Jets Veteran Starter’s Contract ‘Puts Him in Jeopardy’ of Being Cut

Jordan Whitehead

Getty New York Jets safety Jordan Whitehead in 2022.

Free agency is right around the corner and if you’re New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas right now, you’re looking at creative ways to shed some cap space.

According to Over the Cap, the Jets are currently a projected $2.593 million over a potential $225 million dollar cap limit — assuming the NFL doesn’t raise that number. That’s not great, but the good news is Douglas has brought down the franchise’s dead money total to $2.884 million and change with plenty of wiggle room on the roster.

Having said that, hard decisions are coming and ESPN NYJ insider Rich Cimini named safety Jordan Whitehead as a potential cut after just one season with Gang Green. “Four of the top five DBs in playing time are under contract for ‘23,” detailed Cimini while breaking down the secondary ahead of the offseason, “although Whitehead’s contract ($10.2M cap) puts him in jeopardy. [The Jets] could be looking at two new safeties [next season]. They’re set at corner.”

Jordan Whitehead Contract Numbers, Jets Situation at Safety

The Whitehead signing was a bit of an under-the-radar move from Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh in 2022. Most fans wanted free agent Marcus Williams — who ended up with the Baltimore Ravens — or potential trade target Jessie Bates who stayed put in Cincinnati.

Instead, the Jets went with Whitehead and veteran Lamarcus Joyner as the two starters while the Ravens and Bengals went back to the playoffs. All joking aside, the NYJ safety pairing performed adequately for New York in 2022, but were they deserving of an encore?

Joyner is a free agent and at age 33 next season, it’d be a difficult sell to bring him back as the starter. Whitehead is the much tougher call for Douglas and this front office.

The Jets awarded the 25-year-old a two-year opportunity to prove himself as an outright starter last spring. That contract came with a frontloaded cap number of $4.22 million in 2022 and $10.23 million in 2023, as Cimini mentioned.

If cut, the Jets would save $7.25 million off that number and sacrifice the other $2.98 million in dead money. It does not make a difference if New York releases Whitehead before or after June 1, as is sometimes the case with other deals, so Douglas could look at this as an immediate way to shed some cap if the staff deems that the former Tampa Bay Buccanneer didn’t perform up to snuff.

Did Jordan Whitehead Prove to the Jets That He’s a Full-Time Starter in 2022?

Brought in as a supposed elite run-stuffer and shaky coverage DB, Whitehead’s first season with the Jets was a mixed bag. He had some inexcusable miscues early on before settling in and becoming a steady cog in that top-five unit that led the Green & White during their midseason winning streak.

Ironically, Whitehead was actually solid in coverage throughout the year according to Pro Football Focus, but he floundered as a tackler — opposite of his scouting report out of Tampa.

He only allowed 283 receiving yards the entire season, which was the fewest allowed among the Jets starting defenders at linebacker or defensive back. Whitehead’s reception rate against was also pretty low, at 64.7%. He was charged with two touchdowns, however.

As a tackler, Whitehead was poor with a team-leading 17 missed tackles (tied with Quincy Williams) and an above average 15.6% missed tackle rate. He did make 30 key defensive “stops” according to PFF — fourth most behind C.J. Mosley and the Williams brothers — but was not great otherwise.

17 of those “stops” came on run defense, the area Whitehead was brought in to assist. His average depth of tackle (yards gained before tackle was made) came out to 5.7 yards, which did rank top 10 (tied for 10th) for all NFL safeties who played a minimum 50% of snaps.

All told, Whitehead registered a career-high 89 total tackles (four tackles for a loss) with two interceptions, eight passes defended, and zero quarterback pressures according to Pro Football Reference.

Cimini also mentioned that Whitehead was out there 99.2% of snaps this year, second only to cornerback D.J. Reed Jr. in the secondary — so he was durable, going 17 for 17 on starts.

In conclusion: Aside from the missed tackles and a couple of the early-season blunders, the Jets definitely got their money’s worth out of this signing. Because of age and scheme fit, Douglas and Saleh will most likely try and find a creative way to bring down that $10M-plus cap number heading into 2023 but assuming the two sides figure out a reasonable restructure, Whitehead should be back as the starting strong safety next season.

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