Ex-Jets Run-Stuffer Visits Super Bowl Contender After Contract Expires

Ronald Blair

Getty New York Jets defensive lineman Ronald Blair attempts to bring down a Tampa Bay Buccaneers ball carrier on January 2, 2022.

The New York Jets allowed eight practice squad contracts to expire on January 17 and one of those decisions struck me as odd in comparison to the others.

That was defensive lineman Ronald Blair III, who followed Robert Saleh to the Jets as a culture-builder with scheme familiarity. Shortly after Gang Green passed on offering a reserve/future deal to Blair, he visited a championship contender in the Green Bay Packers, per NFL reporter Aaron Wilson.

While this is great news for Blair, there’s something fishy about this entire situation.

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Did Blair Come Recommended?

This was someone I saw the Jets holding onto heading into 2022, for multiple reasons.

One — Saleh speaks the world of him as a player and a leader. The Jets HC went out of his way to bring Blair in and keep him around while he worked his way back from a 2019 injury.

Two — he won Jeff Ulbrich’s favor as a starter down the stretch. Blair received 40-plus snaps from Week 15 on, and 50-plus the final two outings according to Pro Football Focus. Other veterans like Shaq Lawson and Vinny Curry were released, so why stick with the former 49er over younger guys like Kyle Phillips and Jabari Zuniga if he had no place in the franchise’s future?

Three — he fits a team need. The Jets defense could not stop the run in 2021 and Blair helped with that over the second half, especially the last four weeks. PFF graded the run-stuffing defensive end at a 69.9 in this area, with 14 defensive stops in eight appearances.

So, why didn’t the Jets offer Blair a futures deal then?

One theory could be the Saleh-Matt LaFleur connection. The Packers HC was the best man at Saleh’s wedding and the two share a long history going back to their days as graduate assistants together.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Blair came to Green Bay recommended, although he has not signed with the NFC’s top seed yet. We saw Joe Douglas move on from Lawson and Sharrod Neasman before Week 18, which allowed them a shot at the postseason.

It was a professional courtesy from the Jets GM and Neasman actually ended up signing with the Los Angeles Rams practice squad, although he was not elevated for Wildcard Weekend. Did Saleh offer Blair a similar proposal by allowing his contract to expire? With a sort of *wink-wink* agreement that he can always return in free agency later on?

That’s all speculation, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it happened. Blair has only played outside of Saleh’s system once his entire career, his rookie season in 2016. Why start now?

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Offseason D-Line Takes Shape

After entering the season as a position of strength, the Jets’ defensive line quickly turned into a weakness in the run game. It might have been due to players learning a new system but 2020 studs like Quinnen Williams and Foley Fatukasi had down years while additions like Sheldon Rankins and Jonathan Marshall failed to live up to expectations.

This unit was also hurt by major injuries to Carl Lawson and Curry, as well as minor losses throughout the season. In the end, this group was a disappointment and now Douglas has some choices to make.

With Blair gone at least for the moment, this is how the Jets D-line looks heading into the offseason. Red font means the player is an impending free agent, blue means they are signed to a reserve/future deal.

LEO 3-Tech DT Nose Tackle 5-Tech DE
Carl Lawson Quinnen Williams Foley Fatukasi John Franklin-Myers
Bryce Huff Sheldon Rankins Nathan Shepherd Tim Ward (ERFA)
Kyle Phillips Tanzel Smart Jonathan Marshall Jabari Zuniga
Hamilcar Rashed Jr.  

Not only do the Jets need to bulk up on depth both inside and outside, but they also have a crucial decision to make on Fatukasi — a defensive captain in 2021. Side note: Veteran DT Smart getting a future contract instead of Blair is even more bizarre, being that Smart did not appear in a single game for the Green & White all season.

It should be an interesting spring for Douglas and Saleh as they attempt to build a winner.

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