Jets Free Agency | Work Continues to Bolster Defensive Line

Randy Gregory and Harold Landry Among Pass Rushers with Expiring Contracts

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Defensive Linemen on the Roster (GP/GS in 2021)
Bradley Anae (0/0), Folorunso Fatukasi (15/15), John Franklin-Myers (16/16), Bryce Huff (9/7), Carl Lawson (0/0), Jonathan Marshall (4/0), Kyle Phillips (7/1), Sheldon Rankins (16/3), Hamilcar Rashed (1/0), Nathan Shepherd (17/1), Tanzel Smart (0/0), Tim Ward (11/0), Quinnen Williams (15/15), Jabari Zuniga (3/0)

Potential Free Agents
Unrestricted: Fatukasi, Shepherd Restricted: Phillips Exclusive Rights: Ward

Jets' DL Free Agency Picture
Before the real hitting began ahead of the 2021 NFL season, the Jets' defensive line took an enormous hit when DE Carl Lawson, signed in free agency from Cincinnati, ruptured the Achilles tendon in his left foot during a joint preseason practice with the Green Bay Packers. Lawson will be back and is certain to be joined on the DL by Quinnen Williams (who recently had his fifth-year option exercised) and John Franklin-Myers (who signed a long-term contract during this past season). Williams and Franklin-Myers tied for the team lead with 6 sacks each.

Beyond that aggressive twosome, GM Joe Douglas or HC Robert Saleh know the Jets defense -- starting with the Dline -- needs to be better. Overall in 2021, the unit finished 32nd in total defense (allowing 397.6 yards per game), 29th in rushing defense (allowing 138.3 yards a game), 32nd in scoring defense (29.7 points a game), 31st in takeaways (14) and tied for 26th in sacks (33). But there was improvement down the stretch from a group that got more comfortable with its scheme.

"I think the defense got better toward the end of the year," Saleh said. "There was a minute there when we were giving up 30, 40 points. And if you're in a shootout or playing from behind, that's a lot of pressure on your quarterback. I don't care who your quarterback is. It's tough getting up on Sunday knowing you're going to be in a shootout because you can't get enough stops [on defense]. It helps [offensive coordinator Mike] LaFleur. It helps Zach. It helps everybody. You can play a style of ball where you can call plays to set things up. You don't have to be impatient. It's OK to punt, to keep the game to one score, then when the fourth quarter comes it's playmaker time, and you go make some plays."

Douglas said: "Having a better defense, improving our defense, is at the front of our minds."

And while the draft class of defensive linemen is strong, and the Jets have been linked to players like Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon), George Kalafatis (Purdue), Jermaine Johnson (Florida State), David Ojabo (Michigan) and Travon Walker (Georgia), an available free agent (or agents) could be part of the solution and enable the Jets to fill other needs with their two first-round and two second-round draft picks.

Take a look at the Jets players slated to become unrestricted or restricted free agents when the NFL's free agency period begins on March 16.

Free Agent DL Candidate Capsules
DT B.J. Hill (6-3, 310)Drafted in the third round by the Giants in 2018, Hill helped send the Bengals to the Super Bowl when he made a key interception against the Chiefs as Cincinnati rallied to win the AFC title in overtime. This past season (his first with the Bengals), Hill played in 16 games, recorded 5.5 sacks, 6 TFLs and 12 QB hits while making 50 tackles (29 solo). He will turn 27 on April 20. He played in 49% of the snaps on defense, and his run-stop rate of 11.2% ranked fourth-best at the position out of 105 qualifiers. He also chipped in 29 pressures on 326 pass-rush snaps, for a pressure rate of 8.0%, which was 35th out of 122 qualified interior defensive linemen.

DT D.J. Jones (6-0, 305)Another one of those guys with history with Saleh -- drafted in the sixth round by San Francisco in 2017 when the current Jets HC was the 49ers' defensive coordinator. Part of the appeal of the 27-year-old Jones is that he played in the same defensive scheme now employed by the Jets. Though he is similar in size and stature to Quinnen Williams and has experience playing in the middle of the Dline, he is versatile and talented enough to thrive most anywhere on the interior line. Last season, he started and played in all 17 games, had 35 run stops over only 263 snaps. Jones had 2 sacks, 10 TFLs and 56 total tackles (40 solo). His 66.6 pass-rush grade, according to Pro Football Focus, was slightly above the positional average of 65.1. He played under a one-year contract last season, had the best season of his career and is now likely to be on the open market.

Randy Gregory (6-5, 238)While some older veterans (Von Miller, Chandler Jones and Jadeveon Clowney) are likely to be seeking a last big contract, Gregory, 29, is coming off a strong season with the Cowboys -- even though he played in 12 games because of a midseason calf injury. Coming out of Nebraska, he was expected to be a possible first-round draft pick in 2015, but failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine and fell to the Cowboys in the second round with the 60th overall pick. His 84.7 pass-rush grade in the 2021 regular season was 11th among edge defenders. In those 12 games last season, Gregory had 6 sacks (tying a career high), 17 QB hits and a single interception. Dallas is likely to be hard pressed to retain Gregory under the salary cap while also paying DE DeMarcus Lawrence big dollars.

Harold Landry III (6-2, 252)
Since being drafted by Tennessee in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Boston College, Landry has been nothing short of an ironman for the Titans. In four seasons he has played in 64 of 65 regular-season games, taking 3,187 snaps since 2019, which is almost 300 more than the next highest edge rusher (Leonard Floyd of the Rams). Landry, who will turn 29 in June, had the best season of his career in 2021, recording a team-leading 12 sacks (10th in the league), and had a career high with 75 total tackles (51 solo).

Emmanuel Ogbah (6-4, 275)Still only 28, Ogbah has been around the NFL block since being drafted by Cleveland at the top of the second round in 2016, being traded to Kansas City in 2019 and then signing as a free agent and playing for two seasons with Miami. He put together a career year with the Dolphins in the 2021 season, playing in all 17 games and recording 9 sacks (duplicating his number from 2020), 24 QB hits, 12 passes defended and 9 TFLs. Ogbah, a native of Nigeria who moved to Texas with his family when he was 9, had a career-best 77 overall grade, according to Pro Football Focus, and his 71.4 pass-rush grade was his first above 65.

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