As aggressive New York Jets offseason saw the organization accelerate its timeline to 2023. While the 2022 iteration of the team had some warts, the Jets also showed significant progress during Robert Saleh‘s second season at the helm. The Jets had both the Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year in Garrett Wilson and Sauce Gardner, and with other promising young players up and down the roster, the Jets pushed their chips to the middle of the table.
After having received some of the worst QB play in the league during the 2022 campaign, the team made it a mission to improve the position in 2023. Gang Green improved it in a big way, acquiring a future Hall of Famer in Aaron Rodgers. The four-time MVP immediately adds credibility to an organization that’s desperate for respect, and it firmly puts the Jets on the playoff (if not Super Bowl) radar.
The Jets capitalized on their inexpensive core players by not only acquiring Rodgers. The team also brought in a number of championship-hungry veterans, including a number of Rodgers’ former Green Bay teammates. These transactions should be enough to guide the Jets back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, but will it be enough to push them to the promised land?
- Acquired QB Aaron Rodgers, fifth-round pick from Packers for 2o23 first-round swap, a second-round pick, a conditional 2024 second-rounder and 2023 sixth-round pick
- Traded WR Elijah Moore, 2023 third-round pick to the Browns for 2023 second-round pick
- Traded WR Denzel Mims, 2025 seventh-round pick to the Lions for conditional 2025 sixth-round pick
- Acquired S Chuck Clark from the Ravens for 2024 seventh-round pick
At one point, Zach Wilson was the crown jewel of the Jets’ rebuild. With GM Joe Douglas having loaded up on draft picks, Wilson was going to be the leader of an organically built squad. In natural Jets fashion, the BYU product failed to live up to expectations, leading the front office to look elsewhere at the position this offseason.
While the recent NFL team-building strategy has focused on spending around a rookie-contract QB, the Jets were in the unique position of having top-end rookie-level contracts elsewhere on the roster. Instead of restarting at the position via the draft, Douglas and Co. were motivated to compete now, and that was reflected in their rumored interest in many of the league’s available veteran quarterbacks.
The Jets briefly flirted with Derek Carr before focusing their attention to the biggest name on the market: Aaron Rodgers. The Packers legend was clearly done in Green Bay and was considering his options, which included retirement. While Rodgers was still under contract with the Packers, he treated his decision like a pseudo-free agency, and he eventually declared his intention to play for the Jets.
After a month of negotiations, the veteran was traded to New York in a deal that ultimately netted Green Bay an improved 2023 first-round selection, a 2023 second-rounder and, in all likelihood, a 2024 first. Rodgers only needs to play 65% of the Jets’ 2023 offensive snaps for the Packers to collect a 2024 first. Suffice to say, the Packers did far better for Rodgers than they did when they sent Brett Favre to the Jets 15 years ago. That deal only ended up bringing the Pack a third-rounder.
Rodgers had one of his weakest seasons in 2022, putting together one of his lowest TD% (4.8) and one of his highest INT rates (2.2%) while finishing with the third losing record in his career (8-9). Of course, this would still be a massive improvement for the Jets’ offense, and Rodgers is only a year removed from back-to-back MVPs. Even if you no longer consider Rodgers one of the top QBs in the league, it appears he has enough in the tank for his age-40 season.
The Jets weren’t done wheeling and dealing, with the front office moving on from a pair of former second-round WRs. Elijah Moore took a step back during his second season in the NFL, finishing with 446 receiving yards (vs. 538 as a rook) and one score (vs. five touchdowns). With the Jets adding a number of receivers to the roster (which we’ll get to below), Moore’s role with the organization was even more uncertain.
The team ended up finding a taker, sending Moore to Cleveland. Moore had requested a trade last season, and while the Jets refused to move him at that point, they were more open to doing so with Rodgers and new wideouts onboard.
