In 2015, the last time the Jets had boatloads of cash to spend on free agents, they gave a huge contract to bring back a possible first-ballot Hall of Famer and made two other big deals for questionable talent.
This time the Jets have a projected $90 million in salary-cap space. Unlike last time, their No. 1 target isn’t a cornerback; it’s a quarterback who didn’t feel wanted by his previous employer.
The Jets enter free agency in need of a quarterback (what else is new?), and they want Kirk Cousins, who is thought to be at the top of their list. Cousins is expected to seek a contract with an average value of $30 million to $35 million per season.
Cousins, 29, is being sought after by several quarterback-needy teams, including the Vikings, who are NFL title contender-worthy. The Jets are not even playoff contender-worthy without a new quarterback, but if they sign Cousins, they will get closer.
“It’s hard to get good ones,” said Chris Cooley, Cousins’ former teammate with the Redskins. “He’s the best player on the market; he’s the most intriguing player on the market by far. He’s the person that everyone is most interested in seeing what he’s going to do.”
Cooley may be biased because he considers Cousins a friend, but the quarterback’s numbers don’t lie. In the last three seasons, he has completed 67 percent of his passes, averaged 4,392 yards a season and led 11 game-winning drives. His 24-23-1 record isn’t spectacular, but the Jets will take it.
“Not everybody needs to be a star-studded player,” coach Todd Bowles said. “You have to get the pieces you need for your team. If it works out price-wise and everything else, you get some good ones.”
The Jets will make a competitive bid for Cousins and expect to get a visit from him, but they don’t want a repeat of 2015.
The Jets had $50 million in cap space that year and guaranteed $79.5 million among five free agents.
Headlining that group was cornerback Darrelle Revis, who signed a five-year, $70-million deal with $39 million guaranteed. The Jets also gave Antonio Cromartie a four-year, $32-million contract with $5 million guaranteed, a questionable signing for an aging cornerback. And they re-signed linebacker David Harris to a three-year, $21.5-million deal with $15 million guaranteed.
Cromartie lasted one year, Harris and Revis were gone after two, and all that’s left from that major 2015 signing spree is James Carpenter and Buster Skrine.
What did the Jets get for their signings? Finishes of 10-6 and 5-11. They fell just short of the playoffs in 2015 when they lost to the Bills in the regular-season finale.
Getting Cousins and maybe upgrading the center and cornerback positions in free agency might push the Jets into playoff contention, something Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan need as they enter their fourth year together.
“I think we’re going to be very active in free agency,” Maccagnan said. “Everybody is aware we have quite a bit of cap space to work with. There are quite a few players we’re interested in.”
Cousins and the Redskins failed to reach a contract agreement in 2016. He was franchised the last two seasons, and when the Redskins traded for Alex Smith and didn’t franchise Cousins again, he tweeted that he finally was free.
Does it mean he’s coming to work in Florham Park on weekdays and in East Rutherford on home weekends?
“Someone is going to pay him this year a lot,” Cooley said. “The most any quarterback has ever seen, there’s no doubt about that. But it also depends on how your roster has been built, where you’re currently sitting [and] what your philosophy is going forward.”