When the Jets hire a new general manager, he and head coach Adam Gase are going to have to sit down and have a long talk about what the team needs at cornerback.
After watching the four spring practices that were open to the media, it is clear the Jets are as thinner than a supermodel at corner. They have Trumaine Johnson, Darryl Roberts and Brian Poole (nickel) as their starting corners right now. That group is not great, and what is behind them is even more worrisome.
“I think we’re thin at more than just corner,” Gase admitted this week. “There’s some other spots where if we have some injuries, it could be an issue. That’s why we have to keep finding ways to create competition.”
Finding help in June and later is difficult, especially at a position like cornerback. Those are found in free agency in March and the draft in April, not in June or July.
The new GM may have to be creative to address the position. Gase said the team will be paying close attention to who shakes free from other teams either on the waiver wire or via trade.
“You kind of get in the middle of June and all of a sudden some guys get cut free due to salary issues, you get the waiver wire, you’ll just always comb that thing, see if you can create competition whether it’s a corner or at any other position,” Gase said. “That’s why the pro department’s got to do a great job going through, you know, when we get closer to those cuts and training camp, of just keeping their eyes open, and then you always have to be alert for if any trades pop up. I mean, you just never know the amount of phone calls that go in and out between organizations. It’s a lot more than what people realize sometimes, and we just have to be ready to be aggressive if we need to be.”
New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is expected to bring an aggressive, blitzing style to the Jets, and that has been evident so far in spring practices. But a defensive coordinator can only be so aggressive without top-notch cornerbacks. The issue plagued former coaches Rex Ryan and Todd Bowles at points in their tenures. They were unable to be as aggressive as they wanted because they were worried their corners would get burned.
It is not hard to figure out how the Jets got to this point at the position. Former GM Mike Maccagnan did not draft a cornerback higher than the fourth round (Juston Burris in 2016). The Jets have not taken a cornerback in the first two rounds of the draft since Dee Milliner in 2013, and let’s just say that did not work out.
They signed Johnson to a five-year, $72.5 million in 2018. Johnson’s first season with the Jets was filled with injuries, inconsistent play and ended with him being benched for missing practice.
Johnson is back, and the Jets hope Williams, who coached him with the Rams, can bring out the best in him. Roberts moves from a backup role to the starting lineup. Poole replaces Buster Skrine as the nickel.
The Jets did not do much to address the position this offseason other than re-signing Roberts to a three-year, $18 million contract and drafting Bless Austin, who is expected to begin the year on the PUP list, in the sixth round.
Morris Claiborne, who started the past two seasons, is still a free agent. He is 28 and has dealt with repeated injuries. Other free agents out there are either old or coming off injuries: Sam Shields (31), Davon House (30 and coming off a shoulder injury), Kayvon Webster (28, coming off leg injuries), Captain Munnerlyn (31), Marcus Williams (28 and played just five games last year) and Coty Sensabaugh (30).
It is unclear who might be available via trade, but the Lions and cornerback Darius Slay are currently involved in a dispute over his desire for a new contract. Maybe Detroit decides to trade him.
The new GM won’t have much time to kick back and enjoy his new job. He should be searching for corners before he even sets up his office.