Jets must pay Quinnen Williams — and perform whatever salary cap gymnastics it takes — as Super Bowl-or-bust window opens
The New York Jets have a fake problem on their hands. They’re in the impossible spot of nailing a draft pick to the point where they have to pay a market rate extension.
Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams hasn’t hid his desire to become the highest-paid defensive tackle in the league, including a little social media savvy on his end. Williams removed the Jets from his Twitter profile and poked fun at general manager Joe Douglas saying the Jets are “optimistic” they can get a deal done. The 25-year-old has developed into an elite defensive player since the Jets took him with the third pick in the 2019 draft and the bill has come due.
Williams has one great fact working in his favor as he and his team continue contract negotiations: The Jets need Williams on this roster. Head coach Robert Saleh’s scheme has always relied on having top-tier talent up front along the defensive line and Williams is good as they get — and he’s coming off a career year. First-team All-Pro, Pro Bowl, Defensive Player of the Year votes and career highs in sacks (12), tackles for loss (12) and quarterback hits (28). He has become essential to a Jets defense that is somewhat hinged on the success of their defensive line, although having a cornerback like Sauce Gardner alleviates that pressure.
There’s already a framework for what this contract should look like. Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence recently signed a four-year, $87.5 million contract with $60 million guaranteed. Earlier this spring, Jeffery Simmons of the Titans signed a four-year, $94 million deal and Daron Payne and the Commanders agreed on a four-year, $90 million deal. None of those guys are touching Aaron Donald’s average annual contract value of $31.7 million, but signing a deal that approaches $25 million on an annual basis is fair for what Williams offers to any team. It’s incredibly difficult to find uber-athletic 300-pound players who also have the technical skill to detonate offenses against the run and pass. Letting guys like that walk out of the door is a tough pill to swallow.
To be fair to the Jets, it’s unlikely that they let Williams walk in free agency. After pulling off a trade for Aaron Rodgers, the Jets are firmly in Super Bowl-or-bust mode. Now isn’t the time to move a player of Williams’ caliber because he is going to be essential to the Jets’ success this season on defense. There’s also just the fact that they don’t have a ton of great defensive tackle depth outside of Williams. Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods are the remaining options, and they have flex players like Solomon Thomas and John Franklin-Myers to fill in the gaps on the interior at times.
The Jets are going to have to play around with some cap space gymnastics over the next few years to make this contract work, but in 2024 they can fairly easily move on from Franklin-Myers, C.J. Mosley, Laken Tomlinson and D.J. Reed to help fit Williams onto the roster. That would be a blow to the Jets’ depth, but this business isn’t always easy. The contract negotiations might not have progressed to where Williams’ wants it yet, but he’s going to get his money regardless. His contract with the Jets is up after this season, so the clock is ticking.
The Jets can’t let him go. The most fascinating part will be watching how Douglas and the rest of the front office puts together a roster with a top-heavy cap situation.