Grading the Jets' Free Agent Signings on Defense

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Gang Green has been busy throughout free agency over these last few weeks. With several big signings in the books, it’s time to assess how well the Jets front office has performed this offseason. 

Working with a surplus of cap space, New York had an opportunity to revamp the roster with a large influx of talent. How have they done specifically on the defensive side of the ball?

Carl Lawson

The Jets agreed to a three year, $45 million deal with the former Bengals defensive end, $30 million of which is guaranteed. The former fourth-round draft pick referenced his attraction to new head coach Robert Saleh and his defensive system as one reason why he chose the Jets in free agency. 

“I was thinking about that scheme, I was thinking about my skill set. So those were the first two things that kind of really attracted me here,” Lawson said during his first press conference with the Jets. 

Hiring Head Coach Robert Saleh Is Paying Off For the Jets in Free Agency

Lawson will serve as a replacement to the recently released Henry Anderson. That said, he's expected to outperform Anderson substantially. 

The Jets are taking a pretty large gamble on the Auburn product, as he will be the highest-paid player on the team next season. That's a big investment for a pass rusher who has never had more than 8.5 sacks in one campaign. 

Despite the low sack numbers, Lawson has put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, ranking second in the league in QB hits in 2020. New York is hopeful that Lawson will thrive in Saleh’s system, building on a season in which he was rated the 13th best defensive end by Pro Football Focus.

Grade: B+

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Sheldon Rankins

The Jets are clearly making a concerted effort to build a strong defensive front, a key component of a Robert Saleh defense. 

After signing Lawson, they turned their focus to the interior of the defensive line, bringing in Rankins. Following a strong 2018 season in which he recorded eight sacks and a forced fumble in 16 starts, the former Saints defensive tackle has struggled with injuries the past two seasons. 

Rankins insists he feels healthier than ever, and with a very reasonable two-year, $17 million contract, the Jets can afford to take that risk. 

A large portion of the deal is based on performance incentives, so if he doesn't produce, the cap hit will be minimal. Rankins will slide in nicely alongside third-year defensive tackle Quinnen Williams as well.

Like Lawson, the Georgia native was very intrigued with the idea of playing for Saleh. 

“When he called me and expressed his interest and how much he really wanted me to be a part of this and the vision he had for me and Quinnen [Williams] inside and Carl [Lawson] out on the edge, it got me fired up," Rankins said in an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio. "It made me want to be a part of something special." 

Still only 26, Rankins is due for a big season; this is a strong, low-risk move for the Jets.

Grade: A-

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Jarrad Davis

The Jets addressed another positional need on the defensive side of the ball by signing the former Lions middle linebacker to a one-year, $7 million deal. 

As the Jets transition into Saleh’s 4-3 defensive scheme, Davis will likely be inserted into a starting role immediately. After anchoring Detroit's defense during his first three NFL seasons, which included a career-high 100 tackles in 2018, the former first-round pick fell out of the rotation last season. 

The Jets are hopeful he will return to his pre-2020 form in green and white. He has tremendous quickness and is explosive to the ball, traits that Saleh looks for in his linebackers. However, the Jets likely should have done more to improve at this position. 

There's no guarantee Davis will rebound, and New York isn’t exactly full of depth at linebacker other than C.J. Mosley (who didn't play in 2020).  

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Grade: B-

Other additions on defense this offseason: safety Lamarcus Joyner, defensive back Justin Hardee and defensive end Vinny Curry

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