The moment New York Jets fans thought the roster was set ahead of training camp, general manager Joe Douglas decided to make a move.
On a slow July afternoon just one day after rookies reported to Florham Park, the Jets signed recent Philadelphia Eagles cut, Craig James, a cornerback and special teamer that began his career as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Illinois.
Pro Football Focus NFL insider Ari Meirov confirmed the transaction on Twitter, voicing that James has passed his physical and officially signed with New York.
ALL the latest Jets news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Jets newsletter here!
Competition at Gunner
Just after the signing was announced, The Jet Press gave their opinion on the move.
“Solid pickup here for the #Jets,” the account tweeted. “Craig James is a highly regarded special teams leader who was a quality depth piece for the #Eagles in 2019. Never actually crossed paths with Joe Douglas in Philly, but JD still has a lot of friends in that organization.”
Shortly after, The Jet Press added that James was likely brought in to push special teams ace Justin Hardee for a roster spot, being that the former New Orleans Saints veteran is costing the franchise over $2 million in cap space this season.
If James impresses, Douglas could release Hardee with a dead cap hit of zero in 2022, saving money for other potential endeavors throughout the year.
James appeared in 14 games for the Eagles in 2019 and only four in 2020 before spending time on the injured reserve. He did not play in a game last season.
Follow the Heavy On Jets Facebook page, where you can weigh in on all the latest NYJ-related daily content, analysis, features and more!
James’ Career by the Numbers
James’ 17 total tackles and one career pass defense won’t tell you much but the analytics outline why the Jets just jumped to pick him up after a brief period on the open market.
The four-year pro has only played 83 defensive snaps throughout his NFL tenure but he’s made a living on special teams with 342 snaps. PFF graded him at a 77.3 on special teams in 2019 — the year he got the most burn with Philadelphia. Unfortunately, his marks dropped to 60.3 over 80 snaps in 2020.
James split those snaps at five areas over the course of his ST career: kick return, kick return coverage, punt return, punt return coverage, and field goal block.
Similar to Hardee, he’s made a name for himself both blocking for and tackling returners. James has accounted for 11 tackles on special teams according to PFF, missing five, and he’s only been charged with one penalty.
Hardee had five penalties on special teams in 2021 alone — but he’s also had better overall grades than James throughout his career.
The final factor the Jets could be looking at aside from cost, discipline, ability and leadership — is age. James just turned 26 in April while Hardee is playing out his age-28 campaign.
In theory, Douglas could look to keep both special teamers around — we know how much head coach Robert Saleh loves and respects the gunner position — but as The Jet Press stated, that is highly unlikely given the competitiveness of this roster in 2022. Let the battle begin!
Follow @obermuller_nyj and @BoyGreen25 on Twitter for all the latest New York Jets breaking news, rumors, fresh takes and more!