5 Pass-Rushers the New York Jets Must Pursue This Offseason
In 2012, the Jets were tied for 25th in the NFL with a team total of 30.0 sacks. The season before, in 2011, the Jets were 17th in the league with 35.0 sacks. In 2010, they tied for eighth in the league with 40.0 sacks.
The team has experienced a precipitous decline in their pass rush over the past three seasons. The front office made moves in the draft, notably the selections of Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, to address this need, but they haven't been able to improve on-field performance.
The year's class of free-agent pass rushers offers the Jets the opportunity to improve their defense's ability to get to the quarterback and take the pressure off their secondary.
*Writer's note: While Dwight Freeney and Cliff Avril are both, without a doubt, the premiere DE's in this year's free-agent class, they were left off this list because the salaries they command simply aren't feasible for the Jets given their current cap situation.
DE: Michael Bennett
Michael Bennett lacks the widespread recognition of Dwight Freeney, or even Cliff Avril. That said, both Freeney and Avril made over $10 million in 2012. For a salary cap-strapped Jets team, Bennett may be the most viable option.
The 2012 season was the first in his four-year career that he started all 16 games. In a full season, Bennett had 9.0 sacks, 41 total tackles (34 individual) and three forced fumbles.
At 27, he is also one of the younger players available at the DE position in this year's free-agent class. For a defense looking to get younger, Bennett is a great choice.
OLB: Paul Kruger
With Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams all hitting free agency at the end of the season, the Ravens may not be able to re-sign OLB Paul Kruger.
The 2012 campaign was a breakout season for Kruger, who racked up 9.0 sacks, 42 tackles (30 individual), had one forced fumble and one interception. Kruger appeared to get stronger as the season wore on, recording 7.5 of his sacks in the Ravens' final eight games.
Like Bennett, Kruger is a young player, only 26 years old, and still has plenty of productive years ahead of him. He seems like an ideal candidate to replace Bryan Thomas, the 11-year veteran who became a free agent at season's end.
DE: Osi Umenyiora
Jet fans are all too familiar with the locker room nuisance Osi Umenyiora is capable of being. His on-and-off love affair with the Giants front office dominated New York headlines almost as often as Rex Ryan soundbites.
In a crowded defensive line unit, Umenyiora's stats suffered this season, making him more affordable in free agency than many thought early in the season.
Over the 2012 season, he accumulated 6.0 sacks, 43 tackles (28 individual) and two forced fumbles. Among the proven, elite pass-rushers, Umenyiora would be the smallest cap hit for the Jets. While his performance this past season may be disappointing, he still had more sacks than anyone on the Jets roster.
OLB: Anthony Spencer
In 2012, Anthony Spencer finally validated his first-round selection in the 2007 draft.
For the first time in his career, he reached a double-digit sack total (11.0) and set a career high in tackles with 95 (55 individual).
Spencer is a particularly interesting prospect for the Jets because he played in a defense run by Rob Ryan in Dallas. There are ramblings that with the Jets linebackers coach Bob Sutton interviewing with the Chiefs, Rob Ryan may be brought in to fill his position, were he to leave. Spencer blossomed in a Ryan-run defense in Dallas.
Additionally, Spencer is a flex player, capable of playing OLB or DE, making him a dynamic threat in the different defensive looks the Jets like to show opponents.
OLB: Connor Barwin
Connor Barwin might be the biggest gamble on the list for a team looking for a pure pass-rusher.
In 2011, he totaled 11.5 sacks in just his second full year in the NFL. This season, his production fell off sharply, and he finished the regular season with just 3.5 sacks.
This decline may be attributable, in part, to the emergence of J.J. Watt as an elite pass-rusher in the same defense. Watt's 20.5 sacks in 2012 no doubt took away opportunities for Barwin to pad his stats.
Barwin's future as a pass rush threat is uncertain after this past season, but because of this he also comes at a discount. Seeing as the OLB is a "need" position, rather than a "want" position like DE, for Gang Green it might be worth the risk. Best case scenario, he returns to his 2011 sacking ways, worst case he performs as a solid OLB in Rex Ryan's defense.
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