Mims was drafted a year before Moore but showed less through his three seasons in the NFL, hauling in a total 42 receptions for 676 yards. He was traded to the Lions for a conditional late-round pick. Detroit has since cut the wideout.
The Jets acquired Chuck Clark with the hope he’d play an important role on their secondary. The veteran only missed one start for the Ravens over the past three seasons, averaging around 92 tackles per season. Unfortunately, the March acquisition tore his ACL in June, ending his season before it even began. Clark’s injury ultimately led to the team’s signing of safety Adrian Amos.
Extensions and restructures:
- Signed QB Aaron Rodgers to two-year extension worth $75MM guaranteed
- Signed DT Quinnen Williams to a four-year, $96MM ($66MM guaranteed)
- Gave defensive end Carl Lawson pay cut, opening $12.7MM in cap space
Rodgers was attached to an untenable $107.5MM bill for the 2024 season, so the Jets made sure to adjust his contract upon completion of their trade with the Packers. The team ended up locking Rodgers into a two-year deal with $75MM guaranteed, a significant drop from the $100MM guaranteed he was set to see over the next two seasons. The contract also includes a nonguaranteed $37.5MM bill for 2025.
Despite indicating he was 90% retired earlier this year, Rodgers has stated a desire to continue playing beyond the 2023 season. His extension certainly increases the chances that he’ll be under center for the 2024 campaign (and without the hefty charge he was set to have under his ripped-up pact).
Elsewhere, the Jets are counting on Quinnen Williams to continue his rapid rise. After collecting 13 sacks between the 2020 and 2021 seasons, the defensive tackle showed off his top-three-pick pedigree in 2022, finishing with 12 sacks and 28 QB hits en route to a first-team All-Pro nod. The Jets rewarded the breakthrough season. Williams’ new deal ultimately slid in ahead of the other 2019 D-tackle draftees who had signed lucrative offseason deals. Both Williams and the Titans’ Jeffery Simmons secured more guaranteed money than Aaron Donald.
Carl Lawson helped the Jets carve out some extra space by reworking his expiring contract. The veteran agreed to a new deal partially tied to incentives. Lawson started all 17 games during his first season with the Jets and is expected to be a key defensive lineman in 2023. The Rodgers, Williams and Lawson agreements created significant cap space for the Jets.
Free agency additions:
- Allen Lazard, WR: Four years, $44MM ($22MM guaranteed)
- Dalvin Cook, RB: One year, $7MM ($5.8MM guaranteed)
- Mecole Hardman, WR: One year, $4.5MM ($3.58MM guaranteed)
- Wes Schweitzer, OL: Two years, $5MM ($3.16MM guaranteed)
- Quinton Jefferson, DL: One year, $3.6MM ($2.75MM guaranteed)
- Adrian Amos, S: One year, $1.75MM (fully guaranteed)
- Thomas Morstead, P: One year, $1.3MM ($1.09MM guaranteed)
- Billy Turner, OL: One year, $3.15MM ($1MM guaranteed)
- Al Woods, DT: One year, $2.25MM ($1MM guaranteed)
- Randall Cobb, WR : One year, $3MM ($250K guaranteed)
Rodgers made sure he did not come to New York alone. Before the Jets even finalized their latest QB trade with the Packers, the team added one of Rodgers’ preferred Green Bay options in Allen Lazard. After averaging 36 catches for 480 yards through the 2019 and 2021 seasons, Lazard became one of Rodgers’ favorite targets in 2022, hauling in 60 receptions for 788 yards and six touchdowns. Pro Football Focus has also graded Lazard as one of the league’s top blocking WRs in recent years, making him a dependable option even if he’s not the focal point of the offense.
The Jets also brought in longtime Rodgers favorite Randall Cobb, who spent the past two seasons back in Green Bay following brief stops in Dallas and Houston. Rodgers wasn’t nearly as reliant on the wide receiver as he was during the former second-round pick’s first Packers stint, but he’s still been peppered with 89 targets in 25 games between 2021 and 2022. Cobb’s value may come on the sideline as a mentor of sorts, especially with the Jets rostering a pair of UDFA wideouts in Jason Brownlee and Xavier Gipson.
