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Jets Combine Notebook: Franchise Tags, Rookie Contracts?

The New York Jets have a specific plan they want to accomplish through the 2024 offseason according to their general manager.
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Tampering charges, executive changes, and offensive line questions. 

It never seems to end with the New York Jets.

General manager Joe Douglas faced the media at the 2024 Scouting Combine with plenty of major issues surrounding the team as the start of the offseason begins. 

We'll go through some of the biggest notes from Wednesday's afternoon media session here.

Joe Douglas (l) and Woody Johnson (r)

Bryce Huff Negotiations

The biggest order of business for the Jets this offseason will be to determine what to do with the pending free agency of top pass rusher Bryce Huff. 

While New York is open to continuing negotiations with the 25-year-old edge rusher, Douglas made clear that the franchise tag was not an option to keep the former undrafted with Gang Green.

"Those conversations are going to pick up as we get going here," Douglas explained. "This is a big week. Just to have a lot of different discussions, with a lot of different agents... He definitely deserves this opportunity to see where he is in the open market. 

Recent reports have estimated Huff could see a contract close to $14 million annually with a new deal despite the edge rusher looking for a deal worth over $20 million per year.

Alijah Vera-Tucker, Offensive Line Roster Decisions

If Huff's potential contract is the top focus for the Jets, then solving their offensive line troubles will be next. 

With the release of guard Laken Tomlinson, New York will now need to potentially have three new starters instead of just two tackles. Douglas called the release that saved $8 million in cap space the "best interest of our team, financially."

Despite the clear needs at the position, Douglas has not panicked regarding finding solutions along the offensive line. The reason? Right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker's versatility as a potential option at right tackle has allowed the Jets to be more fluid and aggressive with solutions to the rest of the line. 

OL Alijah Vera-Tucker speaks at Jets' Training Camp

"We're in a really good situation because, particularly of the flexibility that AVT provides us," Douglas explained. "We don't have any decision on exactly where he's going to line up, but his ability to play four different spots and play four different spots well gives us a lot of flexibility moving forward on our roster building and our o-line building."

New York has a decision to make regarding AVT as well, though. Entering his fourth year with the franchise, the Jets need to decide if they will place the fifth-year rookie option on him. If they do not, Vera-Tucker could enter free agency following the 2024 season. 

If the Jets were to put the fifth-year tag on him, Vera-Tucker would carry a cap hit of over $15 million. It's not a simple decision, though. AVT has had season-ending surgery on his Achilles in two consecutive years and would need to perform at a high level consistently this season to warrant the large cap hit. 

Was Rex Hogan The Offseason Front Office Leak?

There was concern that several front office leaks over the last few months have been courtesy of former assistant general manager Rex Hogan. 

That may not be the case at least with Douglas.

"The discussion with him is that there's going to be opportunities for him moving forward to explore those opportunities, and I'm going to do everything I can to help him reach those opportunities," Douglas explained regarding Hogan.

Director of Player Personnel Chad Alexander also left for a promotion with the Los Angeles Chargers - a point of emphasis from Douglas when discussing finding new people for open positions. 

"One thing in my time coming up in Baltimore, you always want to develop from within, so if guys get opportunities, you want to be able to have groomed the right people from within the building, instead of having to go outside the building, and we have a lot of good people in our building."

Off-Field Player Comments

While Douglas did not openly state he hoped the NFL investigated the Kansas City Chiefs for tampering charges, he certainly implied that the organization was aware of recent comments made. 

Former Jets wide receiver Mecole Hardman said on the Pivot Podcast with Ryan Clark that he told the Chiefs to "come get him" while he was still employed by New York - a clear sign of tampering in today's NFL. 

Douglas said the comments by Hardman "resonated" with the team despite things "not working out" during the deep threat's six games with the club. 

It wasn't just Hardman who made jokes at the Jets' expense this week, though. 

Buffalo Bills tackle Dion Dawkins went on Vlad TV this week and chided the Jets' defense for trying to be "cool" and more focused on taking Instagram photos than actually winning games. 

Douglas, much like with Hardman, chose to look the other way while looking inward toward his organization. 

"Respect has to be earned, it has to be taken. There is really nothing to say, words are meaningless. Well done is better than well said. We obviously have to earn people's respect."

"Must-Win" Expectations?

Jets owner Woody Johnson has not shied away from his belief that the 2024 season is a must-win year for both Douglas and Jets head coach Robert Saleh. 

After two straight 7-10 finishes and an eighth straight below .500 season, New York needs to show results on the field, or major changes could be coming next offseason.

That fact hasn't been lost on Douglas, and he's prepared to do what is necessary to take that next step. 

"I mirror the frustration that Woody has," Douglas explained. "Woody and I talk every day, just about every day and so we’re certainly on the same page. Again, I like the position we're in. There's a lot of talent coming back to this team, we have to add more to it. We know exactly what we have to do moving forward."

To move forward, the offensive line will need to be addressed, as well as the receiver position and backup quarterback. With so many moves still to make, this could be one of the busiest offseasons in Jets history. 

And the one that Douglas will want to ace if he wants to keep his job.