The New York Jets may have gained Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on March 15 — even if both parties are still working through the trade details — but they also lost two veterans at an area of need.
Both DT Sheldon Rankins and DT Nathan Shepherd left in free agency on Wednesday, first reported by NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo and ESPN’s Dianna Russini respectively. After the Shepherd news, ESPN’s Rich Cimini shared the current depth chart at the defensive tackle position.
Outside of Quinnen Williams, the next highest 2022 snap count on the roster at D-tackle is Tanzel Smart according to Cimini (45 snaps). After that is newcomer Isaiah Mack (30 snaps with the Baltimore Ravens) and youngster Marquiss Spencer (zero snaps). Solomon Thomas is the only unrestricted free agent remaining with some obvious work to do on the defensive interior.
Jets’ Sheldon Rankins Prices Out, Lands With Texans on 1-Year Contract
The bigger name here is Rankins, who started 18 games (appearing in 31) over his two-year contract. Originally signing because of the “culture” that he felt head coach Robert Saleh was creating in New York, the former New Orleans Saints first rounder won’t stick around to see that vision through in 2023 and beyond.
He enjoyed a bounce-back campaign in year two for Gang Green — with three sacks and 25 quarterback pressures in a first-team rotational role — and has decided to price out on a one-year, $10.5 million deal in Houston (per Garafolo).
With the Jets currently prioritizing their cap space on positions like quarterback and wide receiver among others, Rankins was a bit too overpriced to retain. Saleh had voiced that he preferred to run it back on the defensive side of the ball, but unfortunately, he will not get that wish at defensive tackle.
Rankins will join a similar scheme in Houston, with Saleh’s top understudy DeMeco Ryans taking over as the new head coach of the Texans.
Longest Tenured Jet on Defense, Nathan Shepherd, Joins Saints on 3-Year Deal
Shepherd was the longest-tenured Jets player not named Thomas Hennessy — the NYJ long snapper that has survived multiple regime changes.
Beginning his NFL career as a third-round selection in 2018, “Shep” secured a roster spot as a staff favorite despite disappointing the fanbase as a prospect. The 6-foot-4 Canadian never lived up to the billing in New York, with just six sacks in five seasons, but he was generally praised by teammates and coaches for his hard work and grinder mentality.
He managed to have an encouraging campaign under Saleh in 2022 — with 17 quarterback pressures and a 79.5 pass rushing grade on Pro Football Focus — and has decided to use that to springboard a contract in NOLA.
According to NFL Network insider Tom Pelissero, Shepherd agreed to terms on a “three-year, $15 million deal [with the Saints] that includes $10.18M guaranteed.” That’s not a bad chunk of change for a rotational player who only made $1.085 million in 2022 and $3.644 million over his first four years in the league (per Over the Cap).
Once the Rodgers deal is officially done, look for general manager Joe Douglas to attack this position in free agency and the draft. In case of emergency, the Jets do employ versatile defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers, who has enough size to start on the interior alongside Williams. Second-year prospect Micheal Clemons is another talented asset that can move inside in a pinch, although JFM is the more natural candidate to slide to DT full-time.
There are still several prominent names that are out there on the open market at the position. Having said that, premier D-tackles have been getting paid around the league and the Jets still have to lock up Williams on a long-term extension.