Jets' roster upgrade came at a bargain, but will it work?

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Joe cap: Who would you rather have on your team, Laken Tomlinson and C.J. Uzomah or Tyron Smith, Morgan Moses, John Simpson, Mike Williams, Tyrod Taylor, Javon Kinlaw, Leki Fotu and Isaiah Oliver?

You'd take the latter, obviously -- the Jets' current free agent class.

Operating with a tighter budget than usual, general manager Joe Douglas has stretched his salary cap dollars a lot further than past offseasons. Take 2022, for instance. That year, he doled out $39 million in guarantees for Tomlinson and Uzomah, neither of whom lived up to their contracts. For roughly the same amount this year ($40.6 million), he landed four, possibly five starters and a legitimate backup quarterback.

At the start of free agency, a lot of people were wondering how he'd fill three starting positions along the offensive line. It took some creativity, but he acquired Smith, Moses and Simpson for only $12.5 million in guarantees and $17.4 million in cap dollars. Swinging the trade for Moses, who brought with him a team-friendly contract, was key.

"The offensive line should be a strength if everything falls into place," a longtime NFC personnel executive said.

No plan is perfect; this one has some downside. They sacrificed top pass-rusher Bryce Huff, who signed a three-year, $51 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, for a handful of one-year, stop-gap players with durability concerns, most notably Smith and Williams.

Smith, Williams and Kinlaw -- projected starters -- have missed a combined total of 83 games over the past four seasons. Taylor also has dealt with a number of injuries and Moses, the iron man of the class, is coming off surgery. For the team that was defined by injuries in 2023 -- see quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offensive line -- this is risky. It explains why such high-level performers were available at cut-rate prices.

Douglas had his reasons for this approach -- less cap space than previous years and the need to maintain flexibility for the near future. Cornerback Sauce Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson & Co. are eligible for new deals in 2025, and they will be costly.

2. Much-needed insurance: Taylor received a relatively large guarantee ($8.5 million), which shouldn't come as a surprise considering owner Woody Johnson's recent comments about the backup quarterback situation. The only backups who got more than Taylor were Gardner Minshew ($15 million) and Sam Darnold ($8.75 million), who could wind up as bridge starters for the Las Vegas Raiders and Minnesota Vikings, respectively.

After last season's backup mess, the Jets splurged. Said one former GM: "There's nothing worse than being in the press box and watching a mistake. It's like getting a paddling every week."

3. A $20 million bet on himself: All the Jets did to land Smith was basically give him the same contract he signed last year with the Dallas Cowboys, adding a little sweetener to the incentive package. And they're surprised he took it.

In Dallas, it was a renegotiated deal that was one year, $6 million, plus $9 million in playing-time incentives and another $2 million for playoff wins -- a max of $17 million.

With the Jets, it's one year for $6.5 million, plus $12 million in playing-time incentives, $2 million for playoff wins and $500,000 for the Pro Bowl -- a max of $20 million.

It's unusual for a player of Smith's stature -- a likely Pro Football Hall of Famer -- to have such an incentive-laden contract, but his age (33) and injury history (only 30 games played over the past four seasons) are responsible for the relatively low guarantee. No play, no pay.

"Honestly, I'm just excited just to be on a team, to be able to have the opportunity to continue playing," Smith said. "But, yes, the way my contract is, it speaks for what's been happening for the past couple of years. Honestly, I think it's a fair deal."

Smith played in 71% of the offensive snaps last season. If he duplicates that, he will trigger a $5.75 million bonus, based on the incentive package in his contract. To max out at $12 million, he needs 98%.

Quite literally, every snap has value. It could lead to delicate decisions for the coaching staff. If the Jets are involved in a blowout, and they pull Smith to rest him, it could cost him big bucks.

4. Hello, stranger: The NFL owners' meetings begin Sunday in Orlando, Florida, and AFC coaches will be available Monday morning. Jets coach Robert Saleh has been uncharacteristically quiet this offseason, and this will be the first time he meets with the media since the season ended.

5. Moses on the mend: Moses revealed to New York-area reporters that he tore a pectoral muscle in Week 4 and underwent surgery six weeks ago. Remarkably, he played through the injury, although he did miss three games with what the Baltimore Ravens termed a "shoulder" injury. This also explains why he was used in a rotation late in the season.

Moses, 33, who has missed only three games since his rookie year (2014), said he will "100%" be ready for training camp.

6. Mike (doesn't) drop: Rodgers will appreciate that Williams has gone 15 straight games without a dropped pass, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That covers 115 targets.

7. Plenty of YAC: Like any team that employs a West Coast-style offense, the Jets count on their receivers to make yards after the catch, which is why Georgia tight end Brock Bowers will be a consideration with the 10th overall pick.

In 2023, Bowers averaged more YAC per reception (8.8) than the top three receivers in the draft -- Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr. (6.3), LSU's Malik Nabers (6.7) and Washington's Rome Odunze (5.7).

The decision likely will come down to Bowers versus the best-available offensive tackle. It's a fascinating debate. They could use another tackle, but we've seen how a dynamic tight end can change the complexion of an offense. Just Google Travis Kelce and George Kittle highlights.

8. Free Zach? The potential landing spots for quarterback Zach Wilson are dwindling. The only team with a viable QB2 opening is the Kansas City Chiefs, who have Chris Oladokun and Ian Book backing up Patrick Mahomes. (They might be waiting on Blaine Gabbert to re-sign). Maybe Wilson can snag a QB3 position somewhere. As of Friday, nine teams had only two quarterbacks.

Wilson has permission to speak to teams about a trade, but his salary (a guaranteed $5.5 million) is a deterrent, not to mention his checkered body of work. He's probably hoping for his release, so he can find a job with no strings attached. It'll be interesting to see how long the Jets hold out hope for a trade.

9. Hello, goodbye: Things move fast in free agency. Two examples involving Moses and Simpson, teammates last season on the Ravens:

When Moses heard that Derrick Henry had agreed to a deal with the Ravens, he texted the star running back to welcome him to the team. The next day, Moses was an ex-Raven, traded to the Jets.

Meanwhile, Moses counseled Simpson on the prospect of signing with the Jets, never imagining he'd wind up there, too.

"Bro, why didn't you tell me anything?" Simpson, calling from the barber shop, asked Moses.

Moses had no idea a trade was in the works.

10. The last word: "My great grandkids will never even believe me when I tell them I blocked for Lamar [Jackson] and the GOAT, Aaron Rodgers." -- Simpson