The New York Jets will enter the free agency period with a major need at the edge rusher position. The best way to address this need would be to explore the trade market.
Landing top-tier players in free agency is always a difficult task, even for teams like the New York Jets who have a significant amount of cap space. The task becomes even more difficult when you’re targeting high-impact positions such as edge rusher.
Teams don’t typically tend to allow their top players to just walk and become free agents for nothing. Essentially, if a player hits the open market, it’s because something happened where they weren’t a good fit with their old team.
While that isn’t always the fault of the player, more often than not you aren’t going to find great players in free agency simply because they’re all already under contract with NFL teams. Moreover, if a team is looking to move on from a player, they will oftentimes look to get something of value back in return, especially for their premier players.
Once again, all of this is twofold when it comes to players at premium positions. It’s the reason you will rarely see elite quarterbacks or offensive tackles hit the open market. And for that same very reason, this year’s crop of free agent edge rushers isn’t all too appealing.
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Yes, there are intriguing options like New England’s Trey Flowers and even Minnesota’s Anthony Barr, but neither of those guys are true home run signings. The former has been a solid, productive player but has never topped eight sacks in a season while the latter hasn’t been a true edge rusher since college.
After those two, the options are scarce. Players such as Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith are interesting but neither are the high-impact upgrade the Jets are looking for. And some targets like Dante Fowler and Ezekiel Ansah the Jets would be best just staying away from.
Fortunately, this year presents a unique opportunity for the Jets to go out and acquire a Pro Bowl-caliber edge rusher outside of free agency. While this year’s draft class is stacked with attractive edge rusher targets, if the Jets are looking for proven commodities, they could potentially explore the trade market.
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The franchise tag signing period has ended and numerous big-name players have received the tag distinction. However, that isn’t likely to be the end of their offseason tales. It is widely expected that this year will feature multiple tag-and-trades as teams aren’t willing to commit long-term to these players but still want compensation back in return.
Perhaps the most appealing option is Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence had made it clear that he does not intend to play in 2019 under the franchise tag for the second consecutive season. Despite this, the Cowboys opted to place the tag on the two-time Pro Bowler leaving his future with the team in doubt.
Dallas will likely look to sign Lawrence to a long-term extension but it remains very plausible that they could look to recoup some draft capital if they don’t expect to work out a deal.
Elsewhere, the Houston Texans have placed the franchise tag on Jadeveon Clowney but that hasn’t prevented rumors of a possible trade. The Texans are already in a bit of cap trouble and will have to worry about paying quarterback Deshaun Watson soon meaning that they might not be able to keep Clowney around long-term.
Finally, the Jets could look at trading for Kansas City Chiefs edge rusher Dee Ford. Ford has been the model of inconsistency for the Chiefs but managed to secure a career year in 2018 totaling 13 sacks and making his first Pro Bowl appearance. Still, Kansas City has been hesitant to pay him given his fluctuating production levels.
Another option could be Seattle’s Frank Clark but out of every player on this list, he seems to be the most likely to receive a contract extension. Even so, it doesn’t appear as though he is opposed to playing in 2019 under the franchise tag making a potential trade unlikely.
No matter what direction the Jets take this offseason, their best bet to land a top-tier edge rusher certainly won’t come in free agency.
Rather, their major offseason acquisition could come via a trade.