This month, we've been 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 linebacker position:
Whatever the Jets do at the inside linebacker position depends on whether they are able to re-sign Demario Davis. After re-acquiring Davis in a trade with the Browns before the start of last season, the Jets were very happy with his production, as he ended up 6th in the NFL in total tackles.
Having taken a paycut from $3.7 million to $1 million last year - and then earned about half of that paycut back in playtime incentives, the Jets will be hoping to sign Davis for somewhere in the $4-to-5 million range, but Davis and his agent will probably be looking for more like $7-to-8 million to make his salary commensurate with the most productive but non-elite linebackers in the league.
If Davis returns, then the Jets will presumably plan for him and Darron Lee to play an every-down role again. This would mean that any reserves would be limited to special teams work and special packages such as the goal line defense, barring injuries. The Jets may need to overhaul that depth though, as Bruce Carter and Julian Stanford are also out of contract and the only other inside linebacker under contract for 2018 - Micah Awe - is a long-shot.
If Davis doesn't return, all bets are off, as the Jets will have a big need to plug and may look to create some competition for playing time.
Assuming for a moment that the Jets opt not to re-sign Davis and find themselves in the market for a new starter, there are several options in the free agent market, although you can expect some of these to re-up with their current team before they become available.
The Jets ideally would look for a linebacker with a bit of size that can be a thumper in the running game to replace Davis and pair with the more lightweight Lee.
Veteran Navarro Bowman could fit the bill, although he was uninspiring last year after making a midseason move across the bay from San Francisco to Oakland and seems unlikely to ever be as good as he was before his horrific knee injury a few years ago.
Players like Nigel Bradham and Anthony Hitchens were productive last year, albeit in 4-3 systems. The Jets would have to determine whether they'd have the same impact in Todd Bowles' scheme. Bradham was better in coverage, which the versatile Hitchens was solid against the run, so might complement a player like Lee better.
Veterans Paul Posluszny and Derrick Johnson can definitely play the mike position, but they were more effective in coverage than against the run last year. Posluszny seems unlikely to leave Jacksonville, but the long-time Chief Johnson's contract was voided earlier this month. Such a signing would be viewed as a stop-gap and potentially paired with a high draft pick to groom as their replacement.
Perhaps the best young linebacker on the market is Tennessee's Avery Williamson, who looks set to cash in via free agency. He's been productive over the last few seasons and was one of the top-graded linebackers in the league against the run in 2017.
Pending free agents Tahir Whitehead, Todd Davis and Zach Brown also graded out well against the run, but were less reliable in coverage.
Finally, some veteran options with links to Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan include Karlos Dansby, Brian Cushing and Mike Minter. Cushing is a local product but was just released after a 2017 season that saw him suspended for 10 games.
For special teams depth, the Jets could consider bringing back Nick Bellore from Detroit or approach restricted free agent Nick Dzubnar from the Chargers. Bellore actually spent the second half of last year as a fullback, while Dzubnar only played a couple of defensive snaps.
Once they've negotiated free agency, the Jets will know whether they're targeting someone to groom for a starting role in the short term or to fill in and contribute on special teams.
If they're going to use a high pick - perhaps if they trade up or down into the mid-to-late first - then Roquan Smith and Rashaan Evans seem like the most likely options at the moment. Of the two, Evans is more of the thumper type that would pair well with Lee, but Smith's film is impressive.
Later on, there are several productive options available, many of whom attended big-name schools from power conferences. Any of these players could elevate themselves into day two consideration (or better) with an outstanding combine performance.
Players like Jerome Baker from Ohio State, Skai Moore from South Carolina and Tegray Scales from Indiana are good players but they might fit better into a 4-3 defense or at least one where there isn't already an undersized player in an every down role. Baker is a great athlete, Moore is a playmaker in coverage and Scales has great instincts and range.
Other options could include Leighton Vander Esch, who has nice size and had a break-out year at Boise State in 2017.
While his defensive role might end up being more of a hybrid-safety type role, Clemson's Dorian O'Daniel is perhaps the best special teamer in this year's inside linebacker class, so could provide good value as a back-up early on in his career.
Finally, former Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy might have been a high pick had he not suffered a torn ACL in 2017. The Jets already took a late round flyer on such a player when they picked up Jeremy Clark last year, so Cichy - a versatile player with good intangibles - could be a consideration if he lasts into the later rounds.
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.
BONUS LINK: Inside linebacker prospects breakdown