Jets Urged to Replace 17-Game Starter With ‘One Last’ Veteran Signing

John Johnson III

Getty NFL safety John Johnson III with the Cleveland Browns in 2021.

After the New York Jets completed the trade for Aaron Rodgers — as well as the 2023 NFL Draft — they brought in a few veterans to pad need areas (OT Billy Turner, DT Al Woods and WR Randall Cobb).

Having said that, does general manager Joe Douglas have one or two more signings in store? During an article with Pro Football Focus, analyst Brad Spielberger suggested that the Jets pursue veteran safety John Johnson III as their “last offseason move” ahead of training camp.

“The Jets made a strong value trade with the Baltimore Ravens for safety Chuck Clark and have some solid depth options, but if they want to add a true deep-third free safety with range, the ability to occasionally cover the slot and versatility in three-safety personnel packages, Johnson could add another dimension on the back end,” Spielberger urged.

John Johnson III Fits Jets Free Agent Mold as Team Leader With Winning Culture

It’s a great thought from Spielberger. Johnson is a six-year veteran and former team captain that has gone to a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams.

He was a turnover machine in L.A., racking up eight interceptions and one forced fumble over 54 appearances. The past two seasons, Johnson has remained consistent as ever, forcing seven turnovers (four INTs, three forced fumbles) with the Cleveland Browns in just 32 outings.

Now, Cleveland may not have the same winning culture as the Rams under Sean McVay, but Johnson still fits the mold of a guy that Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh typically target in free agency. High character, versatile, team leader and a likely upgrade that would better deep safety fit next to Clark — who has excelled as a strong safety with the Ravens.

According to PFF, Johnson has had a coverage grade over 80.0 three times throughout his six campaigns in the league. In fact, he’s only had a coverage grade lower than 65.0 once (2019). Despite a more average year in terms of grade in 2022, Johnson only allowed a 57.9% reception rate with the Browns.

While all of this makes sense for the Jets, what Spielberger didn’t say was that any big addition at safety would also mean Jordan Whitehead’s release.

Jets Don’t Have Cap Space to Upgrade Safety & Keep Jordan Whitehead

Unfortunately, the Jets don’t have the money to sign Johnson and keep Whitehead. After the Clark trade, keeping all three starters wouldn’t really add up either. That means Whitehead would be a likely cap casualty if they deem Johnson as an upgrade.

According to Over the Cap, Gang Green currently has just over $7.6 million in available cap space. That number includes Rodgers, Turner and Cobb, but it doesn’t include some of the top draft picks of the 2023 class (Will McDonald IV and Joe Tippmann among others) or Woods.

The Jets also have other matters to attend to, like a Quinnen Williams extension — which could either be more or less expensive than his current $9.594 million cap hit depending on how they structure the deal.

Based on all that, Douglas cannot justify spending more money at the safety position. Plus, Whitehead’s 2022 two-year contract came with a clear “out” after his first campaign: The Jets can save $7.25 million out of his $10.232 million cap hit by releasing him at any time.

Coach Saleh has backed Whitehead publicly despite his inconsistent play — noting that he believes his starting strong safety will have a better season in 2023 — and while that’s always nice to hear, that doesn’t mean Douglas and the front office agree.

Johnson is the more experienced player and the better scheme fit next to Clark. Because of that, this free agency swap is certainly worth considering as the Jets continue to go all-in with Rodgers under center.

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