest after the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Since Joe Douglas will have to effectively address two openings at safety, he will need to fill one with a top-to-middle-tier safety free agent. None of the three higher-profile safeties are worth a million more than Maye. At the same time, Marcus Maye could naturally have lower demand than his competitors, not factoring in the circumstances. That makes for a bigger potential discount for Maye compared to his alternatives. In total savings, it won’t be more than $1-2 million as opposed to the top three candidates at the position. However, it will represent much more efficient spending. Re-signing Maye would be a smart investment during the Jets 2021 free agency.
Jets 2021 Free Agency: Replacement Options
If New York misses out on Marcus Maye in the Jets 2021 free agency, there could be a few reasons why.
Firstly, it could be because Maye’s financial desires have grown and he wants over $14 million a year. However, it is highly unlikely for the Jets to lose him to another team since few, if any, teams will spend that much money on Maye in the year 2021.
Secondly, it could be due to the team not prioritizing the safety position, remaining reluctant to take Maye even at a discount. If that is the case, it is unlikely that they would be able to afford any other safeties above him. That is unless some of them lower their price to ensure more suitors.
Having that in mind, here are three players New York could target in the Jets 2021 free agency if Maye departs for good.
Anthony Harris has been very impressive over the last three seasons as he has emerged as a starter alongside Harrison Smith. There are some warnings about him, though. He hasn’t had more than 36 targets in either of the last three years. Moreover, despite posting an allowed rating under 60.0 in the former of those campaigns, this only happened in 17 and 23 targets, respectively.
Projections don’t point to him being cheaper than Maye. Spotrac estimates his price at $14 million. However, PFF states that the Minnesota Vikings could be willing to let him go. This could mean that the demand for him isn’t very big. Only then would he be a good option for the Jets 2021 free agency.
Tre Boston has been very consistent over the last three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers. The 2018 campaign saw him allow a 74.9 rating in 36 targets. That was the fewest of the three seasons.
In 2018 and 2020, he had significantly more workload – nine more targets in the former year and nineteen more in the latter. Even though this increase saw a noticeable downturn, Boston remained consistent, keeping the passer rating figure between 90.0 and 95.0. Boston got $6 million in his last year in Charlotte and, even with an increase, should be a bargain in the Jets 2021 free agency for his numbers and alternatives.
The former Los Angeles Rams strong safety might be the most underrated player on the safety market this offseason.
In two of his last three seasons, John Johnson has started all 16 games, the latter of which was as a free safety. Throughout 2018, his second year in the league, he only conceded a rating of 81.8 on 56 targets. Two years later, after missing most of 2019, he was even more unstoppable – 71.9 on 68 targets.
Despite his incredible success, Spotrac only projects him at $8.3 million per year. Because he’s exceptionally cheap, he could be a perfect option as the replacement for McDougald. However, if the Jets lose Maye, they might want to acquire Johnson in the Jets 2021 free agency before another team steals him from the market.
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