The New York Jets defense has gradually declined the past few seasons, mostly due to a lack of speed at linebacker and an inability to consistently pressure the quarterback. Heading into 2013, the team will see three former starters at linebacker leave for cap purposes and declined play (Bryan Thomas, Calvin Pace, Bart Scott), along with both starting safeties and a key defensive lineman in Mike DeVito hit free agency. Looking at the current pieces they have and their cap space, does it make sense for the Jets to consider moving to use predominantly a 4-3 look, instead of a 3-4?
The strength of the unit is currently defensive line. Muhammad Wilkerson is coming off a terrific season and has the skill set to line up all over the formation, particularly at both a 5 and 7 technique (as our resident defensive lineman Chris Gross assured us). Quinton Coples is built to rush the edge in the 4-3 and can also slide inside to rush from defensive tackle in certain passing situations. Remember he was a double-digit sack guy at UNC in his junior year at DT. If resigned, Mike DeVito and Kenrick Ellis can play defensive tackle with Damon Harrison coming off the bench.
At linebacker, the Jets myriad of issues will be easier solved in a4-3 than a 3-4. Considering they are stuck with David Harris and his bloated contract, he could slide over to playing weak-side backer which will help hide his speed limitations. Last year’s third round pick, Demario Davis has the speed and collegiate experience to play strong-side, which leaves the Jets to find a long term middle backer. If they stay in a 3-4, they need two outside linebackers and have very valid questions if Harris can play inside in the 3-4 competently. For depth purposes in the 4-3, Antonio Allen played the “spur” in college and can be a backup at strong-side linebacker and Garret McIntyre has shown enough to be a backup on the weak-side.
In the secondary, regardless of the system the Jets should be considering a trade of Antonio Cromartie to both free up cap space and receive draft compensation. A middle round pick and the extra available money could help fill the void in the middle at linebacker and potentially at safety since LaRon Landry will probably not sign here long term while Yeremiah Bell could return on a low-cost one year deal.
Rex Ryan is a smart enough defensive mind to handle this kind of transition. The current reality of the Jets defensive depth chart is that they are devoid of talent at linebacker, while they have strong pieces at defensive line. Why not focus the defense more around their strength, than their weaknesses?