The team’s non-Packers-related addition at receiver was Mecole Hardman, who spent the first four seasons of his career in Kansas City. The former second-round pick seemed to be building to a bigger role with Patrick Mahomes heading into 2022, but he was ultimately limited to 25 catches for 297 yards and four touchdowns. Hardman will likely slide in behind Lazard and star wideout Garrett Wilson on the depth chart, and he’s also set to serve as the team’s top returner.
The team made its biggest-name free agent signing during the preseason, adding Dalvin Cook to their running backs room. The veteran was a popular name on the free agent circuit after being released by the Vikings in May, and he ultimately landed in New York as a complement to second-year RB Breece Hall. The younger RB, of course, is coming off a torn ACL, and Cook’s addition means the team does not need to be as reliant on its burgeoning star.
The veteran still proved to be plenty productive during his final season in Minnesota, finishing with 1,468 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. Cook, 28, is also the only player with more than 1,100 rushing yards in each of the past four seasons. The Jets have the luxury of managing both their stars’ workloads, but it will be interesting to see who the team leans on in crucial moments when both are healthy.
To top off their offensive additions, the Jets added a pair of backup offensive linemen. This includes former (you guessed it) Packers starter Billy Turner, who started all 43 of his appearances in Green Bay between 2019 and 2021. He was limited to eight games (seven starts) in Denver last season thanks to a knee injury, and Pro Football Focus graded him 70th among 81 qualifying offensive tackles. Still, the 31-year-old provides a veteran presence behind an unreliable starting unit. Turner has now followed Nathaniel Hackett from Green Bay to Denver to the Big Apple. Wes Schweitzer also comes with starting experience, with the veteran having started 60 games across six seasons. He most recently started six of his seven games for Washington in 2022.
On the defensive side, the Jets used free agency to add depth to a unit that made a dramatic improvement in 2022. Al Woods is likely destined for the biggest role to start the season, and the veteran defensive tackle brings with him a long resume. The 2010 fourth-round pick has 155 career regular-season appearances under his belt, including 14 starts with the Seahawks in 2022.
Adrian Amos comes over from Green Bay, where he didn’t miss a start over the past four seasons. A starter throughout his eight-year career in Green Bay and Chicago, Amos will begin his Jets tenure as a backup to Jordan Whitehead and Tony Adams. The latter beat out the would-be Clark replacement for the job alongside Whitehead. Quinton Jefferson will serve as an important depth piece on the Jets’ D-line. The 30-year-old started three of his 17 appearances for the Seahawks in 2022, but he started all 17 games for the Raiders in 2021.
On special teams, the Jets added veteran Thomas Morstead. The former Pro Bowler has 14 years of punting experience, most recently with the Dolphins in 2022.
- Quincy Williams, LB: Three years, $18MM ($9MM guaranteed)
- Thomas Hennessy, LS: Four years, $5.97MM ($2.63MM guaranteed)
- Solomon Thomas, DL: One year, $3.9MM ($1.9MM guaranteed)
- Greg Zuerlein, K: One year, $2.6MM ($1.75MM guaranteed)
- Connor McGovern, C: One year, $1.92MM ($1.25MM guaranteed)
The Jets re-signed a handful of veterans, including dependable starters on both sides of the ball. Connor McGovern will be back in New York for a fourth season with the organization, with the veteran having started all 48 of his appearances since 2020. He’ll be snapping to Aaron Rodgers in 2023, although he does have some versatility if things get fishy elsewhere on the offensive line. Despite this deal checking in well south of his initial Jets pact (three years, $27MM), McGovern is ticketed to stick as New York’s starting pivot, beating out Schweitzer and second-round rookie Joe Tippmann.
