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Top 10 defensive free agents Jets should target

Oct 23, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) gestures to the crowd during the second half against the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 23, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) gestures to the crowd during the second half against the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
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new york jets
new york jets

Oct 23, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) gestures to the crowd during the second half against the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets have a lot of holes to fill.  They should target offensive linemen in the draft because it’s better to develop young offensive linemen together as a unit.  However, they should target replacements for aging defensive players.

The New York Jets need to focus on fixing their defense in free agency and surrounding Bryce Petty with talent in the draft.  The old adage is that defense wins championships, and the Denver Broncos proved that last year.  The New York Giants have also shown you still win more consistently in the NFL with defense.

Jets inside linebacker David Harris is getting older, and it may be time to start molding his replacement, alongside Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins.  There’s also no doubt, it’s time to find a replacement for Darrelle Revis.

There is some talent in the back eight for the Jets to snag in the offseason.  Yes, back eight, because the Jets need to go back to playing a 3-4 base defense in 2017. The Jets defense was not only listless in 2016, but it was too predictable.  The switch from 3-4 to 4-3 made it much more difficult for the team to pressure the opposing quarterback.

It didn’t help that the coverage was just as bad, which compounded the issues on the front end. If you can’t cover well, it doesn’t give the front enough time to get to the quarterback. In simplest terms, games come down to who scores and who doesn’t.  The Jets have allowed the sixth-most points in the league and have the fourth worst scoring differential in 2016.  That’s on the defense.

Let’s analyze who can help the Jets defense in 2017 via the upcoming free agency period.

Next: 10. Inside Linebacker Kiko Alonso

new york jets
new york jets

Nov 20, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Kiko Alonso (47) tackles Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin (11) during Miami

10. Inside Linebacker Kiko Alonso

Alonso is an interesting free agent because his talent screams that he should be higher on this list, and he probably should be.  However, he is not an unrestricted free agent. He can sign with a team is he wants to, but Miami will have five days to match the offer because he’s a restricted free agent.

He would help the Jets immensely in the passing game, given his seven career interceptions.  He also has a nose for the ball with 305 combined solo tackles and assists, which would help in the run defense.  He also has two sacks, 18 tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits and nine passes defended.

Alonso would provide a young veteran presence that would be missed when, in all likelihood, Harris becomes a cap casualty.  His current cap number for the Dolphins is $991,418, and it would no doubt be lower than the $6.5M number (with $0 in dead money) Harris commands in 2017. He can aid the growth of both young linebackers the Jets drafted in 2016.  The Jets could use that if they plan on cutting Harris.

Next: 9. Cornerback D.J. Hayden

new york jets
new york jets

Dec 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) carries the ball against Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden (25) during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

9. Cornerback D.J. Hayden

Hayden is a quality cover corner.  He has forced six turnovers in his career (three interceptions and three fumbles).  He also has one sack, six tackles for loss and 26 passes defended in his career.

For all the positives he has there’s one key negative.  The experts will tell you the best ability to have in the NFL is availability. Hayden was placed on injured reserve this season on December 3.  He played 11 games up to that point, which will mark the third time in four seasons in the NFL he will miss as many as five games.

It will also mean he has only played in 70.3% of the possible games he could have played in since being drafted by the Raiders in the 2013 draft. Among all of the first round picks in that draft, only nine players have played in fewer games.  While his skills put him on this list, that’s a red flag that keeps him relatively low on this list.

Next: 8. Cornerback Morris Claiborne

new york jets
new york jets

Oct 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) intercepts the ball during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi

8. Cornerback Morris Claiborne

Claiborne is the glue that holds the back end of the Dallas Cowboys defense together.  He probably should be number one on this list. Only because he does have cover skills that could rival many corners in the NFL.

He has 26 career passes defended, four interceptions, four fumble recoveries, and one touchdown.  However, there is one red flag on his resume.  When you look at games played, it is alarming.

Like Hayden, he has missed many games. If he misses the final two games this season, and he is likely to do so, he will have only played in 59% of his possible games in his career.

While he has the skills to play in an aggressive defense like the Jets, that should set off some alarm bells.  There are other corners the Jets should target before Claiborne.

Next: 7. Defensive End Calais Campbell

Oct 30, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) react in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

7. Defensive End Calais Campbell

Sheldon Richardson is in a got-to-go situation in New York.  He clearly doesn’t want to be here, and the Jets aren’t tied to him for 2017 with no dead money on his contract and an $8,069,000 cap savings if they cut him.

They would need to add depth and quality if they want to replace Richardson.  So, why not add someone who Todd Bowles knows?  Enter Calais Campbell. With Bowles as his defensive coordinator, Campbell produced his best two seasons in the NFL.  He had 106 combined tackles and assists, 16 sacks, 30 tackles for loss and one interception.

It may cost the Jets more than they want to spend on a defensive lineman, though.  His last three seasons he’s earned a combined $41.25M in guaranteed money (11.25M, 14.75M and 15.25M respectively).  However, if Bowles could recruit him to the Jets, the sky would be the limit for this defense, especially if they could find a capable defensive coordinator.

There’s no doubt Campbell could help this defense.  It is an unfortunate case that his price-tag might just be a little bit too high.

Next: 6. Defensive End Frostee Rucker

6. Defensive End Frostee Rucker

Rucker may be a more viable fit for the Jets.  One reason is definitely the cap number.  Another key reason is he probably could fit in the rotation better, being that he wouldn’t have to start.

