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New York Jets free agent position preview: Edge rusher

Jordan Jenkins
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The New York Jets are badly lacking at the EDGE position and need a clear plan going into free agency. Here’s what they should do.

Jets’ impending free agents

Jordan Jenkins
  • 2020 cap hit: $3,937,500
  • Free agent type: Unrestricted
  • Age on September 1, 2021: 27.2
  • Free agent EDGE ranking: 10th of 43

Jenkins was on his way to a very quiet 2020 season until he closed the year on an absolute rampage, which was stopped only by a season-ending shoulder injury. He missed the Jets’ final four games after playing in their first 12.

From Weeks 1-9, Jenkins collected just 15 pressures over 185 pass-rush snaps for an 8.1% pressure rate, below the 2020 positional average of 9.7%. He was tied for 56th among edge rushers in pressures when the Jets entered their Week 10 bye.

Coming out of the bye week, Jenkins was a different player. Over three games from Weeks 11-13, Jenkins picked up 16 pressures over 116 pass-rush snaps for an excellent pressure rate of 13.8%. Only Joey Bosa and Bradley Chubb had more pressures among edge rushers over that span, while Jenkins’ 89.7 overall PFF grade placed him second behind T.J. Watt over that stretch.

Jenkins ended the season with a pressure rate of 10.3% and a run stop rate of 6.6%. Both marks place him slightly above the positional averages (2020 average EDGE run stop rate: 5.8%). He stayed right on track with his career tendency of relatively league-average play: his career pressure rate is 10.3% while his career run stop rate is 5.0%.

Ranking 10th out of 43 qualifiers on our EDGE free agent leaderboard, Jenkins is one of the better options on the market even if he has only been a steadily average starter throughout his career. He is a starting-caliber player, but if he is a team’s best edge rusher by a wide margin, that team is in serious trouble, as we have seen over the past five years. The Jets cannot afford to have him as their best player on the edge once again.

Overpaying for Jenkins’ consistent average-level play would be unwise for the Jets or any NFL team, but if he can be had affordably, there should be a place for him to make an impact on most defenses in the league. Does he fit in the Robert Saleh defense? That’s an interesting question, as in Saleh’s defense, Jenkins might be required to play more off-the-ball snaps and/or take on a larger role in coverage, neither of which suits his talents well.

Perhaps it’s time for Jenkins and the Jets to call off their relationship after a half-decade that featured few downs, but few ups, either.

Tarell Basham
  • 2020 cap hit: $825,000
  • Free agent type: Unrestricted
  • Age on September 1, 2021: 27.5
  • Free agent EDGE ranking: 26th of 43

Basham had an odd 2020 season from a statistical standpoint. PFF liked his performance, giving him a 65.6 pass-rush grade that ranked at the 57th percentile among qualified edge rushers and a 71.7 run defense grade that ranked at the 83rd percentile, but he barely produced any tangible impact. Playing all 16 games, Basham tied for 48th at his position in pressures (32) despite ranking 36th in pass-rush snaps (397). His pressure rate of 8.1% landed at the position’s 33rd percentile.

In the run game, despite his impressive grade, Basham wasn’t much of an on-ball play-maker with a run stop rate of 3.7% (10 stops, 273 snaps) that placed at the 17th percentile.

It was an interesting decline for Basham after a much more productive 2019 season in which he flashed promise at 25 years old in just his third NFL campaign. That year, he was solid in both phases as he posted an 11.9% pressure rate (39 pressures, 329 snaps) and a 7.5% (14 stops, 186 snaps) run stop rate.

Tackling was a problem for Basham in 2020 as he jumped from six misses in 2019 to 11 in 2020, a total that tied for 5th-most at his position.

Jets’ players under contract

  • Jabari Zuniga, age 24.2 on 9-1-21, $1.0M cap hit in 2021 (signed through 2023)
  • Kyle Phillips, age 24.3, $851.7K cap hit (signed through 2021)
  • Bryce Huff, age 23.4, $785K cap hit (signed through 2022)

The Jets are razor-thin at the position with only three pure edge players under contract. All three of the players they do have at the position are raw, each coming into 2021 at under 25 years old.

Huff, Phillips, and Zuniga each project to be good fits in the Robert Saleh defense. All three can line up on the end with their hand in the dirt. Huff also offers the flexibility to play some outside linebacker, which both Phillips and Zuniga can also do on occasion, but to a less frequent extent.

In 2020, Huff was one of the young bright spots on the roster as he showed occasional glimpses of real potential as a pass rusher. Zuniga was on the opposite end of the spectrum, putting out arguably the worst performance of any key young player to receive a substantial number of snaps. He had one pressure and one run stop over 103 defensive snaps, so a major second-year leap will be needed to impress the new coaching staff.

Phillips had a solid 2019 season as an undrafted rookie, even if it was very one-sided. His pass rushing was abysmal, as he only posted a 5.8% pressure rate (17 pressures on 291 snaps), but he was fantastic against the run. His 76.6 run defense grade ranked at the 82nd percentile among qualified EDGE at PFF, while he tied for third at the position with 16 tackles against the run for no gain or a loss.

Top-tier free agents that make sense

Carl Lawson, Bengals

Lawson ranked fourth among edge rushers with 64 pressures in 2020. He has consistently been an efficient pass rusher throughout his career, but simply never got enough snaps due both to the coaching staff’s decisions and injuries. When he finally got substantial playing time in 2020, he extrapolated his excellent efficiency and put up big numbers.

Injuries are a question mark for Lawson, but he is a good bet to continue rushing the passer at a high level from the 5-technique spot for years to come. He fits the Jets’ scheme, is in his prime, is coming off of a legitimately elite season, and has a career track record that suggests his high-level production will continue. He’s a premier target.

Romeo Okwara, Lions

Okwara placed fifth at the EDGE position with 61 pressures. He is a risky target, as there are questions regarding his run defense and one-year-wonder status, but his production as a pass rusher in 2020 was elite. He also fits the Jets’ bill of a 4-3 defensive end.

Trey Hendrickson, Saints

Hendrickson ranked 21st among edge rushers with 49 pressures despite ranking 44th with 369 pass-rush snaps. His pressure rate of 13.3% placed him at the 88th percentile among qualifiers at the position. He also placed second in the NFL with 13.5 sacks. Like Lawson and Okwara, he would be a great scheme fit in Robert Saleh’s defense, as he does almost all of his work with his hand in the dirt as an outside defensive end.

Shaquil Barrett, Buccaneers

As a 3-4 outside linebacker, Barrett is not a perfect fit for the Saleh defense, but he is the type of player who is so dominant that he should be pursued by any EDGE-needy team regardless of their scheme. If he can be landed, you mold your scheme to fit him rather than the other way around.

Barrett led his position with 77 pressures in 2020 after ranking fourth with 82 in 2019. He might have been the true MVP of Super Bowl 55 with a game-high 10 pressures, leading the charge in an absolute onslaught of the Chiefs’ offensive line.

Top-tier free agents to avoid

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