If there is one thing that we have come to learn in the two years that Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich have led the New York Jets defense, it’s that they can never have enough pass rushers.
Entering the 2023 offseason, the Jets are fairly well-positioned up front defensively. At edge, specifically, they are locked in with John Franklin-Myers, who also offers the versatility to rush inside. In their second years, Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons should assume bigger roles along this defensive line. Also, young pass-rush specialist, Bryce Huff, is a restricted free agent the Jets will undoubtedly find a way to keep one way or another.
The big question at this position group that the Jets have entering this offseason is the future status of Carl Lawson. He is owed a fully non-guaranteed $15.4 million with a cap hit of $15.7 million. So, essentially, by releasing Lawson, the Jets, a cap-strapped team, would add $15.4 million in cap space.
On the other hand, there have been some rumors that the Jets could either extend Lawson for a year, restructure his contract, or add a void year to keep Lawson around for 2023 while lowering his massive cap hit. That does, however, hurt the Jets’ cap space for 2024.
Either way, there will be some quality edge defenders on the free agent market who could improve the Jets’ depth up front. Let’s take a look at five in particular.
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Five free-agent edge rushers who could bolster the New York Jets’ depth:
1. Samson Ebukam:
Samson Ebukam has played six years in the NFL and will turn 28 in May. He has spent the last two years in San Francisco with the 49ers, a team that runs the same defensive scheme that Saleh has brought to the Jets, making Ebukam an obvious fit.
Throughout his career, Ebukam has played in 96 games, with at least 15 every year. From 2019-21, Ebukam posted 4.5 sacks each season. This past year, Ebukam finally surpassed that, reaching five while also posting a new best of 13 quarterback hits.
Ebukam played 555 snaps for the 49ers in 2021 (51%) and 559 in 2022 (59%), so he would fit in seamlessly with the consistent rotating the Jets implement across their defensive line.
He is built low to the ground at 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds and offers the blazing speed (1.53 10-yard split, 4.45 40-yard dash) the Jets love to have in their one-gapping, attacking-style front. With the familiarity in the scheme, Ebukam is an intriguing free agent fit for the Jets this offseason.
2. Arden Key:
Over the last two years, Arden Key has broken out in a big way. As a former third-round pick in 2018, Key’s career got off to a tough start. Ironically, along with Ebukam, Key joined the 49ers in 2021. A career resurgence took place.
In just 374 snaps that year, Key recorded 6.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hits, both career bests. He followed that up with more success in 2022 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where Key posted 4.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hits in 475 snaps.
Positional flexibility is a huge added bonus with Key. He is an edge defender who, similar to Franklin-Myers, offers the ability to rush the passer from inside with his tall 6-foot-4 height and wingspan that goes over 82 inches.
Key turns 27 in May as he enters his sixth year in the NFL. With his pass-rushing growth over the past two seasons, Key is a polarizing upcoming free agent the Jets could possibly pursue.
3. Clelin Ferrell:
Clelin Ferrell is well-known for being a disappointment as a former fourth-overall draft selection in 2019, right after the Jets picked Quinnen Williams. While Ferrell has not lived up to the billing as a top pick, in a depth role, he proved himself to be a viable asset in 2022.
He played in all 16 games and totaled 494 snaps. Ferrell only posted two sacks but had eight quarterback hits and 13 total pressures.
There are two key luxuries that Ferrell offers as a free agent—first, his physical gifts. Ferrell has a ton of size at 6-foot-4 and 264 pounds. Also, we know how much the Jets prioritize arm length, which Ferrell also has with 34 1/8″ arms. The second noteworthy point is his versatility to play both on the edge and interior.
Ferrell is only going into year five of his career and turns just 26 in May. As a depth player, with his youth, length, and positional flexibility, Ferrell could be a solid addition to the Jets’ defensive line.
4. Rasheem Green:
Similar to Key, Rasheem Green was a third-round draft pick in 2018 who has greatly improved each of the last two seasons. Green is entering year six of his career and will only be turning 26 years old in May.
In 2021, Green broke out and posted career-highs with both 6.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hits on 846 snaps. His snap count dropped in 2022 to 568, but Green still tallied 3.5 sacks, eight quarterback hits (second-best of his career), and 26 pressures.
Along with Ferrell and Key, Green also offers the ability to not only play on the edge but inside too. Green has great size at 6-foot-4, 279 pounds, and 33 3/4″ arms.
Not only can Green rush the passer, but he offers the ability to play the run well, too, something the Jets’ defense will need to do a better job of in 2023. Green is still a very young player who could keep on developing while presenting versatility and depth to the defensive front of the Jets.
5. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo:
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo has played five years in the NFL and turns 28 in April. He offers a lower build to the ground at 6-foot-1 and 253 pounds while having some quality 33 3/4″ arm length.
For the first time in his career in 2022, Okoronkwo played in all 17 games, totaling 518 snaps. He accumulated five sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and 17 pressures.
Okoronkwo has the skills to be a stellar rotational edge pass rusher. He can, with an explosive get-off, his ability to bend with his low center gravity, and has some moves in his rush package.
As still a very inexperienced player (50 career games), but with some intriguing play shown in 2022, Okoronkwo is just another solid, young edge defender with pass-rushing ability on the free agent market for the Jets.