The Jets’ biggest free-agent signing wasn’t a quarterback, which didn’t please their many quarterback-starved fans. It was a cornerback, Trumaine Johnson, who signed a five-year, $72.5-million deal, with $34 million guaranteed.
Johnson, after being franchised the previous two seasons by the Rams, hit free agency looking for the right fit on the field and a lucrative contract. He got both. He can play man-to-man in the Jets’ 3-4 scheme, and he signed one of the biggest deals among defensive players on the market.
“I’m a game-changer. I’m a playmaker,” Johnson said in a conference call Thursday. “I bring leadership to the team. I’m big, I’m fast. I used to be a receiver, if you go back to college, so my hands have always been a strength for me.”
The Jets hope this investment pans out, because the last time they spent big money on a cornerback, it didn’t work. In 2015, they brought back Darrelle Revis, signing him to a five-year, $70-million deal with $39 million guaranteed. Revis lasted only two seasons, though. He was let go because he had lost a step and the Jets decided to get younger at the position.
The Jets signed Morris Claiborne to a one-year deal as a replacement last season, and he played well. Claiborne returned for 2018, signing another one-year contract, and with Johnson, the Jets have the makings of a pretty good secondary. The anchors are second-year safeties Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams. Both players reached out to Johnson via social media in an attempt to convince him to sign.
Johnson will start alongside Claiborne, with Buster Skrine moving to the slot. Asked if the Jets will have the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Johnson said, “Why not? I’m going to hold him accountable and I know he’s going to hold me accountable.”
Johnson had 18 interceptions in six seasons with the Rams. His best year was 2015, when he had career highs in interceptions (seven) and pass breakups (17). In the last three seasons, he had 67 pass breakups.
It was somewhat surprising that he would join a team coming off consecutive 5-11 seasons, but Johnson likes the Jets’ defensive scheme and has a relationship with Jets defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson. He coached Johnson for two seasons with the Rams.
“Why not join the Jets?” Johnson said. “They’re a good team. I just want to compete at the highest level and help this team win. It’s my first time going through this free-agency process, and it’s been nothing but a blessing for myself and my family.”