Jets’ Joe Douglas unlikely to chase big-money free agents

When Joe Douglas conducted his season-ending press conference two months ago, he spelled out the situation in front of him. After seasons of 2-14 in 2020 and 4-13 in 2021, the Jets general manager knows patience is running thin with his fan base, and his team needs to improve … now.

“Four wins, it’s not good enough. Six wins in two years, it’s not good enough,” Douglas said. “We have to be better, specifically in the division. We have to win divisional games. We have a lot of work to do moving forward, and we need to get better across the board. I can tell you that our focus this offseason is going to be improving the team, and know that I said improving the team, not just acquiring talent, but improving the team.”

The mission of improving the Jets goes into another gear this week with the beginning of free agency. Teams can negotiate with agents beginning Monday at noon. Deals cannot become official until 4 pm on Wednesday when the new league year opens.

The question is: How aggressive will Douglas be? The Jets have around $48 million in salary-cap space, enough to make a splash in free agency. But Douglas has shown he is cautious when the funny money gets thrown around in March. He searches for value and does not fall into the trap his predecessor did of handing out A-plus contracts to B-minus players.

Joe Douglas
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Several agents for high-profile free agents said they got the vibe from Douglas that the Jets would not be major players for the top free agents. That is not to say Douglas won’t take a swing or two at some of the top guys, but it seems unlikely he will come out of the gate on Monday handing out blank checks.

The Jets may have a good amount of cap space, but they have two picks in the top 10 in next month’s draft. Those picks will get massive signing bonuses up front, which will reduce the amount of cash Douglas has at his disposal.

Head coach Robert Saleh is entering his second season and needs his roster to improve quickly, particularly on defense, in which the Jets finished dead last in yards and points allowed. Still, Saleh preached patience during a March 2 session with reporters.

“I’ll never put one offseason on top of the other.,” Saleh said. “Every offseason is unique to its own. I think what you see around the league is when people put a big emphasis on one offseason over the other, you see a lot of panic buying. You see panic selling. You see a lot of odd moves that actually put organizations deeper into a hole that really make it hard to get out of, especially when jobs are on the line. You just see some very odd decision making, and you can tell there’s panic. I think Joe and I feel very comfortable about our process. Every offseason is very, very important.”

The Jets have holes all over their roster, so Douglas can go in many different directions in free agency and can fill other holes through trades or the draft.

Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas
Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas
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Some positions to keep an eye on are: offensive line, tight end, cornerback, safety and linebacker. Douglas has improved the offensive line during his time with the Jets, but it is not a finished product. Interior offensive line free agents Ryan Jensen, Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Scherff could be Douglas targets. At safety, top free agent Marcus Williams of the Saints may be too pricey for the Jets. They probably will look for more value.

The Jets liked what they saw from their young cornerbacks last season, but they know they need a true No. 1 corner. Sources said they are not expected to be in the mix for top corner JC Jackson from the Patriots, but could they chase Buccaneers free agent Carlton Davis?

Falcons free agent linebacker Foyesade Oluokun could be a fit for the Jets, too, if the price is right. He led the NFL in tackles last season and Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich worked with him in Atlanta.

Douglas has many difficult decisions ahead of him. But he knows he can’t afford another season in which the Jets are eliminated by Halloween. The quest to improve the roster will take another huge step this week.

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