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Jets, Joe Douglas need to get 2024 right — but can’t sacrifice the future

NFL free agency is going to be a big deal. The question for Jets fans is how much noise general manager Joe Douglas will make.

The scouting combine will be held in Indianapolis next week, and that’s when the NFL gets even more exciting. With free agency arriving in three weeks, the Jets have a hole to fill, but it will be interesting to see how aggressive Douglas is.

Douglas and coach Robert Saleh are the biggest draw and need to be all-in for 2024. We don’t need to talk about growth or being a young team anymore. Is this season a playoff or bust? Team owner Woody Johnson said the same thing a few days before the Super Bowl.

New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas attends a press conference to introduce Aaron Rodgers as the New York Jets’ new quarterback at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on April 26, 2023. Getty Images

But the Jets have some interesting economics that not many people talk about. Douglas made a big splash in the 2022 draft, taking Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Jermaine Johnson, and Breece Hall with the first four picks. If the Jets can pay them, these four players could be the core of the team for years to come.

All of these players are eligible for contract extensions after the 2024 season. The CBA states that players on rookie contracts cannot be extended until after their third season. This means the deadline to claim players acquired in 2022 is approaching. The only downside to acquiring a draft class is that there are several big contracts looming.

Douglas will need to keep this in mind as he negotiates this year’s free agent class. While fans and media will be focused on the salary cap space he has in 2024, Douglas also needs to leave some room for extensions in 2025 and 2026.

Some may argue that there’s nothing to worry about after this year because their job is on the line, but that’s not how NFL front offices work. Douglas and his staff need to consider what will happen over the next few years.

Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson (17) practices in Florham Park, New Jersey. Bill Kostron/New York Post

The Jets may be able to hold off on contract extensions for Johnson and Hall. Johnson arrived in 2023, but still needs a few seasons under his belt, and the Jets can exercise his fifth-year option next year to keep Johnson under contract through 2026.

Hall is a running back. If you’ve been following the Giants and Saquon Barkley, you know that running backs rarely get the contracts they want. The Jets could hold off Hall until 2026, but there’s some risk since the second-round pick is set to become a free agent that year.

As for Gardner and Wilson, the Jets should pay them next year and get them early before the prices at those positions get even higher. I think it’s clear through the first two seasons that these two are keepers and guys that you want to be in your organization for a long, long time.

Jets general manager Joe Douglas will need to plan for a potentially lucrative contract extension with Sauce Gardner. Diamond Images/Getty Images

Neither player will come cheap, so Douglas will need to think about how much money he wants to spend over the next few weeks and plan for it.

This situation further highlights how disappointing the 2023 season and Aaron Rodgers’ injury were. The Jets basically wasted a year on a rookie contract for the 2022 draft class. Gardner and Wilson made $870,000 last season, but that skyrocketing amount won’t last long. They will have one more year of work in 2024, but the two will aim for raises in 2025.

The contracts Gardner and Wilson, and possibly Hall and Johnson, seek in 2025 are the backdrop for the team’s 2024 free agency.

Douglas may have to get creative with the deals he signs in free agency this year, as contract extensions for young star players are not far away.

The pressure is on Douglas to get it right in 2024. But in the process, we cannot ruin what happens after 2025.

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