2021 Free Agency Decision May Haunt Jets as Super Bowl Catalyst Emerges

Trey Hendrickson, Patrick Mahomes

Getty Cincinnati Bengals edge rusher Trey Hendrickson sacks Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes on January 30, 2022.

Joe Douglas and the New York Jets made edge rusher a free agency priority in 2021. That was a wise decision by the NYJ general manager but with one season in the books, choosing Carl Lawson over Trey Hendrickson was not.

The two rising pass-rushers headlined the free-agent class and the Jets were reportedly interested in Hendrickson, a former New Orleans Saints third-rounder.

In the end, Douglas signed Lawson instead and the Cincinnati Bengals quickly replaced him with Hendrickson. Many lauded the move for the Jets at the time but it has not worked out as expected so far.

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Hendrickson Dominates in AFC Championship

After the two signings were official, Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus tweeted: “Same amount per year that Carl Lawson got with the Jets. Pass rush win percentage among edge rushers with min. 100 snaps in 2020: 3. Lawson – 21.1%, 22. Hendrickson – 16.8%. Hendrickson got the flashy sack numbers, but won less frequently and had Cam Jordan on the other side.”

It looked like Gang Green snatched up the better of the two edge rushers, analytically speaking, and Lawson’s destructive training camp only backed those theories. Despite that, the Jets’ free agency curse struck again not long after.

Lawson tore his Achilles in practice and never played a regular-season snap for Robert Saleh. Injury history was the largest concern of the acquisition going in and it ended up being the immediate downfall.

About five months after that freak injury occurred, Hendrickson terrorized Patrick Mahomes in the AFC championship game. The game-wrecker finished with the most quarterback pressures (seven) of any player this weekend according to PFF.

Hendrickson ended up appearing in 19 games this season if you count the playoffs. Over that span, he accumulated 16.5 sacks, 31 QB hits and 40 total tackles in his first Pro Bowl campaign.

Even more impressive, PFF credited the Bengals pass rusher with 86 pressures on year and an 87.8 grade in that department. For reference, John Franklin-Myers led the Jets with 53 pressures. Next on the list was Quinnen Williams with 34.

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Bet on Year 2, or Plan Ahead?

After watching the conference title games, there were only two things that all four remaining teams had on their roster.

  • A top-10 playmaker at wide receiver or tight end (or both).
  • A top-10 pass-rusher that can wreak havoc.

Focusing on bullet number two, these four contenders flaunted some of the best disruptors in the NFL. Aaron Donald, Chris Jones, Nick Bosa, Hendrickson. That last name may sound like it doesn’t belong but his 86 pressures ranked fifth in 2021.

By the way, each of the top five pass rushers in 2021 played for a playoff team — Maxx Crosby, Donald, Bosa, Rashan Gary, Hendrickson.

The Los Angeles Rams — who will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl — have two in the top eight in Donald and Von Miller. As for the Jets, their team pass rush grade ranked 23rd on PFF.

Most agree the Jets must add to their arsenal of edge rushers and defensive linemen in 2022 but how much stock can you put into the return of Lawson?

Achilles injuries are always a challenge to come back from in sports and the effects could limit his explosiveness — the most important trait when it comes to rushing the passer. Is it enough to add one more EDGE, or does Douglas need to do more than that this offseason?

One fact is clear, a healthy pass rush wins football games and the Jets need to do everything in their power to build a legitimate unit that gets to the quarterback.

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