Veteran All-Pro pass rusher J.J. Watt likely won’t land with the Jets or Giants this offseason, but his recent free-agent stance certainly can send a reminder to both teams about their approach to fill some holes.
Despite having his last two years wracked with injuries, the 31-year-old Watt could provide with the type of leader they have been missing, notably on the front line filling the role envisioned for current Giant Leonard Williams.
The Jets would have the cap resources to satisfy Watt, who will be seeking a pact in the range of anywhere from $12 to 17 million annually. GM Joe Douglas has the league second-largest cap space available with just over $72 million.
The question is whether or not he is a good overall fit for a club in the rebuilding phase with new head coach Robert Saleh and a slew of draft picks.
One of the main priorities will be to sign free agent safety Marcus Maye, who emerged as an anchor on defense, as well as shop the cornerback market for some help.
The Jets have plenty of holes, and they still have to decide in what direction to go with the second overall pick, deciding the fate of quarterback Sam Darnold.
If Watt is still available in a month –unlikely as he will probably sign with a playoff contender and the Brady Bunch will grow in Tampa — Douglas should make him a reasonable and conservative offer laced with incentives to provide a veteran presence.
Saleh is likely to reach out to some ex-49ers from San Francisco’s long free-agent list — don;t be surprised if Richard Sherman is a Jet — to help smooth the transition.
As for the Giants, their pursuit would be an interesting and tricky one.
The Giants currently only have roughly $2 million of cap space available due to the size of some lengthy contracts.
They also are faced with the task of resigning Williams, who had a banner year with 11.5 sacks and surfaced as the player the Jets imagined a few years ago.
Williams played under a franchise tag in 2021 and the Giants could place the tag on him next season. However, they would be better off signing him tio a multi-year deal.
The Williams derby will intensify over the next month, and the Giants will be faced with an economical issue whether or not to make the investment.
There also is the case of fellow free agent defensive tackle Delvin Tomlinson, who also materialized as an integral part of the team’s new-found defense. In addition, a decision must be made on running back Wayne Gallman, who finally reached the potential the Giants believed he had.
In order to keep one or both, Giants GM Dave Gettleman will need to shed salary, and the probable candidates will include tackle Nate Solder ($9 million), wide receiver Golden Tate ($8.5), and guard Kevin Zeitler ($8.5), all of whom would free a significant amount. Zeitler has been a steady contributor, but Shane Lemeiux appears ready to fill his role after a strong rookie campaign.
There are others like wide receiver Corey Care, linebacker David Mayo, and cornerback Sam Beal, who can be the lesser hits that can add to the larger prize.
If the Giants either decide Williams’ price is too high or lose his services to another bidder, they can opt to keep Tomlinson and possibly coerce Watt to take a modest package.
In all likelihood, Watt will sign with a team where he can play a supporting role instead of a lead one. Yet, he does have a lot left in his tank, and he can be a force for the Jets or Giants — for the right price.
However, his availability serves as a reminder for what lies ahead for both the Jets and Giants.