Heading into the 2023 season, the New York Jets had high hopes following the acquisition of four-time NFL MVP-winning quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That all changed four snaps into the campaign when Rodgers tore his Achilles. However, there are still positive takeaways from this year.
With Rodgers out, everyone had to step up and make contributions to account for his absence. Most notably, the defensive and special teams units did everything they could to keep the Jets competitive sans their signal-caller. The Jets defense had two players earn All-Pro honors (Sauce Gardner and Quincy Williams).
Rodgers seemed prepared to make a miraculous comeback a few months after suffering the Achilles injury if the Jets were able to keep themselves afloat in the playoff picture, so he should be ready to go for 2024. With that in mind, the Jets could be ready to take flight next season.
But they also need to make sure the pieces they had put around Rodgers this season are back – the Jets need to prioritize retaining their key impending free agents.
3. New York Jets impending free agent: Justin Hardee
Justin Hardee may not be a household name but he is a critical part of the Jets special teams unit. Hardee was a Pro Bowler in 2022 for his contributions as a gunner and in kicking coverage.
Unfortunately, Hardee had to miss six games in 2023 due to a hamstring injury that required surgery during the Jets' win over the Denver Broncos in Week 5. With him sidelined, the punt unit fell apart, illustrating that his presence (or lack thereof) is critical for New York’s special teams success.
Moreover, Hardee is a respected leader and voice within the locker room, being voted a team captain for each of the past two seasons. Per Rich Cimini, who covers the Jets for ESPN, Hardee’s 59 special teams tackles rank seventh in the NFL since he entered the league in 2017.
2023 was the final season of Hardee’s three-year, $6.75 million contract he signed with the Jets in 2021. Turning 29 next week, the Jets need to bring back Hardee, especially considering his value to the team and how little it should cost to keep him around.
After spending his first four seasons with the New Orleans Saints, it seems as though Hardee has found a home in New York.