The Jets will land the most prominent free agent cornerback available this year — Trumaine Johnson, formerly of the Rams. This is a huge signing for general manager Mike Maccagnan, who entered free agency with $89.879 million in salary cap space to use (most in the league).
Now, the question becomes: Can Johnson transform the Jets’ sputtering secondary, while teaming up with the prodigious safety duo of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye? And will Johnson be worth the money the Jets are investing in him?
The #Jets are expected to sign CB Trumaine Johnson to a deal worth roughly $15M per year, source said.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 13, 2018
Earlier Tuesday, the Jets re-signed quarterback Josh McCown and signed ex-Browns running back Isaiah Crowell. But Johnson’s signing is a bigger move than either of those two. With the Johnson signing, Maccagnan really got a chance to flex his cap space muscles.
Johnson and Crowell will be able to sign with the Jets at 4 p.m. Wednesday, with the NFL‘s free agency signing period begins.
Johnson immediately gives the Jets at a true No. 1 corner — a valuable asset in today’s NFL. The Jets’ outside corners last season were Morris Claiborne (who is now a free agent) and Buster Skrine (who is under contract for 2018, but is better in the slot).
If the Jets are able to re-sign Claiborne, they could move Skrine into his more natural slot role. If they can’t re-sign Claiborne, they’ll either be in need of another outside corner or a slot corner, if they want to keep Skrine outside, opposite Johnson.
The Jets could plug that hole with a player on their current roster, though, like Juston Burris, whom they drafted in 2016, a year before they took Adams and Maye in Rounds 1 and 2.
But what’s most important — for now, for the Jets — is that they were able to land Johnson, a highly coveted free agent. He is just 28 years old, with 18 career interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) and 67 passes defended.
He had spent his entire six-year career with the Rams. The Jets’ current secondary coach, Dennard Wilson, was the Rams’ defensive backs coach from 2015-16. Johnson had his best season in 2015 — seven interceptions.
Though Adams and Maye acquitted themselves well in 2017 — and look like they have a long-term future with the Jets — the team’s cornerback play was just OK, as Skrine remained penalty prone.
All told, the Jets’ secondary didn’t put up great numbers last year. The Jets tied for 20th in the league with 11 interceptions. They allowed the league’s 14th-highest quarterback rating, 90.1, which is just OK, but not great.
Ultimately, they needed to be more disruptive in their secondary. And they needed a cornerback like Johnson who could use his size (6-foot-1 and 205 pounds) to shut down elite opposing receivers in press man-to-man coverage — which is what coach Todd Bowles wants.
Now, let’s see if Johnson can deliver on the Jets’ expectations and help boost a critical area of their defense.