New York Jets: Is a trade for pass rushing the right move right now?

new york jets, robert saleh

It’s been theorized that the New York Jets could seek out a new pass rusher. But is that the most worthwhile move as the 2021 kickoff looms?

Any analysis of the New York Jets’ 2021 offseason must be prefaced with the caveat that the previous campaign sunk the team to such dramatic depths that anything short of full-on contraction would’ve been seen as an upgrade…and, even then, some Gang Green fans would go full John McKay.

But there is no objectively denying that the Jets made smart moves following last year’s disastrous two-win showing. Even with the loss of the most expensive purchase, defensive end Carl Lawson, the Jets are in a favorable position to at least start to reintroduce themselves to the world of professional football relevancy. At the same time, however, even the most unapologetic Jets propagandist has to admit that Lawson’s forced season-long departure due to a ruptured Achillies sustained during last week’s joint activities with the Green Bay Packers puts a bit of a damper on Joe Douglas’ most impactful offseason to date.

To that end, the Jets are reportedly seeking help from abroad to bolster their pass rush game. A popular candidate amongst fans has been former New England pass rusher Chandler Jones, who’s reportedly displeased with his current settings in Arizona. Other potential movers could include Preston Smith of the aforementioned Packers or 2019’s fourth overall choice Clelin Ferrell in Las Vegas.

But as the Jets plan one more summer splurge before school starts, is the pass rush the right area to address?

The loss of Lawson obviously brings the unit down a few notches, but the Jets’ pass rush still has several notable returnees looking to build on breakout seasons from 2020. It’s a group headlined by 2019’s third overall choice Quinnen Williams and assisted by John Franklin-Myers and Foley Fatukasi. The team is also set to welcome back Kyle Phillips and Bryce Huff, the latter of whom has earned positive reviews during the most recent camp sessions in Florham Park. Veteran arrivals Vinny Curry and Sheldon Rankins have likewise dealt with ailments but bring talent and playoff experience from Philadelphia and New Orleans respectively. A major opportunity rises for Ronald Blair, a late arrival who previously worked with head coach Robert Saleh in the Bay Area.

In addition to the talent assembled, the Jets’ new boss has experience in dealing with big losses in the front seven. During his final season as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator, new head coach Robert Saleh dealt with injury reports that resembled Pro Bowl rosters. Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas were lost for the year after ACL tears at MetLife Stadium. Help from abroad (Dee Ford, Ziggy Ansah) was likewise medically removed from the 2020 proceedings.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the losses, Saleh’s backfield invaders still managed to post respectable efforts. The 49ers ranked fifth in quarterback hurries per dropback (11.2 percent) and yards allowed (314.4 per game) despite the departures. One could argue that Saleh’s ability to adapt was one of the big reasons why he was one of the most coveted head coaching candidates once the year let out.

Saleh knows how much is lost with Lawson done for the year but he was among the first to come to grips with the doomsday diagnosis in the aftermath of the Green Bay business trip.

“I’ve said it before, the NFL train stops for nobody,” Saleh said after the Jets’ 23-14 preseason win over the Packers on Saturday, per team reporter Randy Lange. “When someone falls off the train…it’s another opportunity for someone to jump on the train. A lot of men at that defensive end spot are chomping at the bit for the opportunity, and they got it. We’ll work our tails off to get them ready, and I know they’ll work their tails off to reciprocate.”

There’s enough talent on the defensive line for the Jets to survive. The injury of Lawson shouldn’t awaken the Jets from dreams of development that would allow them to label the 2021 season a success. But there’s always room for improvement, especially when your rebuild prepares to enter a second decade. With so much draft capital…the Jets currently own 13 spots on the 2022 draft board…it would almost be silly not to seek out a trade. There are enough valuable names on the line that can hold down the pass rushing fort while Lawson heals. Improvement is better sought elsewhere.

Douglas has never been one to shy away from a late move if it helps the team: he took over the Jets after primary offseason activities like free agency and the draft ended and immediately tried to bolster the blocking (Ryan Kalil, Alex Lews) and receiving (Demaryius Thomas). None of those moves truly panned out in the long term…none of them are with the team…but Douglas’ activity was refreshing after the passiveness of the Mike Maccagnan era.

New York Jets, Joe Douglas
 (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

It appears that the Jets might be ready to make another late summer move, but they have to assess their priorities. A show of faith to the talented youngsters of the defensive line might help team morale moving forward, leaving them to look at other areas, ones entrenched in far greater states of desperation.

