Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan speaks at the NFL Combine on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 in Indianapolis’s
Andy Vasquez, Staff Writer, @andy_vasquez
Tuesday’s deadline came and went without the Jets putting the franchise tag on any of their players. This was not a surprise. The Jets have plenty of unrestricted free agents — 26 to be exact — but none of them distinguished themselves as stars last season. So understandably, they’re letting everyone test the market.
But around the league, other teams were busy before the deadline. And the impact will be felt in Florham Park. Several key pass rushers were tagged this week, including Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence, Kansas City’s Dee Ford, Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett, Seattle’s Frank Clark and Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney.
This, of course, is less than ideal for the Jets. They are, once again, searching for a game-changing pass rusher. Yes, they can probably find someone who fits the bill with their first-round draft pick. But getting to the quarterback is important and the Jets have been bad at it. With more than $102 million to spend in free agency, there’s nothing wrong with looking to enhance the pass rush both through the draft and free agency.
So who’s left for general manager Mike Maccagnan to pursue? Here’s a look at some of their options to improve the pass rush when free agency begins next week.
Trey Flowers, Patriots DE
The 25-year-old had 14 sacks over the last two years, including 7.5 in 2018 to go with 20 QB hits. He’s young, could be used in many different ways under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and there’s the added bonus of taking him away from the rival Patriots. But the cost could be high as Flowers will be looking for his first big NFL contract.
Dante Fowler, Rams DE
He had only four sacks last season after being traded from the Jaguars to the Rams, and he has yet to live up to expectations after being drafted third overall in 2015. But his potential is undeniable — he showed some of it with a 7.5 sack sophomore season — and at 24, the 6-3, 267-pound Fowler could be on the verge of a breakthrough.
Ezekiel Ansah, Lions DE
He’s 30 years old and has dealt with injuries for the last several years — he hasn’t played a full season since 2015 and played only two games last year because of a shoulder injury. But when Ansah is on and healthy, he’s a force: he had 14.5 sacks in 2015 and 12.0 in 2017. If they can get him on a reasonable, short-term deal this could make sense. But it’s risky.
Dee Ford, Chiefs OLB
The Jets would have to trade for Ford, who was franchise tagged by Kansas City. But the Chiefs, according to multiple reports, are open to trading him because he doesn’t fit in as well with their new 4-3 defense. Ford could be a perfect fit with the Jets as he’s proven his worth in a 3-4 base defense — he had 13 sacks and seven forced fumbles last season in Kansas City. But if the trade cost is too high, the Jets should stay away.
Henry Anderson, Jets DT
He set a career high with seven sacks in 2018 (tied for most on the team). And now he’ll be rewarded. If the Jets believe last season wasn’t an anomaly, it would make sense to bring him back — they’re going to play a 3-4 base defense this year, which is where Anderson fits best. If the price doesn’t get too high, the Jets should keep Anderson and address their edge issues in the draft.
In conclusion: It’s true, the most spectacular pass rushers are off the market before free agency begins. But the Jets can still have the chance to turn their defensive line into a strength. They already have a strong defensive lineman in Leonard Williams, and if they pick up a proven free agent and draft a pass rusher — Kentucky’s Josh Allen, Ohio State’s Nick Bosa or Alabama’s Quinnen Williams will be available at No. 3 — the Jets could have a formidable defensive line for years to come.