New York Jets Should They Stay or Should They Go: Linebackers
We have already looked at what might happen with New York Jets’ defensive line this offseason, and now we examine the other half of their top notch front seven, the linebackers. The Jets’ linebacking corps may not be as celebrated as the defensive line, but they were still absolutely crucial to the Jets’ 11th ranked defense. The Jets got great play from inside linebackers David Harris and Demario Davis all season, and they form one of the better pairings in the NFL. On the outside, Calvin Pace turned back the clock with a career high 10 sacks, while second year player Quinton Coples came on strong at the end of the year.
The four starters were joined by reserves Nick Bellore and Josh Mauga on the inside and Antwan Barnes, Garrett McIntyre, Jermaine Cunningham and Troy Davis on the outside. Bellore, Mauga, McIntyre and Pace are all free agents, so the Jets will have decisions to make. Starting on the inside, I expect them to re-sign Bellore and allow Mauga to leave. Mauga has been injury prone his whole career, while Bellore is a vital special teams player and solid backup to Harris and Davis. Re-signing him should be an easy decision for the Jets.
Harris had a very nice bounce back season, recording 123 tackles, 2 sacks and 1 forced fumble. Davis made huge strides in his second season in the league, finishing with 107 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception. Expect Harris to continue his steady play next season, while Davis could be a breakout star. These are two easy keepers for the Jets.
Outside, Coples finally started to live up to his first round draft status towards the end of the season. Coples missed the first two games with a fractured ankle and was slowed for several after that, but 3.5 of his 4.5 sacks came over the last five weeks. The Jets will be expecting him to extend that level of play for an entire season and become a premier edge rusher.
On the other side, Pace turned in the best season of his career at age 33. The Jets cannot possibly expect a repeat performance, but I expect Pace will be given a one year contract and will still see a reasonable amount of playing time. The Jets have similar decision to make on Barnes, who tore his ACL early in the season. Barnes was solid in the few games he played, but he is going to be 30 and has been injury prone his whole career. The Jets need to release him and look for a different option as a pass rush specialist.
The backups at outside linebacker leave some decisions to be made as well. I don’t expect the Jets to keep all three of McIntyre, Cunningham and Davis, and they might pass on all of them. McIntyre has proven to be a solid run stopper and special teamer, so the Jets could and should bring him back. However, Cunningham and Davis made no impact, and the Jets need to release them and look for better pass rushing options.
The Jets’ linebacking corps was solid, but there are definitely some improvements that could be made. If the price is right on a big free agent or they find a player they like in the draft, don’t be surprised to see the Jets make a splashy move at outside linebacker. Their pass rush is still a bit of weak link, so there will be roster turnover as they attempt to correct that issue.