With apologies to those still traumatized by the 2020 season, the ineptitude on display in the final year of the Adam Gase almost guaranteed that some area on the team was going to be neglected, even with the perfect offseason. The secondary still remains woefully undermanned in terms of experience. Their struggles were prominently on display during Saturday’s exhibition showcase in Titletown: Jets starters played deep into the first half and allowed a Green Bay offense consisting almost entirely of reserves to score on two of their four drives over the first 30 minutes. The ultimate insult was a 19-play, 81-yard drive that ate over 10 minutes of game time.

Zach Wilson’s (nearly) perfect showing allowed the Jets to bring some optimism home, but New York can’t allow it to mask their defensive struggles. Green Bay went 8-of-14 on third down, four alone earned through the air on the aforementioned long drive. The last was a five-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Benkert to Jace Sternberger. Perhaps the extra draft capital is better spent on a veteran corner to mentor and/or compete with Bless Austin and Bryce Hall. Charvarius Ward could be a championship addition from Kansas City (especially with L’Jarius Sneed’s emergence) while C.J. Henderson remains a tantalizing prize in Jacksonville.

The early strong returns from Wilson also shouldn’t discourage the Jets from bolstering their backup quarterback situation. Sam Darnold’s medical woes over the past three seasons have shown the Jets just how far south a season can go without the intended starter, even if they had good intentions through veteran additions like Joe Flacco, Josh McCown, and Trevor Siemian.

Mike White has been serviceable this preseason (86.1 passer ratings and no turnovers through two games) but it probably hasn’t been anything to convince the Jets they can stay afloat if the unthinkable happened to Wilson. White also took a few tough hits during Saturday’s win in Green Bay, leaving the contest with a rib injury. Late acquisition Josh Johnson was seen as a veteran mentor to Wilson but has yet to take a preseason snap in green.

Trading for Chicago’s Nick Foles remains the most popular and realistic option for teams seeking quarterback depth. Not only is Foles set to wallow in the third slot on the depth chart behind the Justin Fields/Andy Dalton conundrum, but the Bears are also in desperate need of early draft picks. Chicago has only two picks over the first four rounds in Las Vegas next spring, having dealt their first and fourth round choices to the Giants to ensure the selection of Fields. The Jets’ pair of first-rounders (including the last piece of the Jamal Adams trade from Seattle) is likely off the table but they have five other choices over rounds two through four.

No one’s denying the Jets can get better through a late trade or overcome the loss of Lawson (especially considering his prescience or absence wasn’t the difference in terms of ending their ten-year postseason drought). But if they’re going to make one more move before summer lets out, the Jets must take the time to assess their priorities, values, and faith.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The Becton/Lawson relationship can shape the New York Jets’ future

A relationship that spans both sides of the line of scrimmage could eventually lead to the New York Jets’ ultimate salvation.

After the chaos and fractures of the Adam Gase era, the New York Jets could use any semblance of unity going into a new era.

Ironically, however, it’s a daily training camp battle…one could even describe it as a war…that could lead to Gang Green’s long-sought salvation.

Mekhi Becton was one of the rare, consistent silver linings of the Jets’ woebegone 2020 season. He more than justified management’s faith in passing on several elite receiving talents in the virtual draft, bring clarity to a blocking situation that was long neglected. Upgrading the offensive line is a job that nobody wants to do, but remains drastically vital.

In essence, the Jets bought themselves plenty of flashy, expensive gifts from both the veteran and rookie markets, personified as metaphorical luxury sedans for the driveway. (i.e. Le’Veon Bell, Jamal Adams, Leonard Williams, Trumaine Johnson). But in that process, they ignored the mold damage in the basement that would bring the entire structure down entirely. No matter who lined up under center, he was going to need protection. Becton did what he could to end the Sam Darnold era on the right note and earned the right to be the anchor of the age of Zach Wilson.

“He truly cares and he truly wants to help. I think he is a player that is going to help us long-term,” Joe Douglas said of his first pick as the Jets’ general manager back in November, per team reporter Ethan Greenberg. “We’re excited about working with him every day because you’re talking about a young man that loves football. He’s very smart, he’s tough as nails and has a rare size and athleticism.”

“He’s just scratching the surface of what he can do physically. There’s a lot of desire from him to want to be the best player that he can be, so we’ve made it our mission to sort of bend over backward to try to help him reach his goals.”

