The Jets have something on their offseason to-do list that has not been there in a while. With safety Marcus Maye about to hit free agency, the Jets have a high-profile player they need to re-sign or use the franchise tag on.
Maye, who will turn 28 next month, was the Jets’ MVP in 2020 and one of their few impact players had on defense. This is the first time since Muhammad Wilkerson in 2016 that the Jets have had one of their top players about to hit the open market. It is an indication of how poorly they have drafted in the last decade and also a result of trading away other top talent such as Jamal Adams, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams, rather than giving them long-term contracts.
Maye has said he wants to stay with the Jets and last month, general manager Joe Douglas called re-signing him a priority. The two sides could reach a deal before free agency begins on March 17 or Douglas could use the franchise tag on him.
The window to tag players opened on Tuesday and runs through March 9. The salary cap is not set yet, so the exact franchise tag number is unknown, but Over The Cap estimates the tag for safeties will be $11.2 million. That would be a reasonable number for Maye, who was rated the fifth best safety in the NFL last year by PFF.
It is also a number the Jets can afford. They are projected to have close to $70 million in salary cap space and that number could increase with a few cuts.
If Douglas does apply the tag to Maye, the two sides would have until July 15 to work out a long-term contract or Maye would play the 2021 season on the tag. The Jets have not used the franchise tag since 2016, when they used it on Wilkerson before he signed a long-term contract in July.
While tagging Maye would be a short-term solution, the goal should still be to sign him long-term. Douglas could send a message to the locker room that the Jets will take care of their players who play well and handle themselves like professionals off the field. The Jets have done a terrible job procuring talent and then they have let some of the good players they have found walk out the door. Allowing Robby Anderson to walk as a free agent last year was a mistake, Douglas has admitted. At least in the case of Adams, Williams and Richardson, the team got something in trades for them.
Maye established himself as one of the Jets’ top players last season, with Adams no longer by his side. He moved between strong and free safety, and played well at both spots. He also emerged as a leader in the locker room. His comments after the loss to the Raiders that put the blame for the last-second loss on the coaches and not rookie cornerback Lamar Jackson, who was beaten for the winning touchdown by Henry Ruggs, resonated with the organization. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was fired the next day.
“I know Joe holds [Maye] in very high regard,” new Jets coach Robert Saleh said at his introductory press conference last month. “I know he’s got a tremendous reputation in the locker room and so being able to get on the tape and just study him and see how he fits and where. From my understanding, he’s a very, very, very talented young man. And within our scheme, safeties are, obviously they’re important to everybody, but with how we do things, it sounds like he’d be a very versatile piece.”
Exactly what kind of long-term contract Maye is seeking is unknown. The top safeties are all averaging more than $14 million per season. The Cardinals’ Budda Baker has the top contract, at $14.75 million per year. Maye probably won’t reset the market, but he should be in the $13 million-$14 million a year neighborhood. He might even reach $15 million if someone like the Broncos’ Justin Simmons gets a new deal this offseason and resets the safety market, or if the Seahawks extend his old friend, Adams, and push the number up for safeties.
“Obviously, I love it here. I’m comfortable here,” Maye said at the end of last season. “But that decision is not up to me. I can only control what I can control.”