NFL free agency is off and running, and we’re keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2020 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from Bill Barnwell. The new league year begins March 18 at 4 p.m. ET, which means free-agent signings can be made official after that. The first round of the 2020 NFL draft begins April 23.
What it means: Mired by inconsistent play in the pivot since the end of the Nick Mangold era (2016), the Jets finally have a legitimate answer at center. McGovern will replace Jonotthan Harrison, who was viewed by the organization as a placeholder after the Ryan Kalil debacle. Harrison likely will remain as a versatile backup. McGovern is durable (played every snap in 2019) and smart (no penalties last season). Durability is important, considering all the injuries to the line last season. This is GM Joe Douglas’ biggest signing to date. A crafty center can do wonders for an offensive line. McGovern also can play guard. The Jets haven’t ruled that out; they will play the best five.
What’s the risk: McGovern didn’t come cheaply — a reported $18 million in guarantees. If he bombs or gets hurt, they can’t cut him for two years, depending on how the deal is structured. You also have to wonder why the Broncos didn’t make a stronger effort to re-sign him. He’s a tough player with weight-room strength, but he doesn’t always play to that strength. He can get wobbly at times. But for the most part, this is a safe investment. The Jets hope he can galvanize their O-line.
New York reached agreement with the former Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle on a three-year, $30 million deal that includes $13.7 million guaranteed, according to reporting by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler and Adam Schefter.
What it means: The Jets are entrusting Sam Darnold‘s blindside protection to a former college basketball player who never has started a full season in the NFL. Douglas, who’s supposed to be an O-line guru, sees a lot of upside in Fant, a part-time starter in Seattle. Hence, the $30 million contract, which includes a $13.7 million guarantee. That’s not backup money, to be sure. Fant will replace longtime starter Kelvin Beachum (free agent), who won’t be back. This also reduces the urge to reach for a left tackle with the 11th pick in the draft, although the Jets still could draft a right tackle. Fant also has the ability to play the right side, which gives them flexibility.
What’s the risk: Ideally, you want a sure thing to protect your franchise quarterback — and Fant isn’t a sure thing. The former undrafted free agent (2016) played only one season of college football and was forced into the Seahawks’ lineup as a rookie. He was projected as the starter in 2017, but he blew out an ACL and missed the season. He started three games last season, plus the wild-card game. Overall, he has never played more than 63% of the offensive snaps in a season. He’s an elite athlete, which should serve him well in pass protection — an important trait in Adam Gase’s pass-first offense. But can he anchor in the run game and open holes for Le’Veon Bell?
New York reached agreement with left guard Alex Lewis on a three-year, $18.6 million deal that includes $6 million guaranteed, a source confirmed to ESPN.
What it means: For now, it’s all about plugging holes on the offensive line. Lewis is a solid, short-term fix at left guard, where he replaced Kelechi Osemele and started the final 12 games last season. He actually outperformed Osemele, who made a lot more money than Lewis. GM Joe Douglas has an affinity for Lewis — he traded for him last summer — so this makes sense. The money ($6 million guaranteed) is reasonable, so they can cut bait after a year, if necessary. Do Lewis and new LT George Fant solve the O-line issues? Of course not, but Douglas sees them as “value” moves. You need cement to stack bricks. These guys are the cement.
What’s the risk: Plagued by injuries throughout his career, Lewis never has played a full season. He started 12 straight games last season before going on IR for the final game with an ankle injury. After a strong start, his performance wavered at times because of wear and tear on his body. So, yes, durability is a concern, but it’s mitigated by the size of the contract. The Jets didn’t break the bank. Lewis also must cut down on his penalties; he had six, too many for an interior lineman.
The Jets will re-sign the veteran cornerback to a one-year deal worth $5 million guaranteed.
What it means: The Jets retained their slot corner for at least another year. In today’s NFL, the slot corner is basically another starter. In fact, Poole played 68% of the defensive snaps last season, more than any corner on the Jets. The surprise here is that he didn’t land a bigger deal. Evidently, the market wasn’t as robust as he expected. Good for the Jets, right? Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes Poole because he’s physical, can blitz and doesn’t commit a lot of penalties (only three).
What’s the risk: Poole’s coverage metrics were only average last season. In fact, he allowed a passer rating of 91.1 when he was the nearest defender, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. No, it wasn’t an elite season from a coverage standpoint. Still, it was better than his performance in 2018 for the Atlanta Falcons, who gave up on him. There’s always the chance he could revert to that player, but he’s on another prove-it contract, so there should be plenty of motivation.
The Jets and Hewitt have agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: The experienced Hewitt, who started 12 games last season, provides inside-linebacker insurance. And insurance is important when you have two players coming off surgery — C.J. Mosley (groin) and Avery Williamson (knee). Both are expected to be ready for training camp, but you never know. There has been speculation about Williamson ($8.5 million cap) as a potential cap casualty, but it makes sense to keep him around as … well, more insurance. At some point, though, something has to give. Williamson and Mosley are eating up $26 million of the cap.
What’s the risk: Not much. Even if Hewitt isn’t a starter or part of the rotation, he can be a key contributor on special teams. Fun fact: Hewitt played more defensive snaps (718) than any linebacker on the team last season.
The Jets are bringing back Maulet on a one-year contract.
What it means: More depth at the Jets’ thinnest position. The Jets are hurting in a big way at cornerback. You could argue their best corner is nickelback Brian Poole, which says a lot. Maulet probably won’t compete for a starting job, but he’s a good role player who can start in a pinch. In fact, he started six games last season. He’s also a key player on special teams; he scored his first career touchdown on a blocked punt.
What’s the risk: None. He’s 26, hungry and a fearless tackler — a Gregg Williams kind of player. And cheap, too, as he likely signed for a minimum salary.
The Jets agreed to a one-year deal with the former Colts lineman.
What it means: You can’t have too much depth on the offensive line. The Jets learned that last season, when injuries forced them to start 11 different players. Andrews, 28, will compete for a backup position. The Jets have lost two backups in free agency (T Brent Qvale and G Tom Compton), so replenishing the depth chart is paramount.
What’s the risk: None, at least not from a financial standpoint. The knock on Andrews is that he hasn’t played a lot of football. He came into the NFL as an undrafted player in 2014 and has played only 98 offensive snaps in his career, mostly at center. He was on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2018, the year they won the Super Bowl. Jets GM Joe Douglas was an Eagles executive at the time, so he’s familiar with Andrews. He appeared in only six games (57 snaps) for the Colts last season. Fun fact: He has no penalties in his career, albeit a very small sample size.