On defense, the team brought back linebacker Quincy Williams, the older brother of Quinnen. A former third-round pick, Quincy disappointed in Jacksonville but has turned it around in New York. Through two seasons with the Jets, the linebacker has compiled 216 tackles and five sacks. He’ll slot in as the strongside linebacker next to Jamien Sherwood and C.J. Mosley.
Solomon Thomas is back after getting into a third of the Jets’ defensive snaps in 2022. Thomas, whom the 49ers chose third overall in 2017, has now played under Saleh in six of his seven NFL seasons. Going into his 12th season, Greg Zuerlein is also back after having served as the team’s primary kicker in 2022.
- Kwon Alexander, LB
- Braxton Berrios, WR (released)
- Corey Davis, WR (stepping away from football)
- George Fant, OT
- Dan Feeney, OL
- Joe Flacco, QB
- Nate Herbig, G
- Ty Johnson, RB (re-signed and later released)
- Lamarcus Joyner, S
- Braden Mann, P (waived)
- Cedric Ogbuehi, OT (re-signed and later released)
- Will Parks, DB (released)
- Sheldon Rankins, DL
- James Robinson, RB
- Nate Shepherd, DL
- Jeff Smith, WR
- Mike White, QB
Thanks to their busy offseason, the Jets also bid adieu to a number of veterans up and down the roster. Fortunately for the Jets, none of these subtractions left significant holes on the roster.
The team’s most notable loss was the most recent, as receiver Corey Davis announced that he’d be stepping away from football. There were high expectations when the Jets signed Davis to a three-year, $37.5MM contract back in 2021. The former No. 5 overall pick underwhelmed through two injury-plagued seasons in New York, hauling in 66 catches for 1,028 yards and two touchdowns in 22 games. Davis landed in trade and release rumors throughout the offseason but appeared destined for at least a WR3 role after the team cleared out some depth. With Davis stepping away, the team will be forced to lean more on offseason additions Mecole Hardman and Randall Cobb.
Elsewhere on offense, Joe Flacco and Mike White are gone after combining for eight starts under center in 2022. The team moved on from a handful of offensive linemen, including Cedric Ogbuehi, who the team re-signed and later cut. The outgoing linemen also include Nate Herbig and George Fant, who combined for 18 starts in 2022. Fant had been a three-year starter for the Jets, at left and right tackle, helping the team during its lengthy stretch without Mekhi Becton. Fant signed with the Texans during training camp.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Jets lost a trio of starters. After being limited to only one game in 2021, Lamarcus Joyner bounced back in 2022, starting all 14 of his appearances while finishing with 57 tackles and three interceptions. After starting only three games during his first season in New York, Sheldon Rankins started all 15 of his appearances in 2022, compiling 43 tackles and three sacks. Kwon Alexander had a productive lone season in New York, with the linebacker contributing 69 tackles and a half-sack. Rankins joined the other recent ex-49ers DC to land an HC job — DeMeco Ryans — in Houston, while Alexander landed in Pittsburgh.
Round 1, No. 15 (from Packers): Will McDonald, DE (Iowa State)
Round 2, No. 43: Joe Tippmann, C (Wisconsin)
Round 4, No. 120 (from Steelers through Patriots): Carter Warren, OT (Pittsburgh)
Round 5, No. 143: Israel Abanikanda, RB (Pittsburgh)
Round 6, No. 184 (from Raiders through Patriots): Zaire Barnes, LB (Western Michigan)
Round 6, No. 204 (from Cowboys through Raiders): Jarrick Bernard-Converse, CB (LSU)
Round 7, No. 220 (from Cardinals through Raiders): Zack Kuntz, TE (Old Dominion)
After loading up on picks in recent drafts, the Jets left the 2023 NFL Draft with only a pair of top-100 players. The organization reportedly eyed tackle Broderick Jones in the first round, prompting the Steelers to trade one spot ahead of the Jets (via the Patriots). But when the position dried up, the Jets pivoted to the reliable “best player available.”
