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Antwan Staley: Jets still have lots of questions following third wave of free agency

Robert Saleh and the Jets still have questions heading into the NFL Draft. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Robert Saleh and the Jets still have questions heading into the NFL Draft. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
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ORLANDO — Coming into free agency, the Jets had several areas to address.

On paper, Gang Green has almost accomplished all of its goals.

While other teams were wheeling and dealing during the opening hours of free agency, the Jets were quiet. That was until late in the night when they signed left guard John Simpson.

The Jets later acquired right tackle Morgan Moses in a trade with the Ravens and signed left tackle Tyron Smith.

“I think the primary objective of the offseason was to fortify the offensive line,” Jets general manager Joe Douglas said during the NFL Annual Meetings this week. “That was goal one. We feel good about what we were able to accomplish there and a few other objectives in the offseason.”

The Jets also signed wide receiver Mike Williams to a one-year contract that could be worth $15 million. They also signed , who will back up Aaron Rodgers.

The biggest concern is the Jets are hinging their season on several players with significant injury histories. No one can deny Smith’s talent because he is one of the best left tackles of his generation. But he told reporters his “main options” were either returning to the Cowboys or signing with the Jets.

That could be because Smith, 33, has not played an entire NFL season since 2015. Last season, Smith played in 13 games, the most since 2019. In 2022, Smith played just four games after suffering a torn hamstring during training camp.

Then there’s Moses, 33, who told reporters that he tore his pectoral muscle in Week 4 but played through the injury. He had surgery on his shoulder six weeks ago and is expected to make a full recovery.

Williams, 29, is also rehabbing from an ACL tear he suffered in Week 3 when he played for the Chargers. Douglas told reporters Williams may not be ready for the start of training camp in July. In addition to that, Williams has only played 16 games or more in two out of seven seasons.

Taylor, 33, also has a significant injury history. During the last five seasons, Taylor has suffered multiple concussions, a lung puncture, multiple rib injuries, a hamstring, and a wrist ligament tear.

That’s why it would be wise for the Jets to add a third quarterback either through the NFL Draft or free agency.

“There’s a lot of discussions with medical staff, with our coaches, with our pro scouts,” Douglas said. “We weigh all of that in when we make a decision like that. A lot of our contracts are structured in a way where if a player plays on the field and he is performing, he is going to be well compensated.

“I think we’ve structured these contracts in a way that it is highly beneficial for the player if they’re playing at a high level.”

The upcoming season is critical for both Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh. In the three seasons since Saleh became the head coach, the Jets have gone 18-33.

Following the 2022 season-opening loss to the Ravens, Saleh said he was “taking receipts on all the people who continually mock” the Jets. Fans and media criticizing an organization aren’t the problem, that’s just how it is especially in the New York City area.

Last season, Douglas and Saleh received a mulligan following Rodgers’ season-ending Achilles tear four plays into the team’s season debut against the Bills. Following Rodgers’ injury, Douglas and Saleh decided to roll with as the Jets’ starting quarterback and wasted away a top-five defense. Now the Jets have put Wilson on the market with no success at this point.

It’s time for Douglas and Saleh to finally get this right. The NFL, like all sports, is a results-based business. The players are aware of how critical 2024 is.

The Jets have to hope they can avoid significant injuries. In 2022, 11 different players started games on their offensive line. Last season, the Jets used 13 different offensive line combinations in 17 games. Right guard also has suffered season-ending injuries (torn triceps and Achilles) in back-to-back seasons.

That’s why, despite the Jets filling all five offensive line starting spots, they still need to select a tackle 10th overall in next month’s draft. We’ve seen the worst-case scenario with the Jets, whether injuries occurred on the offensive line or at the quarterback position.

Gang Green cannot be reactive when injuries take place. They need to get in front of it as much as they can.

“Injuries are a part of the league,” Saleh said. “You know, if those guys can stay on the field, they can be pretty dynamic. It’s always going to be the trick regardless of what players you bring in.

“Aaron Rodgers has been healthy his entire career and four plays, he goes down. You never know when it’s going to happen. You do your best to keep them healthy.”

The best teams, well-run organizations, are proactive and plan for injuries. The Jets were reactive when it came to Rodgers and their offensive line injuries a season ago.

With the draft on the horizon next month, the job is not finished for the Jets.

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