San Francisco went into frigid Lambeau Field and beat Green Bay with stellar special teams play, and by doing so perhaps provided a blueprint this offseason for the Jets.
While the emphasis is to jump on the top-rated available skill position players in the off-season, what if the Jets expanded their focus? What if the team also made a concerted effort to get better on special teams?
Improving on special teams provides a distinct game day advantage, and it can be done at minimal cost. Better special teams would equal better starting field position for the Jets’ offense and adversely, worse starting field position for the opponents’ offense. Less plays for the offense means less plays to score and it means more plays for the other team to put points on the board. Mathematically, this would put the Jets in better position to win more.
Before the Jets look outside of their own roster for help on special teams, they need to begin by re-signing of their own, wide receiver/returner Braxton Berrios. Pro Bowl Alternate Berrios led the league with the highest kickoff return average (30.4) and second highest punt return average (13.4). Recently, Rich Gosselin’s 2021 special teams’ rankings came out and coincidentally, the Jets kickoff return unit was rated first and their punt return unit was ranked second.
Berrios is projected to only command around two or three million dollars per year, which is nothing by NFL standards.
New York can also help themselves by jumping on the phone on March 16 at 4:00 p.m. EST sharp and make Atlanta's 27-year-old Younghoe Koo the top-paid kicker in the NFL.
Currently, the top-paid is Baltimore’s Justin Tucker at $3.5 million dollar per year. In 2020, Koo was lethal from long range, hitting 16 field goals from 40+ and he went 8-for-8 on kicks of 50-plus yards. He followed that up in 2021 by even being suggested as a possible team MVP and he ranked third in the NFL hitting 93.1% of his attempts.
The Jets, who have had seven kickers since 2019 and three alone in 2021, need to solve their kicking problem and Koo would check that long term box for them.
Another move that could improve the Jets’ special teams is trading for Raiders’ punter, A.J. Cole. Cole is an elite punter with a cannon (50-yard average). He is currently in Las Vegas on a four-year, $12 million dollar deal that is set to expire after the 2025 season.
The Jets' punter Branden Mann was rated 21st in the league averaging 45.7 yards per punt. While that does not sound like much of a difference, football is a game of inches, and every inch counts. Cole can also aim his punts better than Mann. Cole’s inside-the-20 average was at 42.4% of the time, while Mann was at 34.1% percent (teamrankings.com).
The last trade for a punter was this past season when the Rams’ traded punter Corey Bororquez to the Packers, in exchange for sixth and seventh round picks in 2023. In 2015, Cleveland dealt a seventh round pick in exchange for punter, Andy Lee. It does not take much to trade for a punter.
Nobody cares much about the kicker or punter, until they jog out onto the field and the team needs them to come through.
Case in point, look at the 49ers' with kicker Robbie Gould. The chance to go to the NFC Championship Game hung in the balance and it all came down to Gould kicking a 45-yarder on what amounted to an ice skating rink.
Additionally, there are other lesser known free agents who will be available who can improve the Jets’ special teams. These are back-ups who consistently make high-impact, difference making plays on the coverage, return and field goal units. These low-cost special teams contributors show up on game film and double as reserve defensive linemen, linebackers, safeties, cornerbacks, wide receivers, tight-ends and running backs. They can make a world of difference, just like 49ers’ back-up defensive end Jordan Willis made against the Packers Saturday night.
Willis burst through the line and blocked a punt late in the 4th quarter, which was then scooped up by a teammate for a game saving touchdown.
Willis, who used to play for the Jets, is on a one-year deal with San Francisco for $990,000. He is yet another classic example of a lesser known special teams back-up type who came up big when his team needed it the most.
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