One of the top free agents the New York Jets have this offseason is defensive tackle, Sheldon Rankins.
Rankins will now be entering year eight of his career in the NFL and is turning 29 in April. He is coming off a solid 2022 season, his second with the Jets. Rankins started alongside first-team All-Pro, Quinnen Williams, and they worked to form one of the top defensive tackle tandems in football.
Rankins played in 15 games and recorded 558 snaps (37.2 per game, 55% of defensive snaps). He picked up three sacks and seven quarterback hits as a pass rusher. Also, Rankins did some quality work against the run a lot of the year too.
He proved himself as a very good starter, complementing Williams, and an asset to this top-ranked, fourth-overall Jets defense in 2022. As noted, turning 29 this offseason, it is fair to expect another similar type of year or two from Rankins in the future.
The Jets certainly have a big decision to make with Rankins as free agency looms. Let’s review how the Jets should approach things with Rankins.
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What should the Jets’ plan with Sheldon Rankins be?
1. Is adding one of the top FA DT’s possible for the Jets?
There are some premier defensive tackles set to currently hit the market. Most notably, Daron Payne, Javon Hargrave, and Dre’Mont Jones. However, as awesome as it would be to add one of these three with Williams, they are all unlikely for the Jets.
The top priority for the Jets at defensive tackle this offseason simply has to be extending Williams’ contract. Knowing that, plus the expensive cost it will be, it makes it hard to commit roughly $15 million on average per year to a second defensive tackle in one offseason when the Jets are already tight against the budget. In 2023 money alone, with probably big signing bonuses, the Jets would likely be paying in the range of $40 million for Williams and one of the top three mentioned above. It leads to the possibility of adding one of the best free agent defensive tackles improbable for the Jets this offseason.
2. Can the Jets still find an upgrade?
After what seems by most accounts to be the consensus top three free agent defensive tackles, Payne, Hargrave, and Jones, there are two players who could give the Jets an upgrade.
Dalvin Tomlinson and Zach Allen are two terrific players who potentially provide the Jets with some more upside. Allen is much younger than both Tomlinson and Rankins, only turning 26 in August. As a result, he will likely land the biggest contract of the three and price himself out of the Jets’ range. Tomlinson is just a few weeks older than Rankins, turning 29 next week, but will also probably be valued more than Rankins by teams.
The Jets have an outside chance of landing Tomlinson and Allen, but they are definitely more likely than Payne, Hargrave, and Jones. Still, though, Tomlinson and Allen seem well-positioned to get deals worth at least $9-10 million per year that could even approach the $12-13 range.
3. What will Rankins likely command?
Knowing that financially the Jets do not have the cap space to commit prime resources to two defensive tackles this offseason, it leads to Rankins likely being one of the top defensive tackles they can afford. The question is, exactly how much does Rankins expect?
At the very minimum, Rankins should land a deal worth $6.5 million on average per year. On the other end, the maximum would likely be an AAV of $10 million a year. In all likelihood, he lands with something in between, from $7-9 million per year.
From a contract duration standpoint, turning 29, Rankins will likely get another two-year deal. The total value financially, on a two-year contract, likely leads to anywhere from $15-18 million for Rankins. Only the first year will likely be guaranteed, though.
This type of contract is something the Jets are able to afford, making re-signing Rankins a more than viable option, keeping continuity intact.
The question from the Jets’ point of view, though, is what should their budget with Rankins be? Likely, $9 million at the most. Should Rankins look for or ultimately get anything more than that, the Jets may, unfortunately have to move on.
4. Could the Jets take a value approach?
Perhaps, if Rankins desires more than the Jets are willing to give, as a cap-strapped team, they choose to take a value approach at defensive tackle. Luckily, there is some depth set to be on the market at the position.
A few of the players comparable to Rankins in terms of both impact and contract value set to be free agents are Greg Gaines, Larry Ogunjobi, and David Onyemata. Ogunjobi, in particular, was someone the Jets had some interest in last offseason, bringing him in on a visit.
Knowing there are similar alternatives out there, a Jets team working with a tight budget could just look to find value and go with the most affordable option.
What should the Jets do?
In the end, Rankins is one of the best and most logical starting defensive tackles the Jets can have alongside Williams for 2023.
Payne, Hargrave, and Jones are all unrealistic due to financial reasons. Even Tomlinson and Allen could be valued beyond the Jets’ preferred price range. All in all, with limited cap space, investing premium resources into an upgrade from Rankins is looking unlikely for the Jets.
From there, retaining Rankins at an affordable price is ideal. Anything in the $7-9 million range for Rankins is worth it for the Jets on a two-year deal. However, they may be best suited to move on if he starts to command $10 million or more.
If so, the Jets could find some solid players on the market who could come for less in Gaines, Ogunjobi, and Onyemata, among others.
Ultimately, there is no reason for the Jets to enter free agency not interested in keeping Rankins. The opportunity to add a substantial upgrade is not really there. Rankins is a very good player against both the run and pass for the Jets’ defense, who they can hopefully find a way to re-sign this offseason.