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How the JFM trade alters the New York Jets defense’s philosophy

New York Jets, DL, John Franklin-Myers, Jermaine Johnson, Robert Saleh
New York Jets, DL, John Franklin-Myers, Jermaine Johnson, Robert Saleh, Getty Images

Where’s the beef?

Where’s the beef? Not only did the popular fast-food chain Wendy’s introduce us to that catchy three-word phrase, but 1984 presidential hopeful Walter Mondale also hopped on the pop-culture train.

Unfortunately, Mondale’s beef tactic couldn’t carry him home against Ronald Reagan (it was just a tad off the mark, electorally speaking). Yet a football team’s angle on the memorable catchphrase still features hopes and dreams 40 years later.

The NFL offseason is a time for training, vacation and improvement. Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh used this period to identify the New York Jets‘ weaknesses and address them as best they could.

Although it often flew under the radar, the scuttlebutt around the league told a story of Charmin softness—as it relates to the Jets trenches. Sure, everybody realized the offensive line’s poor production, but how easily teams could move both sides of the ball remained a key problem to overcome.

Enter John Simpson, Morgan Moses, Tyron Smith, Javon Kinlaw and Leki Fotu, the big fellas whose jobs instantly resemble beef up front.

Yet, interestingly, one move wholly contrasts with the Jets’ offseason vision of execution, and it flies in the face of Saleh’s tried and tested defensive philosophy.

John Franklin-Myers’ absence drastically changes the look

Jets fans came away from the 2024 NFL draft happy with their organization’s efforts—generally speaking. Douglas snagged Olu Fashanu, Malachi Corley, Braelon Allen, and a few more supporting pieces.

He also unloaded Zach Wilson to the Denver Broncos, an expected move that boiled down to correct timing.

The one that shocked the masses was the other Broncos deal—the one involving John Franklin-Myers.

Myers, 27, could not help but showcase his emotions upon signing a four-year, $55 million deal in October 2021. Signed off the scrap heap, the Jets turned the man the kids call JFM into a quality starting defensive lineman, and they locked him up in the early going.

Three years later, the contract had to be faced head-on, and the return of a mere sixth-round pick sent some Jets fans into a frenzy.

It’s doubtful that Saleh wanted to send JFM packing, but the reality is that he is indeed in Denver, which raises an interesting question about the 2024 Jets’ defense.

How do they navigate such a versatile loss?

JFM played both EDGE and IDL

Robert Saleh is undoubtedly rigid in his defensive ways, as his 4-3 gap-attacking style of defense is both high risk and high reward. Another rigid element of his defense is the contrast between base and subpackage.

John Franklin-Myers helped demonstrate that contrast better than anybody.

The Jets’ 4-3 base look featured JFM firmly on the EDGE (listed from left to right, generally):

  • EDGE (5T-9T): John Franklin-Myers, Micheal Clemons
  • IDL (2iT-4iT): Quinnen Williams, Solomon Thomas
  • IDL (1T-3T): Quinton Jefferson, Al Woods
  • EDGE (5T-9T): Jermaine Johnson

However, the Jets’ subpackage looks (nickel and lighter) allowed JFM to move inside:

  • EDGE (7T-9T): Bryce Huff, Will McDonald
  • IDL (3T-5T): John Franklin-Myers, Micheal Clemons
  • IDL (3T-5T): Quinnen Williams, Quinton Jefferson, Solomon Thomas
  • EDGE (7T-9T): Jermaine Johnson

At 288 pounds, Franklin-Myers isn’t your modern defensive end. He’s more of a tweener, a Calais Campbell type who’s just quick enough to play edge in some situations yet incredibly quick for the interior.

Knocking down from defensive end in base to defensive tackle in sub freed up an EDGE spot for pass-rush specialists Bryce Huff and Will McDonald.

Is there a JFM replacement?

Micheal Clemons is entering his third professional year, and he’s still the man winning the poll that asks, “Which Jets player would you least want to take on in a fight?” Despite weighing nearly 20 pounds lighter than John Franklin-Myers, he undoubtedly took on the No. 2 tweener role in 2023.

