Jets Urged to Swipe Super Bowl Starter From Eagles

Marcus Epps

Getty Philadelphia Eagles free safety Marcus Epps during the 2022 regular season.

One area the New York Jets should be looking to upgrade in 2023 is free safety.

After signing strong safety Jordan Whitehead last spring, head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas chose to stand pat with the cheaper Lamarcus Joyner for a year. The results were much better than in 2021 — considering the 32-year-old started 14 games and played competent football — but there was also plenty of room for improvement.

Pro Football Focus analyst Brad Spielberger agreed, urging the Jets to “pursue” an unrestricted free agent free safety that is currently in Arizona preparing for the 2023 Super Bowl.

“The Jets look to have made a very smart investment in signing safety Jordan Whitehead last offseason to a two-year, $14.5 million contract, so they [should] pair him with a deep third ballhawk in [Philadelphia Eagles safety] Marcus Epps,” Spielberger suggested. “Whitehead is a great player down in the box, and while solid in coverage, he would benefit from playing alongside Epps so he can focus on playing more downhill.”

PFF Writer Details Marcus Epps vs Lamarcus Joyner for Jets

Spielberger continued on, explaining why Epps could be the perfect replacement for Joyner in free agency.

“Veteran Lamarcus Joyner earned a 57.0 overall grade at free safety for the Jets this past season,” he detailed. “70th out of 87 qualifying safeties, and the 32-year-old is a pending free agent as well. Epps could solidify the backend and remove the only remaining weakness from this Jets secondary, and he can also excel in single-high and two-high looks.”

The 2019 sixth rounder out of Wyoming, Epps, isn’t exactly a household name around the NFL — but then again, neither was Whitehead before the Jets targeted him last spring. Douglas and Saleh will likely be looking at two things at safety in free agency: winning culture and scheme fit.

That’s what they liked about both Whitehead and Joyner, who played in Super Bowls with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams, and Epps is cut from the same cloth. He started all 17 games for the Eagles in 2022, as well as both playoff outings to this point, and registered 94 total tackles (four for a loss) with six passes defended and one forced fumble. He’s also a 26-year-old that could provide solid bang-for-your-buck in free agency, and the Eagles run a similar four-man rush scheme as an added benefit.

“Epps had a down year in coverage in 2022 operating as a full-time starter,” Spielberger admitted, “but from 2020-21, his 76.4 coverage grade ranked tied for 24th [in the NFL at safety]. He’s also not afraid to step up and make plays in the run game, earning back-to-back 84.4-plus run-defense grades in 2021-22. [Lastly], he has rarely missed tackles throughout his career, an important note for a player who often finds himself as the last line of defense.”

Making just $965,000 as his salary in 2022, Epps is in line for a substantial pay raise — no doubt about it — but his Over the Cap valuation is affordable near $4.25 million per year. After first being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, the four-year NFL pro made a name for himself in Philly. Be sure to keep an eye out for him on Super Bowl Sunday.

Jets Could Draft Safety in Round 1 or 2

Of course, the other route Douglas and Saleh could go is selecting a free safety of their choosing in April. Some believe Ashtyn Davis profiles as a potential cap casualty as his rookie contract’s cap hit jumps from 1.34 million to a little over 3 million in year four.

The Jets also have 2022 undrafted prospect Tony Adams, who got some playing time toward the end of the year and showed promise when he was on the field.

Assuming they keep Whitehead at strong safety for another season, they could either sign a Joyner successor, draft one, or promote from within.

If they decide to draft a safety in one of the higher rounds, some of the names they’ve been linked to so far have been Alabama’s Brian Branch (round one), Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson (round two) and Boise State’s JL Skinner (rounds two-four).

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