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New York Jets: Top five free agent edge rusher targets

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 30: Trey Flowers #98 of the New England Patriots reacts during the third quarter of a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 30: Trey Flowers #98 of the New England Patriots reacts during the third quarter of a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 30: Trey Flowers #98 of the New England Patriots reacts during the third quarter of a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 30: Trey Flowers #98 of the New England Patriots reacts during the third quarter of a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The New York Jets have a ton of holes to fill entering free agency but none may be more important than edge rusher. Here’s a list of a few players the team could consider.

It has been years since the New York Jets have had a true top-tier edge rusher to lead their defense. It’s been so long that an entire generation of fans has yet to see more than one season of double-digit sack production.

Dating back to 2005, the Jets have had only one season in which an edge rusher has secured 10 or more sacks, that being Calvin Pace‘s 10 in 2013. In fact, apart from Muhammad Wilkerson who did it twice, Pace is the only Jets player to record 10 or more sacks in 15 years.

In recent seasons, the Jets pass rush has been as thin as it’s ever been. Despite increased production this year from the likes or Jordan Jenkins and Henry Anderson who each finished with seven sacks, the team still lacked a real game-changer on the edge.

With the Jets anticipated switch to a 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Jenkins could be in-line for a new role and the remainder of the team’s edge defenders do nothing to inspire any confidence for future starting success.

As a result, the Jets will be in the market for an edge rusher or two this offseason and will likely look to address that position in free agency. Let’s run down the top available options the Jets should consider.

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5. ‘The Unreasonables’

This slide is going to be specifically dedicated to the players who would be incredible if the Jets were somehow able to land them, but unfortunately likely won’t end up on the open market.

This includes players such as Demarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark, and Dee Ford who are all expected candidates to receive the franchise tag if their respective teams don’t lock them up long-term. Regardless, if any of them were to become available, they would immediately become priority number one.

Out of the four, Clowney recorded the least number of sacks and he still finished with nine on the year, a season after he posted 9.5 total sacks. The likes of Lawrence, Clark, and Ford each posted double-digit sack totals making them no-brainers to reach out to if they somehow hit the market.

Clowney could be the most likely to become available given the Houston Texans’ current cap situation but it’s likely they keep him around and choose to cut ties with others such as safety Tyrann Mathieu.

Other than that, don’t expect any of these players to wind up in a Jets uniform in 2019. But if any of them find their way into free agency, you best believe the Jets will be all over that opportunity.

Next: 4. Dante Fowler

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 11: Tyler Lockett #16 of the Seattle Seahawks is grabbed by Dante Fowler #56 of the Los Angeles Rams during a 36-31 Rams win at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 11, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 11: Tyler Lockett #16 of the Seattle Seahawks is grabbed by Dante Fowler #56 of the Los Angeles Rams during a 36-31 Rams win at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 11, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

4. Dante Fowler

This is a signing that would be based solely on upside and not necessarily past production.

Dante Fowler was drafted third overall in the 2015 NFL Draft but a torn ACL sustained on the first day of mini-camp forced him to miss his entire rookie campaign. Since then, it’s been an up-and-down NFL career for the former Florida standout.

He has been arrested and suspended by the league and battled for playing time despite his high-draft pick status. All the while, Fowler’s play has been inconsistent at best failing to live up to his massive potential.

But none of that matters now.

Fowler is set to hit the open market this offseason and given the potential he once had, teams are likely to pay him more than he really deserves. That being said, the Jets are in desperate need of a pass rusher and Fowler could be a legitimate option for the team.

The 24-year-old does have an eight-sack season under his belt, more than any current Jets player has had in a season. Despite his recent lack of production, the potential is there and some team will undoubtedly take a chance on the former collegiate star.

It may not be the most appealing option for the Jets, but it is an option.

Next: 3. Za'Darius Smith

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – JANUARY 06: Za’Darius Smith #90 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts after blocking a field goal against Mike Badgley #4 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the third quarter in the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 06, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – JANUARY 06: Za’Darius Smith #90 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts after blocking a field goal against Mike Badgley #4 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the third quarter in the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on January 06, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

3. Za’Darius Smith

With all the talk around the big-name edge rushers in this year’s free agent class, Za’Darius Smith has managed to fly under the radar. But make no mistake about it, Smith’s name shouldn’t be ignored for too much longer.

