FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2023 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The first round of the 2023 NFL draft begins April 27 on ESPN.
The New York Jets enter free agency with two objectives: Improve their 25th-ranked offense and maintain the excellence they established last season on defense.
Once they resolve the quarterback situation, which figures to be their one big splurge, the Jets will be “judicious” (coach Robert Saleh’s word) in plugging holes on offense. Their primary need is center, but they have depth issues along the offensive line and at wide receiver. Look for them to sign multiple linemen. Their defense, which ranked fourth, could use help on the line (interior), safety and linebacker.
It seems like a lot, but the roster is in better shape than a year ago. They were among the leading free agent spenders in 2022 and they were tops in 2019, based on guaranteed money, per ESPN Stats & Information. Pressed against the salary cap, they won’t dole out as much money as last year. General manager Joe Douglas will pick his spots, looking for value but also knowing the franchise is in win-now mode.
Here's a breakdown of every 2023 NFL free agent signing by the New York Jets, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
Mecole Hardman, wide receiver
Hardman agreed to a one-year deal for up to $6.5 million.
What it means: Hardman replaces Elijah Moore, who was traded Wednesday to the Cleveland Browns for a second-round pick. (The Jets sent a third-round choice with Moore to Cleveland.) Basically, it was a simultaneous receiver swap. Hardman can replace Moore in slot; in fact, 10 of his 16 career TD receptions have come out of the slot. Hardman is a big-time burner; he ran the 40 in 4.33 seconds at his combine. Only one wide receiver has averaged more yards-after-the-catch per reception than Hardman (8.3) since he entered the league in 2019 -- Deebo Samuel (9.5). He's another weapon for presumptive quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
What's the risk: Hardman underwent surgery last month to repair a core muscle, which means he probably will sit out the offseason. He missed nine games last season, plus a playoff game and the Super Bowl, with the injury. As a result, he had career lows in receptions (25) and yards (297). The Jets are betting on a full recovery. When healthy, Hardman is a dynamic player, but one who still hasn't lived up to his potential.
Ty Johnson,running back
Johnson agreed to return to the Jets on a one-year deal.
What it means: This is strictly a depth signing, which allows the Jets to return their top four backs from last season -- Breece Hall, Michael Carter, Zonovan Knight and Johnson. There could be another in the room, as the Jets are reportedly showing interest in former Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott. Johnson had only 30 rushes for 160 yards in 2022, with most of his chances coming late in the year. He also plays a role on special teams.
What's the risk: With the injury rate at running back, it's smart to have at least four on the 53-man roster. Johnson isn't a lock to make the team, but he provides versatility and depth. He probably signed for little more than the veteran minimum ($1 million), so there's no risk.
Wes Schweitzer, center
Schweitzer agreed to terms on a two-year, $5 million deal with $3.2 million guaranteed.
What it means: Schweitzer is a solid backup with the ability to start at center or guard. The Jets have a vacancy at center, with Connor McGovern a free agent, so Schweitzer moves to the top of the depth chart -- for now. At the very least, he's a replacement for versatile backup Dan Feeney (Dolphins). Schweitzer, a sixth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2016, has 60 career starts with the Falcons and Commanders. He's shaky in pass protection. He didn't play enough last season to qualify (401 snaps total), but his pass block win rate would've ranked 31st among centers. He's much better in the run game; he blocks with a nasty attitude.
What's the risk: Durability is a big question mark. He missed nine weeks last year with a concussion, returning in December. He missed four games in 2021 with an ankle sprain. When healthy, he's a serviceable player with experience and versatility.
Allen Lazard, wide receiver
Lazard agreed to terms on a four-year deal worth $44 million, a source told ESPN.
What it means: This will make Aaron Rodgers happy if he becomes the Jets' quarterback. Rodgers reportedly wanted Lazard, and general manager Joe Douglas delivered. Chances are, they would've made the move anyway because offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, formerly the Packers' OC, is high on Lazard. This intensifies the speculation that Corey Davis could be released or traded. Talent-wise, it's probably a wash between Lazard and a healthy Davis, but Lazard, 27, is a year younger and more cap-friendly than the oft-injured Davis. They clear $10.5 million on the cap if they move on from Davis. The Jets' projected starting three: Lazard, Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore (slot). They have former second-rounder Denzel Mims, too.
