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Jets Free Agency Preview: Defensive Line

Posted Feb 15, 2017

What Will Green & White Add to Unit That Seeks '17 Rebound with Wilkerson, Richardson & Williams?

Overview
Things didn't go as planned for the Jets' defensive front. After finishing second against the run in '15, the Green & White came in 11th this past season, and the line's production dropped in sacks (21.5 to 19) and QB hits (74 to 48). The focus was on Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.

"It wasn’t like last year," head coach Todd Bowles said about his two DL pillars. "Mo battled through some things and played. Sheldon played hard. The production wasn’t there, but the effort was there and they made other people better, so I have no problem with the way they played."

One of the players they made better was second-year man Leonard Williams, who led not only the line but the defense with seven sacks and 19 hits and played in his first Pro Bowl.

In the middle, Steve McLendon came over from Pittsburgh and posted a career-high 3.5 sacks and added 6.0 tackles at or behind the line, then sat the last five games with a hamstring injury. That gave strongman Deon Simon time to show he could also produce on the inside with his first 1.5 pro sacks plus 4.5 tackles at/behind the line.

The Jets also have several young linemen waiting for a chance at extended play, among them Lawrence Thomas, who played the first three games and even got a start before going on IR, and Anthony Johnson, who saw spot duty in the last seven game. And they acquired off waivers big (6'4", 332) Mike Pennel, who showed promise in three seasons in Green Bay.


Jets Free Agents
The Green & White have 12 defensive linemen on their roster now, holdovers from 2016 and recent street free agent signees, and none is set to become a free agent in March.

The Market
One is tempted to say the Jets won't be looking at the DL crop when the bell rings on unrestricted free agency on March 9, but GM Mike Maccagnan has repeated his mantra already this year: "Our focus has always been to ideally build through the draft and supplement through free agency." So Maccagnan and his personnel department will do their due diligence at all positions, including DL, which potentially seems to be an older group this year.

Two-time Pro Bowler Calais Campbell at 30 is one of the top producers who could be testing the waters after playing in all 16 games and notching eight sacks and 20 QB hits for the Cardinals. The Giants are reported to be making a bid to re-sign Jason Pierre-Paul (seven sacks, three forced fumbles) before he gets to free agency. Jabaal Sheard, one of the cogs in the Patriots' Super Bowl-winning defense, could hit the market, as could the 49ers' Chris Dorsey and the Redskins' Chris Baker.

Two big-name nose UFA candidates are 35 years old — Texan and former Patriot Vince Wilfork, who has said he's contemplating retirement, and Falcons Super Bowl DL Jonathan Babineaux, who said he wants to keep playing. The Chiefs' Dontari Poe is a durable big man with two Pro Bowls under his belt, while Nick Fairley had seven sacks from the inside for the Saints, his third team in three years, and the Bengals' Domata Peko (32) is coming off a zero-sack season.


 


Synopsis
Bowles has brought in a new D-line coach, Robert Nunn, who comes to the Jets from the Browns last year. But before that Nunn showed he was capable of orchestrating a big-name defensive in the Meadowlands when he coached the Giants' D-line, with the likes of Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, to some league-leading production from 2010-15. Nunn also has experience in both the 4-3 and 3-4.

He'll get a chance to build something similar with the returning Jets D-linemen, which, despite their step back in '16, have three players (Wilkerson, Richardson and Williams) each of whom has been selected to play in a Pro Bowl and won a Curtis Martin Team MVP award all in the last four seasons.

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