Heading into the new league year, there's no question that Trumaine Johnson will not be with the team. The high-priced veteran is a lock to be released due to his $15 million cap hit; the third highest on the team.
However, there are two other cornerbacks whose status is less certain, especially in light of how their contracts are structured.
Darryl Roberts, who spent much of the season as the de facto number one cornerback is due to receive a salary of $5 million in 2020, which becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the new league year in March. Currently, only $2 million of that sum is guaranteed and for injury only, which means the Jets can potentially release him before that fifth day deadline and owe him nothing. Roberts can also earn up to $1 million on top of that in pre-game roster bonuses, which due to a quirk in the rules surrounding the final year of a collective bargaining agreement will all count against the cap in 2020, even if he ends up not earning them.
Nate Hairston's contract also makes him a candidate to be released due to the fact he met the conditions for the proven performance escalator, which increases his 2020 salary from the minimum to the level of the lowest RFA tender; projected at just over $2.1 million.
That money isn't guaranteed, but if Hairston was to get injured and end up on injured reserve, the Jets could end up on the hook for all of it and may not be prepared to risk that for a player who might not be in their plans.
During the 2019 season, Roberts started 10 games, racked up 63 tackles and six passes defensed and intercepted one pass. Hairston, who also had one interception, started six games and had 24 tackles and three passes defensed.
In each case, that doesn't tell the full story though. Roberts was benched, had some injury issues and was reportedly fined by the team, having also been disciplined at the end of the 2018 season. Tellingly, when the Jets had injuries in the secondary late in the season, they employed Roberts as a safety, even though they had other personnel they could have used there. This perhaps suggests he is no longer in the team's plans at the cornerback position.
As for Hairston, he was also benched due to poor performance and was a healthy scratch for a few weeks before returning late in the year. He also struggled on special teams.
It seems most likely that the Jets will part ways with Roberts and the likelihood of him being traded with those pending guarantees is very slim. He could potentially stick around if he takes a pay cut, but it might be better for both parties if he gets released so he can undertake an opportunity elsewhere.
Hairston failed to impress last season, although we suspect Gregg Williams was forced to have to play more zone than he would ideally like to and that's not Hairston's strong suit.
If Williams can get the personnel to run a more man-based system, then perhaps the Jets will be prepared to keep Hairston around and let him compete for a role, especially since they might be reluctant to admit failure having surrendered a sixth-round pick to acquire Hairston last August.
The knock-on effect, of course, is that this might impact upon the effectiveness of Arthur Maulet, Blessuan Austin and Maurice Canady who each held up well most of the time when the Jets were playing a zone-heavy cover two based system.
What do you think the Jets will do? And what should they do?