The Kentucky product broke out in 2018 securing a career-high 8.5 sacks in an expanded role. In fact, Smith led the revered Baltimore Ravens defense in sacks recording more than the likes of Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon.

Originally drafted in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Smith took a while to catch on with the Ravens totaling just 10 sacks through his first three seasons. But 2018 was his coming out party as he saw an uptick in playing time seeing the field on 67% of defensive snaps.

Smith is a versatile defender standing at 6’4″ and weighing in at 272 pounds. His large frame would make him an excellent fit as a 4-3 defensive end but he has experience playing in the interior as well as playing an outside linebacker role.

The Ravens will have to make a decision on whether to keep Smith or not but with a multitude of defensive players set to hit free agency, the team will have a tough time retaining everyone. With a solid chance that he does become available, the Jets should be ready to make Smith an offer come the start of free agency.

Next: 2. Preston Smith

ARLINGTON, TEXAS – NOVEMBER 22: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys passes the ball as he is tackled by Preston Smith #94 and Stacy McGee #92 of the Washington Redskins in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium on November 22, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS – NOVEMBER 22: Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys passes the ball as he is tackled by Preston Smith #94 and Stacy McGee #92 of the Washington Redskins in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium on November 22, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

2. Preston Smith

Much like Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith is another under-the-radar name to keep an eye out for this offseason. While he didn’t post astonishing numbers in 2018, Smith has been a reliable presence for the Washington Redskins for a number of years now.

The Mississippi State product entered the league as a second-round pick in 2015 and has racked up 24.5 sacks in his four years with the Redskins. However, his overall production has come more with his all-around ability than strictly his pass rush aptitude.

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Smith has four interceptions over the last three seasons and has forced four fumbles over his NFL career. Moreover, Pro Football Focus ranked him the 19th best edge in 2018 giving him a very respectable grade of 76.9.

At 26-years-old, Smith still has some room to grow to become a more capable pass rusher to give him a true strength in his game. His versatility should allow him to play either on the edge or as a stand-up linebacker if need be.

With other key players such as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Jamison Crowder to re-sign, it’s less likely the Redskins are able to bring back Smith as he’ll likely demand over $10 million a year, despite his not-so-stellar numbers.

But as it stands, Smith remains a very solid all-around edge defender with the potential to get even better. A true high-floor, low-risk type move.

Next: 1. Trey Flowers

FOXBOROUGH, MA – DECEMBER 02: Trey Flowers #98 of the New England Patriots reacts during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings at Gillette Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA – DECEMBER 02: Trey Flowers #98 of the New England Patriots reacts during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings at Gillette Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

1. Trey Flowers

As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them.

The Jets could have the opportunity to swoop in and steal a starting player from their arch-rivals if the New England Patriots let the unheralded Trey Flowers walk in free agency. Given Bill Belichick‘s propensity to treat players as just another cog in the machine and replace them at will, it’s likely Flowers will be playing for a new team in 2019.

If the Jets are lucky and aggressive, that team could very well be them.

Flowers is a complete edge-defender playing well in all aspects of the game. He doesn’t post the highest sack totals and isn’t the flashiest run defender which is likely why he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. But when all is set and done, Flowers may end up being the best available edge rusher in free agency this year.

The Arkansas product has averaged seven sacks over the past three seasons which speaks to his consistency as well as his productivity. Flowers earned a stellar 89.7 Pro Football Focus grade in 2018, ranking him as the No. 6 edge rusher in the NFL. His 45 total QB hits over the past two seasons are on par with Leonard Williams, only with significantly more sack production than the underperforming former USC standout.

Flowers is expected to be paid handsomely for his services in free agency with Spotrac projecting an average salary of over $15 million a year. With a price tag that high, it’s unlikely the Patriots are able to keep him around, despite his excellent play.

The bidding war should get pretty steep, but the Jets should be all aboard the Trey Flowers sweepstakes if he hits the market. In what will wind up being an underwhelming free agent edge class, Flowers may just be the best option available.

Top 5 under-the-radar moves the Jets must address. Next

He may not have the name recognition of a Demarcus Lawrence or a Jadeveon Clowney, but Flowers could end up being the key piece the Jets have been missing on defense.

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