Rucker has played both end and tackle in his career, which would make him an asset to the Jets.  They could use him on passing downs when they decide to mix in some even fronts.

He’s played in 10+ games in eight of his ten seasons.  He’s also recorded 20 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and an interception.

He has experience in a 3-4 defense as a defensive end and it’s a position of need for the Jets if they decide to let Richardson go.  The reason the defensive line production faltered in 2016 is because they switched to an even front, which the team wasn’t built for. Rucker gives the Jets depth at the line and a veteran presence that they need. He would be a solid free agent acquisition by the Jets.

Next: 5. Inside Linebacker Lawrence Timmons

new york jets
new york jets

Dec 4, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons (94) gestures as he takes the field against the New York Giants during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

5. Inside Linebacker Lawrence Timmons

Timmons is another great inside linebacker.  He comes through in clutch situations and would be a quality leader in the locker room for the Jets.

His numbers speak for themselves:

Year

Games PlayedTacklesNegative PlaysInterceptionsFumblesTDSoloAssistSacksTFLQB HitsPass Def.INTYardsForcedRecoveredYards

2012

16

75

31

6

10

17

5

3

80

2

1

1

1

2013

16

86

40

3

7

6

5

2

26

1

1

29

0

2014

16

87

45

2

7

4

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

2015

16

77

42

5

6

8

6

1

0

1

0

0

0

2016

14

65

33

1.5

4

8

5

2

74

0

0

0

0

Totals

468

581

17.5

34

43

22

8

8

4

2

30

1

He’s a beast in both the passing game and the running game.  He has helped the Pittsburgh Steelers in both facets.

The problem is this season his cap number was $15,131,250, and there’s no doubt it could be higher in 2017, and it might behoove the Jets to not sign one defensive player for that amount of money.

Next: 4. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson

new york jets
new york jets

Oct 2, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson (22) reacts after intercepting a pass against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Rams won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

4. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson

Johnson is a beast.  He’s an all-around cornerback.  He can play against the run and pass well, and that’s what the Jets need.

He’s had double-digit passes defended in three of his five seasons including 2016.  He also has a total of 53 passes defended, 16 interceptions, nine tackles for loss and two touchdowns in his career.

His age is a problem, though.  Even though he’s 26, his age matters because of the contract he will command.  According to Sportrac, his market value contract is four years, $57,044,216.  That could be problematic for the Jets.

Let’s say the Jets decide to cut and/or trade Richardson, Revis, and Harris.  That would mean they save $22.8M off the cap.  Most of that would go to Johnson if they sign him, and it’s too much to commit to one player.

Next: 3. Inside Linebacker Rolando McClain

new york jets
new york jets

Nov 26, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Rolando McClain (55) during the game against the Carolina Panthers on Thanksgiving at AT&T Stadium. The Panthers defeat the Cowboys 33-14. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

3. Inside Linebacker Rolando McClain

The Jets need another run stopper on the inside alongside Jordan Jenkins (who they should move inside in 2017).  McClain is the best option to fit the team and the cap.

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McClain not only fills the run stopper role, but he’s good in pass coverage and can get to the quarterback too.   He has 9.5 career sacks, four interceptions, 24 passes defended and 35 tackles for loss.

He’s also a seven-year veteran.  That presence could be the replacement the Jets need for Harris.  His experience could help the young 2016 NFL Draft picks.

The combination of Jenkins, Lee and McClain would in addition to Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, and Steve McLendon be dangerous.  Therefore, McClain is their best option at inside linebacker.

Next: 2. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore

new york jets
new york jets

Nov 20, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) hits Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert (85) as he makes a catch in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

2. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore

Gilmore stands at 6’0 and weighs 190 lbs.  In addition, his 31-inch wingspan allows him to play against some of the leagues best receivers.

He has played in all but 10 games since being drafted in 2012, which is a definite plus.  In those games, he has been spectacular.

He immediately showed he could make an impact.  In 2012 he had an interception, two forced fumbles and 16 passes defended. However, it didn’t end there.  In fact, his numbers have only gotten better.  After his rookie season, he has had multiple interceptions every year.  This includes this season with five.  In addition, Gilmore has had double digit passes defended in four of his five seasons in the NFL.

In comparison to Darrelle Revis‘s first two seasons with Rex Ryan, he has two more interceptions and only ten fewer passes defended.  Furthermore, he’s done that in fewer games than Revis. He can undoubtedly be the anchor of this team’s back end.  Unfortunately, he may command big bucks, but he’s young enough for the Jets to take that risk if they can clear the space for it.

Next: 1. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn

new york jets
new york jets

Dec 20, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer questions cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (24) after the Chicago Bears score a touchdown in the second quarter at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings win 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

1. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn

While cornerbacks are paid to cover, all-around corners are hard to find in the NFL.  Munnerlyn is one of those kinds of players.

Wherever the football is, he seems to be there.  If the quarterback has it, the quarterback may go down or it may go the other way.  If the running back has it, he’s going down.

In the last four seasons, Munnerlyn has 12 tackles for loss (15 for his career).  He has also added six career sacks and 50 passes defensed.  He has recovered seven fumbles and has 11 interceptions.

He not only prevents the other team from scoring, but he also has the ability to put points on the board himself.  In his career he has returned a fumble and five interceptions for touchdowns.

Next: Jets vs Patriots: Top 5 takeaways from Week 16 matchup

This is indeed what the Jets need as the offense continues to develop.  They obviously not only need a defense that can stop people from scoring but actually score themselves.

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