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

Becton’s short-term reward? A daily summer battle with one of the NFL’s most promising pressure artists.

The emergence of Carl Lawson, as has been discussed all offseason, isn’t visible through conventional numbers. That makes it perhaps all the more appropriate that he and the Jets found each other through a $45 million contract that lured him away from Cincinnati. The Jets’ silver linings and aspiring NFL staples (like Becton who, frankly, has little if any conventional numbers to fall back on as an offensive lineman) were likewise removed from the mainstream NFL conversation. Lawson instead made his mark through lesser celebrated stats like quarterback knockdowns and “sacks created“, tying for the league lead in the former with Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt.

Granted the most expensive contract of the Jets’ busy offseason, Lawson is expected to be a difference-maker in the team’s return to football relevancy. So far, he’s living up to the hype in an admittedly minuscule sample size.

“He hasn’t been stopped yet,” fellow incoming defensive lineman and Georgia high school football competitor Sheldon Rankins said of Lawson, per team reporter Jack Bell. “It’s what I expect having known him dating back to high school.”

Much like the stigma Becton has to beat on the offensive line, Lawson is also looking to end some dubious New York pass-rushing history: no Jet has earned at least 10 sacks in a season since Muhammad Wilkerson tallied a dozen in 2015.

With the Jets preparing for what’s projected to be a developmental season that can nonetheless yield positives, fans have reveled in the intense clash of a different brand of New York giants. Their get-togethers are part of new head coach Robert Saleh’s demand for increased intensity in the trenches, where he believes games are still decided. 

“On the interior where those guys are getting true genuine work, (we’re getting) some one-on-one’s going…it’s going to be exciting to see those guys progress,” Saleh said as padded practices got underway, per notes from the Jets. “The thing that you’ll hear us talk about, you can never have enough good O-linemen and D-linemen…The game still is won in the trenches.”

To that end, Saleh has added himself to the list of those who can’t enough of their antics. It’s one training camp fight he’ll refuse to break up.

“It’s like the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of size,” Saleh said. “Carl is not going to see a man that big, and Mekhi is not going to see a man that small and sawed-off, and as strong as he is. For those guys to get that work, they’re making each other strain in different ways that they’ll see all season.”

carl lawson, new york jets

Training camp battles and later in-season injury woes failed to afford Becton consistent competition in his first New York practices. This year’s battles against Lawson, a new kind of crossover summer blockbuster, have proven both humbling and beneficial.

“He’s got a lot of speed and power. He does, like, this power spin that’s really tough. He’s a great rusher,” Becton said in another report from Dennis Waszak of the Associated Press. “It’s helping me a whole lot because I can get my losses out of the way right now.”

Lawson, described as “slippery” by Becton, hasn’t spoken publicly at the New York podium since the Jets strapped their pads on. His play has instead spoken for him, impressing teammates, coaches, and Florham Park visitors alike. New defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich once again cited advanced numbers and labeled him an “obsessed” student of the game.

“The general public is obviously, very caught up in sacks, and quarterback disruption, the statistical part of (pass) rushing. He doesn’t always check those boxes, but he’s been a guy that’s got historic win rates,” Ulbrich said in notes from Jets. “His obsession with this game, now to see him up close, as far as his stance, the timing of his hands and his feet, the distance from the tackles foot, the way he studies the tackle set, the way he studies the offense.”

Etched in the Jets’ left tackle spot for the foreseeable future, Becton perhaps never expected that one of his biggest obstacles, if not the biggest obstacle, in keeping his quarterback safe would emerge from his own locker room.

But Becton wouldn’t have it any other way. He believes these civil wars will help New York improve both immediately and in the future ahead.

“Iron sharpens iron,” Becton labeled his battles with Lawson, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “He gets me better and I’m getting him better. It helps me a whole lot.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Position Group Grades: Defensive Line

New York Jets, Quinnen Williams

As the season looms, I decided to take a deep dive into each New York Jets position group within the organization and grade each group. Today’s group is one that is full of talent from top to bottom. From vets to high potential young pieces, this group is not about the individuals but rather the collective unit itself. Gregg Williams is a mastermind in defensive line rotations, and that showed last season. With one of the top rushing defenses in all of football, this group will be graded as a unit rather than as individual pieces. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the defensive line.

