The New York Jets' salary cap troubles were on display from the outset of free agency, as Gang Green released veteran defensive tack Sione Po'uha Tuesday ahead of a pending Thursday guarantee of his 2013 salary.
John Idzik's job didn't get any easier later in the day, when it was announced that Mike DeVito had inked a three-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. $4.2 million a year was likely out of the Jets' price range, but the interior of New York's defensive line is now very thin.
The Jets have relied on a solid defensive line as the base of their defense for years, so it will be important to find an adequate replacement at the tackle position to complement talented ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples. It is still early in the offseason, and Idzik has a few options.
Increase Kenrick Ellis' Role
The Jets had high hopes for Kenrick Ellis when they drafted him in the third round in 2011, but they also knew he would be a project. Now that Ellis is entering his third year, it's time for the Jets to see what they have in the player.
Ellis certainly has the body to play nose tackle, and he saw increased playing in 2012 both due to injuries to Pou'ha and an elevation of his own role. He did not produce big statistics but performed adequately as a run-stopper.
For the most part, Ellis remains unproven and has not yet been asked to play a starter's snap count on a consistent basis, so going forward with him as a full-time starter would certainly be a riskier option. But it's not out of the realm of possibility.
Find an External Replacement
Pou'ha and DeVito are very solid players, but they are not the only interior linemen on the market this winter. According to ESPN Insider, Richard Seymour, Desmond Bennett and Alan Branch are all strong options at the position.
Seymour is no spring chicken, and players like Bennett and Branch could command a decent price. But there will be additional cuts throughout the offseason, and big contracts for higher-profile players will help suppress demand for lesser known targets.
Another option for the Jets is to add a player in the draft. The Jets are better off using their first-round pick on bigger needs instead of drafting Star Lotulelei or Sharrif Floyd (assuming either is even available at No. 9), but it would not be surprising to seem them pick a tackle in the middle of the draft, especially if the team adds a pick or two through trades.
Experiment with "Defensive Tackle by Committee"
It's unlikely that the Jets will find a full-time defensive tackle this offseason; salary cap restrictions and pressing draft needs make that difficult. It's similarly unlikely that Kenrick Ellis has already cemented himself as the undisputed starter.
What is more likely is that the Jets will be able to add a cheap (either salary- or draft pick-wise) player or two that they like to complement Ellis. If the Jets draft an edge rusher in the first round, it's also possible for the Jets to give Coples a few snaps at nose tackle here and there. Damon Harrison is another player the Jets like on their roster, so he may see an increased role as well.
Historically, the Jets have done a good job of utilizing their entire roster to create an effective defensive line, regardless of name recognition. Expect Gang Green to continue to take that approach.
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