Clemons, 26, put on a bit of weight in the 2023 offseason at the behest of the Jets coaching staff. With a lack of bend and burst—both of which come incredibly important on the EDGE and in space—Jeff Ulbrich and company envisioned him as JFM’s No. 2.

Although this was the theoretical plan, Clemons rarely saw interior time in the subpackage in 2023 (as better options usually ruled the day).

Does that change in 2024 with JFM gone? I don’t think so.

Clemons should settle in as a true second-team defensive end—focused squarely on his base rotation time. By no means am I claiming he won’t see time in nickel and dime, but I do think those snaps will be rare.

If JFM is gone and Clemons isn’t the answer, what’s Robert Saleh to do? How in the world does he continue down the tweener path he holds near and dear to his heart?

The 2024 Jets’ projected DL plan

There’s no way around it: Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich don’t have the horses to use the tweener position rigidly.

Granted, although JFM played DE in base and DT in the subpackage, that did not automatically translate into a clean split. He often still played EDGE in nickel and pass-rushing situations, depending upon rotation and situation.

From a philosophical standpoint, however, the 2024 defensive line has no classic tweener on the roster.

Newcomer Haason Reddick is not an interior player by any means—although his versatility gives the Jets an additional second-level linebacker body. Bryce Huff, a classic subpackage rusher, is gone, whereas Will McDonald’s playing time is expected to increase dramatically (mainly in pass-rushing situations but altogether, most likely).

It feels like this defensive line is missing a body in various ways.

The 2024 Jets’ 4-3 base look at the moment (listed from left to right, generally):

  • EDGE (5T-9T): Jermaine Johnson, Micheal Clemons
  • IDL (2iT-4iT): Quinnen Williams, Solomon Thomas
  • IDL (1T-3T): Javon Kinlaw, Leki Fotu
  • EDGE (5T-9T): Haason Reddick, Will McDonald
New York Jets, DL 4-3 Base
New York Jets, DL 4-3 Base

The 2024 Jets’ subpackage (nickel, dime, etc.) look:

  • EDGE (7T-9T): Jermaine Johnson, Micheal Clemons
  • IDL (3T-5T): Javon Kinlaw, Micheal Clemons
  • IDL (3T-5T): Quinnen Williams, Solomon Thomas
  • EDGE (7T-9T): Haason Reddick, Will McDonald
New York Jets, DL, 4-2-5 Sub
New York Jets, DL, 4-2-5 Sub

Jermaine Johnson, Haason Reddick, and Will McDonald are classic EDGE defenders, which means none can consistently receive time at IDL—at least in any meaningful fashion.

Therefore, the versatility is greatly reduced, opening up space next to Quinnen Williams in the subpackage along the interior. Whether or not Javon Kinlaw can consistently produce when chasing the quarterback is a major question.

The new look creates more elaborate thinking

The New York Jets hope one or two under-the-radar bodies impress this summer since one or two more reliable bodies are needed up front (to feel completely comfortable). If it doesn’t happen, look for them to hunt down one more veteran.

Either way, although the loss of John Franklin-Myers hurts—particularly from a run-stopping perspective on the EDGE—his absence forces the Jets’ defense to design its up-front strategy more straightforwardly.

They’ll be much faster in space, which means the unit is more equipped to handle much of the misdirection junk offenses deploy against Saleh’s fiercely gap-attacking style:

  • Counters
  • Misdirections
  • Jet-motion edge pressure
  • Screens in space

Although it’s more straightforward on paper—without a tweener like JFM—the transparency creates a need to become more elaborate in nut-crunching time. Therefore, think of more pre-snap roaming and EDGE stand-up opportunities that plug interior gaps in specific situations.

After all, there is no law that forces the Jets to use a conventional four-man front in every situation. We saw Jeff Ulbrich become much more creative in his looks and games as the 2023 season marched forward, and that should continue in 2024 with Haason Reddick in tow.

In fact, when thinking about more elaborate fronts, there is a sneaky subpackage look that makes incredible sense in certain situations.

The sneaky subpackage look

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16 days ago

One injury to Quinnen Williams and the IDL is toast!