Over the next month, we're taking a brief and early look at some of the potential solutions that could provide offseason upgrades for the Jets in each position. Today, we continue with a look at the defensive tackle position:
The Jets seemed pretty set on the defensive line heading into the 2017 season. However, relations between Muhammad Wilkerson and the coaching staff seemed to worsen over the course of the season and it seems likely the team will proceed without their highest paid player in 2018.
Leonard Williams is still a year or two away from seeking a big money contract of his own and 32-year old nose tackle Steve McLendon is entering the final year of his three year contract, so they have a couple of starters on board, albeit that McLendon will need to be replaced with a longer-term option soon.
Mike Pennel provided decent depth behind McLendon last year but he's a free agent. Deon Simon, who spent most of the year on the practice squad, is still under contract, although he's actually older than Pennel. There's a similar situation in terms of defensive end depth as reserve Xavier Cooper is out of contract and Claude Pelon is under contract for next year having spent most of the year on the practice squad.
Ed Stinson, who was brought in but then got injured almost immediately is another option.
Assuming Wilkerson departs, none of these are particularly good options to start so the Jets could well be in the market for a potential starter via trade or the draft, or in free agency.
If they don't bring back Pennel and Cooper, they may want to add to their depth or at least increase the competition by bringing in a few more potential contributors. The Jets seemed to be crafting a nice pipeline of defensive line talent but with Pelon and Simon not contributing and Lawrence Thomas converting to offense, they may need to start over.
If the Jets are looking for a Wilkerson replacement in free agency, they will struggle to find anyone who offers the same kind of disruptiveness in the running game and passing game that Wilkerson does when he's at his best.
Those players that do potentially offer that level of disruptive play in both disciplines all seem to have major red flags. Dominique Easley is coming off an ACL injury, David Irving (a restricted free agent) got suspended for PED use last year, Nick Fairley has a serious heart condition and Kyle Williams and Haloti Ngata are past their prime and mostly just run pluggers now. Tennessee's DaQuan Jones could be one young option, but he's coming off a biceps tear himself.
Then there's Sheldon Richardson, who is the closest approximation to Wilkerson on the market, but the Jets signing him wouldn't make much sense in light of their refusal to accommodate Wilkerson's insubordination which was already emulated or even surpassed by Richardson before he was traded.
There's also a few run stuffers out of contract like Bennie Logan, Dontari Poe and Justin Ellis but these would be pricey additions that might not offer much of an upgrade over the reasonably-priced McLendon. At least they don't have the same kind of red flags though.
Of course, many of these players will get extended before they hit the open market anyway. Trading for a starter could also be an option.
The idea of the Jets taking a defensive lineman with a first round pick for the fifth time in eight years seems unlikely, but with Wilkerson probably leaving it's not impossible, especially if they address other needs in free agency.
However, unless someone's stock rises dramatically, it seems unlikely that's there's anyone who'd represent good value with the sixth pick. Still, maybe they'd trade back in that situation and use one of their two picks on a lineman as they did back in 2013.
Maurice Hurst from Michigan is the top-rated defensive tackle on most boards, but he doesn't have the same kind of size and length as Wilkerson, although he's hard to block. Alabama's Da'Ron Payne, Florida's Taven Bryan and Stanford's Harrison Phillips have more size and could establish themselves as potential first-rounders if they perform well at the combine.
Rasheem Green, who was basically Williams' replacement at USC, could be a value pick if he drops to day three. Poona Ford from Texas is another interesting prospect because he is short and stocky, but a powerful penetrator. He could be an interesting test case to see whether the NFL's longterm fixation on players with length could be shifting towards more technical players with a low center of gravity due to the success of players like Grady Jarrett.
In terms of run stuffing nose tackle options, Washington's Vita Vea has the best chance of going in the first round. Tim Settle from Virginia Tech is another possibility and UConn's Foley Fatukasi could be a sleeper later on.
How would you approach this position? Is there anyone out there you'd target who we didn't mention? Let's have your thoughts in the comments.