FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- As the final weeks of the 2018 season unfold, the New York Jets' front office already is on to 2019 free agency, setting up its value board. Most of the external speculation has focused on potential targets around the league (Le'Veon Bell, anyone?), but the Jets have a lot of work to do in their own building.
Nearly half the team -- 23 of 60 players, counting injured reserve -- is poised to hit unrestricted free agency. That's a big number, even in today's revolving-door NFL, and it includes a dozen starters and former starters. The most important player, the guy who should be at the top of their must-keep list, is wide receiver Quincy Enunwa.
He will be only 27 next season and, although his production is down, his best years are ahead of him. In a new offense, one that allows him to be more than Mr. Bubble Screen, Enunwa could be a consistent 1,000-yard receiver. The smart play would be to lock him up with a long-term contract.
Enunwa admitted this season has been "hard" and "frustrating" because of his modest numbers -- a team-high 38 catches, 441 yards and one touchdown -- but he doesn't want to go anywhere. Imagine that: a talented player who wants to sign up for more with the Jets.
"Of course you want to stay in the same spot," he said. "You get to a position like this, where you've been in the same spot for five years, and the last thing you want to do is uproot everything you've kind of built. Regardless of whatever thoughts you're having here, you don't know what the problems are in the next place. You know what I mean?
"The type of negative things that people think about, you have to think about as well. But on the positive side, I've grown to love and appreciate it here, especially the fan base. It would be hard to go somewhere else."
Money talks, and it talks loudly in free agency.
It's not a great free-agent class of receivers, so Enunwa would draw considerable interest if he gets to the open market in March. Based on the most recent contracts for players with his experience and production, he's probably looking at an average annual salary in the $7 million-to-$9 million range. There have been preliminary talks, but it will be tough to do a deal until the uncertainty hovering over the organization is resolved.
Enunwa would be in a better bargaining position if he had maintained his hot September, but he lost two games to an ankle injury and disappeared for stretches as the offense endured one of the worst funks in team history. The Jets scored as many touchdowns Sunday (three) as they did in the previous five games.
He'd also benefit from creative playcalling. It's pretty predictable under offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who deploys Enunwa as the short guy and Robby Anderson as the deep guy.
Enunwa has the speed and receiving skills to be a vertical threat, but he's averaging only 7.07 yards per target, which ranks 75th out of 86 qualified wide receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Anderson is second in the league at 16.77 yards per target. In fact, Enunwa is one of only six wideouts who averages more yardage after the catch (7.37) than on his actual route.
Explaining his impressive YAC number, Enunwa said it's because "the way I've kind of been used since I've been here -- a lot of short stuff. So my goal is to make things go further. Plus, it gives the team a little spark."
Sam Darnold's inexperience at quarterback has hampered the offense, creating a trickle-down effect on various players. Because of that and other reasons, no player is having a career year on offense.
"There are times when it can get frustrating," Enunwa said. "Obviously, it's hard. That's why you see a lot of guys become selfish, because of that. It's tough. Luckily, my approach is that I don't let it affect my game. I just continue to put wins on film. ... Whether the team is seeing it, or other teams are seeing it, however it goes, all that stuff will play out on its own."
After Enunwa, there's a drop-off to the next tier of free agents on the roster. Cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive end Henry Anderson and corner/safety Darryl Roberts are worth trying to re-sign, along with kicker Jason Myers and returner Andre Roberts.