That proved to be Iowa State defensive end Will McDonald. The pass rusher looked to be one of the best defensive prospects heading into the 2022 campaign after compiling 22 sacks and 26 tackles for loss during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. In 2022, he was limited to five sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, partially hurting his draft stock.
Still, his overall body of work was enough for the Jets to select him with the 15th overall pick. The Jets have a deep defensive line, so the first-round pick will likely spend his rookie campaign working as a rotational pass-rushing option behind Lawson, John Franklin-Myers and 2022 first-rounder Jermaine Johnson.
The team filled its OL need in the second round upon selecting Wisconsin center Joe Tippmann. The lineman does not posses the versatility the organization probably envisioned from one of its O-line draft picks, but he should be a dependable option if something happens to Connor McGovern (while presumably serving as the heir apparent). The Jets also grabbed a lineman with their third selection, which came in the fourth round. Carter Warren will be stashed on injured reserve to start the season while he recovers from a meniscus tear. If activated, Warren probably will not see a significant role on the offensive line.
- Parted ways with Mike LaFleur; Nathaniel Hackett hired as offensive coordinator,
- Todd Downing hired as passing game coordinator
- Declined T Mekhi Becton’s $12.57MM fifth-year option
Aaron Rodgers‘ influence with the Jets also extended to the coaching staff. The Jets conducted an expansive search to replace ousted offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, and the team ended up landing on Rodgers’ former coordinator in Nathaniel Hackett.
While Hackett did not have play-calling duties during his three seasons as Packers offensive coordinator, he still earned high marks from Rodgers and Co. for his work with the offense, especially the quarterbacks. Hackett, of course, ended up being hired to be the Broncos’ head coach last offseason, leading to disastrous results. After starting the season 4-11, Denver dismissed Hackett, making him just the third head coach since the AFL-NFL merger to be canned before completing his first season.
Much of the coaching praise or blame would be placed on Robert Saleh in New York, but Hackett still faces immense pressure heading into the 2023 campaign.
The Jets also made some additional changes to their offensive coaching staff, adding Todd Downing to serve as their passing game coordinator. The 42-year-old coach was fired by the Titans after spending two seasons as the team’s offensive coordinator. Downing was arrested for DUI in November of last year, helping lead to his Tennessee dismissal.
The Jets will be counting on a bounce-back season from Mekhi Becton, and the offensive lineman will be playing as an impending free agent after having his fifth-year option declined. The 2020 first-round pick has been limited to only one game over the past two seasons thanks to two knee injuries. The Jets are done counting on Becton as their left tackle, but they do have him set to start at right tackle — despite the barbs he lobbed at the coaching staff for moving him there last year — heading into the campaign. Injury concerns flood the Jets’ tackle situation ahead of Rodgers’ debut, with the soon-to-be 38-year-old Duane Brown coming back recently after a lengthy rehab from rotator cuff surgery.
Top 10 cap charges for 2023:
- C.J. Mosley, LB: $21.47MM
- Duane Brown, OT: $11.28MM
- Laken Tomlinson, G: $10.88MM
- Zach Wilson, QB: $9.58MM
- Aaron Rodgers, QB: $8.88MM
- D.J. Reed, CB: $7.96MM
- Sauce Gardner, CB: $7.60MM
- Dalvin Cook, RB: $7MM
- C.J. Uzomah, TE: $6.72MM
- Quinnen Williams, DE: $6.43MM
Expectations are high in New York, with the Jets having emerged from the summer as one of the offseason’s “winners.” Of course, the Jets have previously won offseason headlines before barely winning games during the regular season.
It seems like this time is different, and it is not completely unwarranted to compare the current vibes in New York to the vibes in Tampa Bay following Tom Brady‘s addition to organization. It obviously remains to be seen if the Jets can hit the same pinnacle as that Buccaneers squad, but Gang Green certainly has to be in the discussion heading into the 2023 campaign.