It has seemed impossible filling all of the holes on the Jets roster after the 2020 season. After coming off a 2-14 year, the club still has a need at cornerback, but there aren’t many options.
The Gang Green cornerback room currently has: Bryce Hall, Lamar Jackson, Javelin Guidry, Bless Austin, Isaiah Dunn, Brandin Echols, Jason Pinnock, Corey Ballentine, Justin Hardee, Zane Lewis and Michael Carter II.
That’s an inexperienced group. Other than Hardee, none of those cornerbacks have been in the NFL longer than three years. And only Austin has double digit starts (16).
The questions are justified as the group is a clear weak point on the defense and head coach Robert Saleh knows it.
“There’s a lot of work to be had obviously,” Saleh said. “They’re young, they’ve got great mental demeanor, they’ve got great content, they want to learn, they want to do good.”
The best bet, and main option, is to ride with the young players and develop them. There will be some rough moments because they’re raw and inexperienced, but the Jets can hope a few will turn into quality starters.
There’s also been discussions about the Jets bringing in a veteran to improve the position. But Saleh thought that would impede the development of the young players.
“We’ve got a lot of time,” Saleh said. “The easy answer right now is to bring in a veteran, but a veteran will probably just eat up reps and not give us an ability to look at all these young guys who are just starving for an opportunity. And we’ve got time and we’ve got a lot of opportunities for them to showcase who they are and what they’re capable of. On the coaching side we’ve got a lot of time to help these young men get better.”
When asked specifically about bringing in a veteran, Saleh didn’t completely dismiss it: “Right now, the focus completely is on the guys we have. We’re excited about the group that we have, we really are, and we’re excited to work with them. We’ll cross that bridge with progressive veterans when, when we get to that bridge but right now the sole focus is just on our guys.”
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Here’s the issue: there aren’t any realistic free agent veteran options that will significantly improve the group. The one name that surfaces is Richard Sherman, but the pairing is unlikely since Sherman wants to play only two more seasons and wants to be on a title contender. The Jets aren’t in that realm yet.
The other available options are Steven Nelson, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Gareon Conley, Bashaud Breeland, Darqueze Dennard and D.J.Hayden. Those choices aren’t making a significant contribution on the field. None of them have made a Pro Bowl, but they can be solid (so can some of the youngsters, it just won’t be as soon). And they’ll be able to provide some veteran leadership and experience to teach the young corners on the roster how to be NFL corners.
The Jets chose not to draft a cornerback earlier in the draft because they were focused on adding offensive talent to build around their franchise quarterback Zach Wilson. They also didn’t address the cornerback spot during free agency. They spent money on the defensive line because a strong defensive line will be the staple of their 4-3 attacking scheme.
The Jets probably will add a veteran cornerback eventually, because it’ll help the maturation process for their young players. But there aren’t many options that will significantly improve the group.