2022 Free Agent Class Stacked With Jets’ Replacements for Marcus Maye

Jessie Bates III

Getty Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III could be one of the top available options to replace Marcus Maye in free agency.

For a few months now, the vibe has been that this could be Marcus Maye’s last season with the New York Jets.

At the franchise tag deadline, Joe Douglas and Erik Burkhardt (Maye’s agent) seemed extremely far apart on the specifics of the would-be extension to the point where the deal “went south.” From there, things just seemed broken.

Maye had already signed his franchise tag and agreed to play in 2021, but he didn’t seem all too happy about it. Then after Week 4 in Denver, everything unraveled. The star safety injured his ankle during the game but decided to play through it. A couple of days later, it was revealed that he would miss three to four weeks because of the ailment.

That’s the moment where Burkhardt decided to drop the trade deadline bomb. At this point, it seemed very unlikely that Maye would remain with the organization long-term. Things looked bad, but somehow the situation took yet another turn for the worse on October 4 when word leaked that the playmaker would be facing charges for a hit-and-run DUI that occurred in February.

Maye never told the Jets according to reports, which means he may also be subject to a team suspension of six weeks. Based on all this and the likelihood that Lamarcus Joyner won’t be returning in 2022 after a season-ending injury, it’s safe to say that Douglas is in the market for a safety. Fortunately, next year’s free-agent class is loaded with plenty of talent.

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Upside Candidates

There are so many options available in 2022 that I decided to split this into three categories. The first will be upside candidates, which are younger players that have yet to unlock their true potential after a high draft status.

Terrell Edmunds (Pittsburgh Steelers)

The strong safety is a former first-round pick in 2018 that’s only 25 in January of next year. He’s coming off his best season in 2020 according to Pro Football Focus (76.0 coverage grade), but overall Edmunds has never really lived up to his initial draft status. He has 274 combined tackles in his career with nine QB pressures, two sacks, four interceptions, and 16 passes defended.

Jabrill Peppers (New York Giants)

Peppers was a well-known first-rounder out of Michigan with the Cleveland Browns. In the end, he was included in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade and sent to New York, so he has plenty of experience at MetLife Stadium. The flashy playmaker has the opposite skill set as Edmunds, excelling more on run defense and rushing the quarterback. In one extra season, the 26-year old has 320 total tackles, 21 QB pressures (since 2018), 3.5 sacks, four interceptions, four fumbles forced and 25 passes defended.

Keanu Neal (Dallas Cowboys)

The 2016 first-rounder in Atlanta was a target of Douglas’ this offseason, but as a linebacker, not a safety. Neal has ties to defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich but he elected to reunite with Dan Quinn in Dallas over the Jets. If things go south with the Cowboys, the hard-hitter could end up in New York after all. He has a bit more tread on the tires entering his seventh NFL season in 2022 with some injury history throughout, but he might be an affordable option that fits this scheme. Most impressive is his eight career fumbles forced on top of two career interceptions.

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Veteran Stopgaps

This section will cover older players that could fill the role for a season or two, like the Joyner signing this year. We’ve seen the risk in this type of move first-hand in 2021. Will Douglas roll the dice again next offseason?

Tyrann Mathieu (Kansas City Chiefs)

The famed ‘Honey Badger‘ is technically a free agent in 2022, although there’s no evidence to refute that he wouldn’t just re-sign in Kansas City. Mathieu’s game has definitely tailed off a bit, both as a tackler and in coverage, but he still has that playmaking ability that makes him unique. In nine seasons, the soon-to-be 30-year old has 29 turnovers forced (25 INTs), three touchdowns, and a proven pedigree as a winner.

Anthony Harris (Philadelphia Eagles)

Harris made a name for himself with the Minnesota Vikings before signing a one-year deal with the Eagles. He had back-to-back elite seasons in 2018 and 2019, with lockdown coverage grades and nine interceptions in those two campaigns combined. The rest of his career has been less spectacular, and he’s not known for his tackling ability like some of the others on this list. Harris would probably make a better Joyner replacement than a Maye one.

Jaquiski Tartt (San Francisco 49ers)

As a veteran of the Robert Saleh system in San Fran, Tartt would make the perfect stopgap if the Jets decide to draft or develop a safety. 2022 will be his eighth season in the NFL, and also his age-30 one. He’s a thumper with 323 career tackles and four sacks. More than anything though, he’s a scheme fit for this defense.

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Gold Standard, ‘Break the Bank’ Options

Two safeties fit the gold standard of available free agents. That means they’re entering their prime and performing within the upper echelon of the position.

Marcus Williams (New Orleans Saints)

The first is Williams, who was also tagged like Maye in 2021. The Utah product is a former second-round pick that has blossomed into one of the most consistent safeties in the sport. His stellar PFF grades have never fallen lower than 74.0 for an entire season and they’ve risen as high as 88.3. More specifically, the 25-year old is well-rounded with impressive marks as a run defender, tackler, and coverage expert. Williams has 15 career interceptions and 33 passes defended entering his fifth season of ball, with three fumbles forced and one sack. PFF’s Sam Monson ranked him as the fourth-best safety in the NFL in 2021.

I could see the NOLA star re-signing or following former position coach Aaron Glenn to Detroit, where he took over as the defensive coordinator under Dan Campbell. If he’s looking for the highest offer, however, the Jets should consider bidding on Williams.

Jessie Bates III (Cincinnati Bengals)

My favorite candidate for Gang Green is Cincy rising star, Jessie Bates III. Although Monson only ranked the 2018 second-rounder eighth on his list (just behind Maye), I believe he’s just hitting his stride. The Bengals bruiser has had over 100 combined tackles in each of his first three seasons and he has only missed one game so far in his career (Week 4 of 2021, ironically). He’s not just a hard-hitter though, with a steady three interceptions each year (nine total) and a 90.0 coverage grade in 2020. In fact, Bates was spectacular last season in general, with 90.1 overall marks on PFF and an 81.9 as a run defender.

Bates was voted as a team captain in 2021, but the well-balanced star was unable to reach an extension agreement with the famously stingy Bengals. “Yeah, I wish [the extension] would have got done,” the safety told reporters, adding later that he’s going to “play [his] part” and “be a captain of this team” regardless of his contract. Based on his versatility, leadership and durability, Bates would be the perfect replacement for Maye.

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