What's the risk: A reported $44 million over four years, including $22 million in guarantees, is not an insignificant amount of money in a depressed receiver market for a player who hasn't reached 800 yards in a season. But there are reasons to like this deal: At 6-foot-5, Lazard is a nice complement to Wilson and Moore and should be a nice target in the red zone, a problem area for the Jets. He's a fantastic blocker, reliable on third down (ranked ninth in catches for first downs, 18 in 2022) and he's coming off a career year as a receiver -- 60 catches, 788 yards and six touchdowns. Lazard may not have a high ceiling, but his floor is high enough to validate the deal.
Trystan Colon, center
The Jets are bringing Colon in on a one-year deal.
What it means: More depth for the interior of the offensive line. Colon, a non-tendered free agent, is primarily a center. He has played 237 career snaps at center, 52 at right guard. All told, he has appeared in 20 games, including four starts. He made the Ravens' roster in 2020 as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri. With so many of their own linemen being free agents, the Jets are essentially rebuilding their depth across the board.
What's the risk: It's a one-year contract, so there's no risk. More depth additions are on the way.
Thomas Morstead, punter
Morstead, who was with the Miami Dolphins last season, is joining the Jets.
What it means: Incumbent Braden Mann, who had two poor punts last season that both resulted in game-changing touchdown returns, could be on thin ice. At the very least, Morstead's arrival will mean a training-camp competition. Morstead, 36, is best known for his 12-year run with the New Orleans Saints. He punted last season for the Dolphins. His numbers (40.6-yard net average and 46.4 gross) were identical to those of Mann, but Morstead was much better on punts inside the 20. Interestingly, he was an injury replacement for Mann during a seven-game stretch in 2021.
What's the risk: None whatsoever. It's about time they imported some competition for Mann, a 2020 draft pick who hasn't lived up to expectations.
Solomon Thomas, defensive tackle
Thomas agreed to terms on a one-year deal worth $2.35 million, with $2 million guaranteed.
What it means: After losing defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins (Houston Texans) and Nathan Shepherd (New Orleans) within hours of each other, and missing out on Fletcher Cox (Philadelphia Eagles), the Jets needed to stop the bleeding. Thomas doesn't solve the entire problem -- not even close -- but he's a start. He's a rotational player who participated in 33% of the defensive snaps last season. He recorded only a half-sack with four quarterback hits, but he played in every game. He's a system fit and he's good for the locker room culture.
What's the risk: It's a modest investment, with a deal that can max out at $3 million -- so there's little risk. The Jets use an eight- or nine-man rotation on the defensive line, and they need cost-effective grinders who can eat up snaps. Thomas, drafted third overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2017, is one of those guys. Make no mistake, they will have more additions at defensive tackle.
Greg Zuerlein, kicker
The Jets agreed to terms with Zuerlein on a one-year, $2.6 million deal, including $1.8 million guaranteed.
What it means: Kicking stability! Re-signing Zuerlein means the Jets will have the same kicker in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2016, when Nick Folk finished up a seven-year run with the team. Zuerlein, 35, was solid, if not stellar in his first season with the Jets. He made 81% of his field goals, below the NFL average (85%) in 2022. Highlights: A franchise-record 60-yarder and an 84% touchback rate, which ranked third in the league.
What's the risk: Zuerlein received a bump on last year's salary ($2 million), which ranked in the bottom-third among kickers. He provided consistency after a few years of musical kickers.
Quincy Williams, linebacker
The Jets agreed to terms with Williams on a three-year deal.
What it means: The Jets prioritized Williams and got him locked up before he hit the open market -- smart move. Williams, 26, is an ascending player coming off his rookie contract. Those are the kinds of players you want to keep. They now have two of their top three linebackers under contract, Williams and C.J. Mosley. The goal is to keep as many players as possible from last year's fourth-ranked defense. This is a good start.
What's the risk: The three-year, $18 million deal ranks 17th in the league among off-ball linebackers, based on average per year and it includes $9 million in guarantees. With incentives, it could max out at $21 million. This is a solid deal for both sides, with minimal risk for the Jets. It's a solid value for a starter who played 79% of the defensive snaps.