Our look at the New York Jets’ potential offseason decisions reaches the best position group on the team, the defensive line. The Jets have arguably the best defensive line in football, and Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison were each outstanding this season. Wilkerson was quite possibly the biggest Pro Bowl snub in the NFL, while Richardson is a strong candidate for defensive rookie of the year. This unit was the biggest reason the Jets possessed the league’s third ranked run defense.
The Jets actually only carried five full time defensive linemen on their roster, with Leger Douzable and Kenrick Ellis joining Wilkerson, Richardson and Harrison. Linebacker Quinton Coples also spent some time with his hand on the ground, allowing the Jets to keep such a small amount of true linemen. So which of these defensive linemen should the Jets bring back next season? The answer is simple: all of them.
Douzable is the only one of these players that is a free agent, and I fully expect the Jets to bring him back. He was supposed to just be a body in training camp, but he actually turned out to be a very valuable backup. Douzable’s stat line only says 19 tackles fore 1.5 sacks, but he was very good against the run and more than held his own when Wilkerson and Richardson needed a break. It should not surprise anyone if he is given a multi-year deal.
Ellis proved to be a strong run defender behind Harrison, and he has one season left on his rookie contract. Ellis has not developed as well as the Jets had thought he would when they drafted him in the third round in 2011, but he still is very valuable as a reserve. At 6’4″, 346 lbs, Ellis is nearly unmovable in the run game. He and Harrison form a brick wall in short yardage situations, and they should continue to do so next year.
Richardson was the second of the Jets’ first round picks in April, taken with the pick they acquired for Darrelle Revis. Richardson was absolutely outstanding all season, and he shattered even the highest hopes the Jets had for him as a rookie. Richardson was a monster against the run, but the Jets would like to see him improve as a pass rusher. There is every reason to believe he will be able to do that, and Richardson looks like a future Pro Bowler.
Where things get interesting for the Jets is regarding Wilkerson and Harrison. Each player has one year left on his contract before become a free agent, with Harrison being restricted and Wilkerson unrestricted. Harrison presents an interesting case for the Jets, because he came out of nowhere to become one of the best nose tackles in the league this season. Given that he will only be a restricted free agent and the Jets have other needs, they would be wise to wait and see if he repeats that level of performance before handing him a long term contract. Harrison was an exceptionally disruptive force against the run, and if he continues to play like that then the Jets will be more than happy to hand him a big contract.
There are no doubts about Wilkerson however. In my opinion he is the second best 3-4 end in the league, and the Jets need to get him locked down for the long term this offseason. They cannot afford another Revis situation with a superstar defender, so it is on John Idzik to make sure that this extension happens, no matter the cost. Wilkerson is the Jets’ best player by a wide margin, and he is absolutely vital to their defense. The Jets need to get him signed so that they can enjoy his dominant play for the foreseeable future.
The extensions of Wilkerson and Harrison should be the only drama on the defensive line this offseason, as the Jets don’t have any improvement to do. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them add one more player for additional depth, but other than that there isn’t anything to do. As they say, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and this is the best defensive line in football.