The 2021 summer hype was that the New York Jets defensive line would be scary for opposing quarterbacks after additions like Carl Lawson and Sheldon Rankins among others.
Then the big free-agent acquisition tore his Achilles and the entire unit seemed to lose its way. Although the pressure rate was not nearly as efficient as expected, the even larger issue was the run defense.
The Jets’ front six or seven was gouged most games, as key interior cogs like Foley Fatukasi and Quinnen Williams struggled to adapt to Robert Saleh’s 4-3 system. The former is now a free agent and there’s no guarantee the 2021 team captain returns next year.
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Bold Replacement Would Anchor D-Line
If the Jets let Fatukasi walk — along with backup DT Nathan Shepherd — they’ll need to restock the position somehow. GM Joe Douglas has a couple of options to do so.
The more obvious and expected plan would be to bring in an affordable run-stuffer that’s more familiar with a 4-3 front, whether that’s a veteran or a draft pick. Assuming Jonathan Marshall can adequately replace Shepherd and the Jets add an edge rusher or two, the interior DL would be Williams, ‘JFM,’ Rankins, a new nose tackle, and Marshall in this scenario.
Of course, fortune often favors the bold.
ESPN’s “Football Outsiders” recently posted an article in which they came up with “outside-the-box offseason moves” for all 32 teams. The Atlanta Falcons’ suggestion could pique the interest of Gang Green.
NFL analyst Bryan Knowles voiced that the franchise should trade two-time Pro Bowler Grady Jarrett, who just so happens to be one of the better 4-3 defensive tackles in the league. He wrote:
It is the Falcons, not the Saints, who are in the worst salary-cap situation in the NFC South. Oh, sure, New Orleans is $76 million over the cap and Atlanta only $7 million, but the Saints planned to be in this situation and left themselves a lot of contracts to rework and manipulate to keep their corps together. The Falcons, on the other hand, have put themselves in a significant bind with their 2018 extensions, and the bills are coming due. Their cap deficit nearly doubles to $13 million when you take into account needing to sign the 2022 draft class and filling out a full 53-man roster, and they simply do not have the flexibility to get out of it.
After breaking down their top contracts, Knowles concluded that moving on from Jarrett is “the Falcons’ best chance to get out of the salary-cap morass they set upon themselves back in 2018.”
The trade would likely cost the Jets a “premium draft pick” and Jarrett’s $16.5 million base salary in 2022. Being that the 28-year old stud is entering the final season of his $68 million deal from 2018, the Jets could lower his cap number by extending him long-term.
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Can the Jets Afford Jarrett?
You might be thinking, $16.5 million sounds like a lot for a defensive tackle but when you’re talking about one of the most reliable lane-cloggers in the NFL — who also generates pressure with 26.5 career sacks and 54 tackles for a loss — that changes the conversation. Ignoring a Jarrett extension for a moment, the Jets could still afford the D-tackle.
New York has options to go along with letting Fatukasi walk, and one would be cutting ties with Rankins after one campaign. ESPN’s Rich Cimini reiterated this point on March 6, stating: “If [Rankins is] still on the roster by [the fifth day of the league year], part of his 2022 base salary ($1.25 million of $4.5 million) becomes fully guaranteed.”
If released now, Douglas would free up over $5.44 million in cap space.
The combined savings of allowing Fatukasi to leave and cutting Rankins would account for the cost of Jarrett. Assuming you draft an EDGE and Franklin-Myers plays more of a crucial swing role in 2022, the interior DL rotation would then become Williams, Jarrett, JFM and Marshall on paper — plus the Jets could always add a low-cost veteran or draft pick/UDFA to that group.
Jarrett has earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 80.0 or higher in four of his seven NFL campaigns. He is a plus run-stopper and a disruptor that has accumulated 291 quarterback pressures throughout his career.
The sturdy defensive tackle has also never missed more than two games in a single season. He would not just help this D-line excel, he’d solve all of its deficiencies in 2021.