The Starters: Steve McLendon (NT), Henry Anderson & Quinnen Williams

The New York Jets have one key leader up front. Steve McLendon has been a consistent captain and leader in the Jets locker room. His presence is felt on the field as a run stuffer and a consistent force up the middle. He’s one of the most consistent nose tackles in the league, and I expect that to continue this season. Henry Anderson had a breakout season after being acquired from the Colts two years ago. Now, this could very well be his last season donning the green and white. Last season was a quiet year for Anderson, and if he can’t establish more of a presence, he will have a lessened role quickly. Quinnen Williams is the key x-factor of this front seven as a whole. Williams is no longer the baby he was in his first year. Williams looks more athletic and sounds more confident. He had a great camp, and I’m expecting a breakout year from the former 3rd overall selection.

Backups: John Franklin-Myers, Folorunso Fatukasi, Nathan Shepherd, Kyle Phillips, and Jordan Willis.

This group is one that is crucial to the defensive line’s success as a whole. All five guys are expected to play a role in the rotation immediately. Myers had an impressive camp and earned a roster spot, so it’ll be intriguing to see what kind of role he has early. Fatukasi and Phillips are two starting-caliber linemen who had phenomenal years last year. Both men established themselves as two of the most talented young pieces on the defense. Fatukasi is the likely successor to McLendon and Phillips to Anderson. Both guys will look to continue their success in 2020. Shepherd was a highly touted selection from Canada during the former regime’s run. Todd Bowles could never really find a role with him, but the same can’t be said about Williams. Shepherd has role fairly quickly as a rotational end, and I expect him to continue to grow in that spot in 2020. Willis is in a similar spot to Phillips last year, where he will need a strong season to earn a spot in the rotation, but that’s entirely plausible.

Grade: A

As I’ve said, individually, I’m not going to rave about any one piece of the puzzle. When put together, though, with the magic of Williams, this unit is incredibly talented. I fully expect them to take a step forward this year with growth from Quinnen, Fatukasi, and Phillips. I ultimately believe those three will be the key pieces of this line for the next few years. I’m excited for this group, and I’m glad that this is the one group I’ll probably give an A to of all the groups in New York.

New York Giants: Dexter Lawrence Ready To Break Out In 2020

New York Giants, Dexter Lawrence

The New York Giants have built one of the best, young defensive lines in the NFL since 2018. General manager Dave Gettleman has put a heavy emphasis on building through the trenches, investing tons of assets into the defensive line. Since 2018, here is what the Giants have invested into their defensive line: a 2018 third-round pick, a 2018 fifth-round pick, a 2019 first-round pick, a 2019 seventh-round pick, a 2020 third-round pick and 2021 fifth-round pick in a trade to acquire Leonard Williams, and a $16.1 million franchise tag on Leonard Williams. Additionally, the Giants already had a 2017 second-round pick invested in Dalvin Tomlinson.

This long list of investments has paid off for the Giants. Their defensive line is loaded with talented players entering 2020. The Giants’ defensive line could be dominant in 2020. But the most exciting player in this position group is Dexter Lawrence. Lawrence was a first-round pick for the Giants just last year but he already looks like one of the team’s best players.

Why Dexter Lawrence Will Break Out This Year

Dexter Lawrence was great as a rookie in 2019. But he will be even better in 2020. Last season, Dexter Lawrence played and started in all 16 games, totaling 38 combined tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Dexter was an underrated pass-rusher coming out of college, and he definitely flashed some potential as a pass-rusher last season.

But Dexter Lawrence’s biggest strength is his performance in run defense. Dexter received the honor of making Pro Football Focus’s 2019 All-Rookie Team. PFF states that Lawrence’s 76.3 run-defense grade ranked 21st among 117 qualifying interior defenders last season.

Lawrence uses his ginormous stature to dominate in run defense. Last year, Dexter was logged in at 6 feet 4 inches and 340 pounds. But according to the man himself, that will not be his playing weight in 2020. Losing weight was something Lawrence focused on this offseason:

“I got a personal trainer, we focused on eating, portion control, I got a chef. I didn’t really like my build last year (when his listed weight was 342 pounds). This year I tried to focus on losing a little bit of weight just so I can be better on the field. I’m out there running a lot better than I did last year. That’s just the goal for me each year. Feel better and be better.” – Dexter Lawrence via Giants.com 8/18/20

This is potentially big news for Dexter Lawrence. Being lighter on his feet will allow Dexter to improve as a pass-rusher. It could also improve his stamina and make him more efficient in the fourth quarter, something he mentioned to the media. Dexter Lawrence will break out in 2020 with a leaner build and improved skills with a season of experience under his belt.