A third-round project pick by the Jets in 2005, Pouha blossomed under Rex Ryan, a true defensive line guru. In 2009 and 2010, Pouha filled in admirably for the injured Kris Jenkins, proving his worth as a viable starter.
It all came together for Pouha in 2011, who was snubbed from the Pro Bowl and All-Pro team that year, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the impending free agent to be.
In March of 2012, the Jets locked up Pouha to a three-year, $15 million with $9.5 million guaranteed.
Unfortunately for Pouha and the Jets, nagging back issues slowed him down this past season, and he was not able to approach anywhere near the level of play he and the Jets had become accustomed to.
Pouha has always been a unique case of a late bloomer with an indeterminable window for success.
A member of the Church of the Latter-day Saints, Pouha entered the league as a project player in part because he was a 26-year-old rookie, due to a two-year Mormon mission he partook in after high school.
Now 34-years-old, it’s very tough for the Jets to know how much longer that the can rely on Pouha to anchor the middle of their defensive line, especially after his alarming back woes in 2012.
Pouha’s back issues flared up once before in the past, most notably during the 2010-11 postseason. The Jets’ January 2011 loss in the AFC Championship game was due in large part to Pouha’s ineffectiveness.
However, Pouha recovered and had a career year the following season, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how the back issues will affect him going into 2013 and beyond.
For what it’s worth, Pouha is due just under $5 million in base salary this upcoming season, which could put him in danger of being a salary cap casualty this off-season, as a few of his teammates likely will be.
If the Jets do decide to cut him loose, who plays nose tackle next season? Pouha’s partner in crime, Mike DeVito, is an impending free agent. He filled in admirably for Pouha in 2012, and I’ve vouched for his return.
The other nose tackles on the roster are 25-year-old Kenrick Ellis, himself a third-round pick back in 2009, and Damon Harrison, a 24-year-old who made the team as an undrafted rookie last season.
The Jets will have to decide if Ellis and Harrison can handle the load, or if Pouha and/or DeVito are worth keeping around for the foreseeable future. Cutting Pouha and then re-signing him for less is not out of the question.
Pouha is a fan favorite, and it wasn’t all that long ago that he was an elite player at his position. However, it’s pretty clear that if the Jets bring him back in 2013, they better make sure they have a contingency plan.