Jets played hardball with Marcus Maye — setting up intriguing season

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As the Jets get closer to training camp, I am examining the roster and giving you my top 25 players. Each weekday, we will reveal another person on the list, leading right into camp. I am not including rookies on this list because I do not feel it is possible to fully evaluate them before they play a game.

No. 2: Marcus Maye

Last year’s ranking: 7

Position: S

Age on Opening Day: 28

How acquired: Selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft

Years left on contract: 1

2021 Salary Cap figure: $10.6 million

Looking back at 2020

For the first three years of his career, Maye played “Robin” to Jamal Adams’ “Batman.” With Adams in Seattle last season, Maye got to show what he could do as the leading man – and it was impressive.

Maye moved between strong safety and free safety (where he mainly played in his first three years) last year and gave a strong performance at both spots. His Week 1 game against the Bills was the best single-game performance by a Jet all season. He had 10 tackles, two for a loss, two quarterback hits, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. He was all over the field, mainly lining up at strong safety.

Maye could not continue that pace and after a few shaky games by the secondary overall, the coaches moved Maye back to free safety. Maye regained his stride there and finished the season strong.

Maye started all 16 games for the third time in four years, quieting any questions people had about his durability, playing 100 percent of the snaps. He finished the year with 88 tackles (second on the team), two interceptions, 11 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two sacks, four tackles for a loss and two quarterback hits. He is not as flashy or sudden as Adams, but Maye proved he is a very capable safety himself.

PFF graded Maye fifth out of 94 safeties and fourth in coverage.

Maye’s versatility is one of his greatest strengths. This was his positional breakdown, per PFF: 581 snaps at free safety, 280 in the box, 167 at slot corner, 85 on the defensive line and 24 at wide corner.

Maye was named the Jets’ team MVP by his teammates.

Outlook for 2021

The Jets took a hard line with Maye in free agency and used the franchise tag on him. The two sides did not reach an agreement on a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline, and now Maye will play on the tag and be a free agent again next year.

Maye is a tough valuation. He is a very good player, but he is not great. He has not earned accolades in his career and played in Adams’ shadow for three years. He is also older (28) and his tag number at safety is reasonable ($10.6 million), which makes it easier for the Jets to just let him play on that.

That being said, Maye has been a model citizen as a Jet. Unlike Adams, he has not caused issues with the team. He kept quiet this spring about his contract, even refusing to do an interview during minicamp, which is required by the league. His leadership was on display last year after the last-second loss to the Raiders. Maye pointed out the defensive call was atrocious without mentioning Gregg Williams by name. He took the heat off rookie cornerback Lamar Jackson by doing so.

The Jets could have sent a message to their locker room that they will reward players who are good for the team’s culture by extending Maye. Instead, they decided to play hardball and it will be interesting to see how things work out with Maye this season and next offseason.

On the field, the Jets expect big things from the combination of Maye and Lamarcus Joyner at safety this season. They have youth at cornerback, so they will need strong play from their safeties. It sounds like Maye will be in the box more and Joyner will play free safety in Robert Saleh’s defense.

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