Sometimes during the chaos that is NFL free agency, smaller transactions get lost in the shuffle and exclusive-rights free agents are typically a common example of that.
On March 15, Heavy On Jets reporter Michael Obermuller noted that it appeared the New York Jets had plans to retain ERFAs Javelin Guidry (CB), Tim Ward (DE), Elijah Riley (S) and Jeff Smith (WR) according to Over The Cap.
Members of the Jets beat including Brian Costello and Al Iannazzone confirmed that the organization had exercised their exclusive rights option on each player in March. Now on April 19, according to NYJ contributor Randy Lange, it appears those deals are official.
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Affordable Depth That Knows the System
All four of these clerical moves have one thing in common, they can provide cheap quality depth that knows Mike LaFleur and Jeff Ulbrich’s respective systems on offense and defense. Each of these deals will cost general manager Joe Douglas $895,000 against the cap in 2022, and the four combined for 47 appearances and 13 starts last season.
The headliner is probably Guidry, who acted as a super-sub in the secondary in 2021, playing both nickelback and outside corner when called upon. The former undrafted free agent allowed 30 completions off 41 targets (73.2% catches allowed), which was a major improvement on his rookie campaign.
Overall, he was solid with a key effort against the Houston Texans that yielded an 83.3 grade from Pro Football Focus. Guidry’s Week 12 performance was so impressive that he briefly stole the CB2 job from Brandin Echols before a rough outing against Philadelphia.
Next up in terms of playing time was Riley. The midseason waiver claim was brought in due to injuries at the safety position.
After being thrown straight into the fire, the Army product did not disappoint with 45 tackles (three for a loss), one sack and one pass defended. His PFF grades started strong before waning following a concussion in Week 15.
Unfortunately, Riley’s most memorable moment might be a negative one, after he allowed the game-winning touchdown bomb from Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17.
Ward was another waiver claim, like Riley, only he came over from the Kansas City Chiefs after training camp. The promising 24-year-old was a hot commodity on the wire and had the looks of another steal of a pickup for Douglas, but he failed to make a huge impact in year one.
Perhaps another campaign in the system will do him well. In 2021, Ward appeared in 11 games and registered zero sacks or tackles for losses. PFF credited him with one lonely quarterback pressure in Week 1.
Last but not least is Smith, the wide receiver that many fans complained was dressing over Denzel Mims. The undrafted product did eventually start three games in 2021 because of injury, recording eight catches for 113 yards and six first downs.
Smith earned a minor role in LaFleur’s offense but he was much more integral on special teams in kick and punt return coverage.
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Organizational Depth Is Beginning to Form
We’ve discussed in the past how important organizational depth is for Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh. The Jets had none when the current GM took over for Mike Maccagnan and they have been working on filling out this roster with young talent ever since.
Not every move has worked out but these four have earned another shot to make an impact — and the depth is noticeably better at a few of these positions.
Look at safety or cornerback. These two positions were barren two years ago and are in much stronger shape now.
Riley may have started seven games in 2021 but he’s now competing for a backup role with Ashtyn Davis, Jason Pinnock, Will Parks, Jovante Moffatt and Kai Nacua. The starters are expected to be Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner at this time.
Cornerback has let veterans, but plenty to be excited about all the same. Douglas brought in D.J. Reed Jr. in free agency to pair with Bryce Hall or Echols, as well as Isaiah Dunn. With the aforementioned Guidry and Michael Carter II holding down the nickel role, this secondary has made some big strides.
Edge rusher and wide receiver are expected to see some additions in the draft and the secondary could still be bulked more too, but the plan is slowly coming into place. Now you just have to find the superstars that can transition this team into contention.