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Jets improve by signing younger free agents Johnson, Williamson

The Jets made a major upgrade at cornerback

The Jets made a major upgrade at cornerback by signing former Ram Trumaine Johnson. Credit: AP / Paul Spinelli

When you begin rebuilding any football team, acquiring young, talented players is at the forefront. The Jets accomplished this, signing five players on Wednesday who could become starters in 2018.

At the top of the list of free-agent signings is cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who is expected to sign a five-year, $72.5-million deal with $34 million in guarantees, according to sources. Johnson, is 28, the same age as the man he replaced, Morris Claiborne.

Johnson, who was franchised the last two seasons by the Rams, is considered one of the best at his position, and unlike Claiborne, he doesn’t have health issues. Claiborne played in 15 games last season for the first time since his rookie year, 2012. But Claiborne dealt with a sore foot for the second half of the season, which caused him to miss one game. Johnson played every game last season, and since the two entered the league in 2012, Johnson participated in 85 games while Claiborne played in 62.

Youth was also a factor at two positions — inside linebacker and running back.

The Jets’ new starting inside linebacker, Avery Williamson, signed a three-year, $22.5-million deal with $16 million in guarantees. He turned 26 March 9. Demario Davis, the Jets’ leading tackler last season, whom Williamson replaced, is 29.

An AFC scout said of Williamson: “Good football player, competitive and physical, better run player than in coverage. Very nice kid, very humble.”

Here’s an NFC personnel executive’s take on Williamson: “Solid starter, not a lot of flash.”

The Jets valued Davis but decided that getting a younger version would benefit them. Davis’ representatives at CAA Sports announced he signed a three-year deal worth $24 million, with $18 million in guarantees, with the Saints on Wednesday.

Running back Isaiah Crowell, 25, comes to the Jets significantly younger than their 2017 leading rusher, Bilal Powell, who is 29. Crowell signed a three-year, $12-million deal with $6 million in guarantees. He comes off a season in which he had a career-high 206 carries for the Browns.

Matt Forte, the projected starter for the Jets in 2017, retired at 32 with one year left on his contract. Forte had said when running backs turn 30, the theory is they go downhill. Powell turns 30 Oct. 27.

Last season, the Jets rotated their running backs under coordinator John Morton. New offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates might do the same, and if so, he’ll have two young ones in Elijah McGuire, 23, and Crowell.

The Jets will have Josh McCown as their starting quarterback for a second consecutive season, but he will be 39 when training camp starts in late July. His backup is 25-year-old Teddy Bridgewater.

McCown signed a one-year, $10-million deal Wednesday. Bridgewater missed almost all of the past two seasons with the Vikings while recovering from a severe knee injury. He is expected to sign a one-year deal that could total $15 million if certain incentives are met.

The Jets are pushing for talented, young players, and Bridgewater fits this role better than Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg, the other backup quarterbacks.

One of the last deals the Jets finalized Wednesday involved center Spencer Long, 27, who left the Redskins. Terms were not available, but the Jets wanted to improve at center, where Wesley Johnson played for 15 games.

More signings could occur, but the Jets already have accomplished some goals of getting younger talent.

New York Sports