NY Jets might have to make some tough decisions at linebacker
By Justin Fried
The NY Jets may have one of the deepest linebacker corps in the NFL, but that might mean they’re forced to make difficult decisions when all is set and done.
The NY Jets‘ linebacker depth was tested in 2019 after an unprecedented string of injuries at the position.
After going into the season with C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson as the projected starters, few could have anticipated just how many players would see significant snaps at linebacker that season.
But after injuries left both essentially sidelined for the season, the reserves were called on to step up.
Soon, players like Neville Hewitt, Blake Cashman, and James Burgess became mainstays on the Jets defense. And when one player would go down, another would fill their role.
Cashman would wind up on the injured reserve after playing in seven games. Hewitt would miss time with a neck injury, and even veteran Albert McClellan would find himself on the IR.
That left former practice squad resident, Burgess, to start the final 10 games of the season. And in the unlikeliest of fashions, the former Cleveland Browns linebacker would end up leading the team with a whopping 80 tackles.
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Imagine telling someone that on a defense featuring the likes of Mosley, Williamson, and Jamal Adams that it would be waiver-wire pickup and preseason roster cut James Burgess who would lead the team in tackles.
Nonetheless, there was evidently a significant drop-off in talent from the Mosley/Williamson duo that was expected and the makeshift group that ultimately made up the Jets’ linebacker position. But at the very least, they performed admirably.
And despite their overwhelming depth at the position, the Jets not only retained all four linebackers who started a game in 2019 (plus Williamson), but they signed former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor in free agency.
That gave the team a total of six linebackers who had started at least five games in one of the last two seasons. And aside from Cashman, all six had started 10 or more games in either 2018 or 2019.
That’s some pretty remarkable depth and it’s very possible that the Jets have the deepest linebacker depth chart in the NFL. However, that depth might force them to make some difficult decisions come the start of the 2020 season.
It’s highly unlikely the Jets are able to keep all six linebackers on the active roster, and even five might be pushing it. Expanded rosters (55-man game-day rosters) will help, but it’s still unreasonable to allocate so many roster spots to one position.
And with no obvious cut candidate, the Jets are going to have to make a tough choice.
Would the team really cut their leading tackler from a season prior? Would they give up on their previous year’s fifth-round draft pick after just one season? There’s no obvious answer.
Of course, the Jets could opt to move on from Williamson and save some cap space in the process, but that isn’t something they’re going to do unless they’re absolutely strapped for cash.
Perhaps Onwuasor is the odd man out, although his $2 million contract is fully guaranteed. It wouldn’t make much sense to just cut him and eat the money.
Who knows what decision the Jets will end up making. All we know is that it’s going to be an extremely tough call to make.