With approximately $30-40 million in cap space, the New York Jets are pegged to be players when the new league year begins on March 3rd, 2014. Today, we look at free agent Linebackers. Check out our look at Defensive Linemen from last week here.
While the Jets defensive line received all the attention this season, the Jets linebackers put together a solid season that contributed to their 3rd ranked rush defense. David Harris bounced back from a subpar 2012 season to rack up 70 tackles and 2 sacks and coupled with Demario Davis (63 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 INT) to provide much improved inside linebacker play. This made Calvin Pace’s job easier as, in tandem with the excellent defensive play, he was able to clean up ALOT of plays and pile up 10 sacks. Pace is set to become a free agent, Harris may be a cap casualty (if not, he’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after this coming season), and Davis did struggle during parts of the season. The Jets may choose to use some of their ample cap space to finally add an edge rusher in Free Agency. Here’s who they may target:
1. OLB Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins
2013 Stats: 34 tackles, 10 sacks, 4 passes defended, 1 interception, 2 fumble recoveries
Analysis: Orakpo bounced back from a season cut short by injury in 2012 to collect his fourth season with at least 8.5 sacks (second double digit sack season overall). He, also, had a pick 6 and showed that he had recovered from his injury. Orakpo continued to display his versatility by playing with both his hand in the ground and standing up. Orakpo, also, showed that he can play zone adequately from the OLB position.
Likelihood: The Redskins have two weeks to decide if they’re going to franchise tag Orakpo (a designation that would pay him $11M next season), but Orakpo may be looking for a longer contract. He’s a better player than Paul Kruger, and Kruger got a 5 year, $40M deal last year, so Orakpo should get $10M per. I’ll put this as a 6 because the Jets will have the cap space to sign Orakpo, but Idzik might deem the price too steep.
2. OLB Jason Worilds, Pittsburgh Steelers
2013 Stats: 43 Tackles, 8 Sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 pass defended
Analysis: The former second round pick finally received an extended opportunity to start this past year and he rewarded the Steelers with his best season as a pro. Worilds was a force as an edge rusher and as a run stopper, and he now has 18 sacks in 21 games started.
Likelihood: Worilds has said that he won’t resign with the Steelers unless he’s guaranteed a starting job. If the Jets sign him, he’d be penciled in as a starter at OLB. He could be a double digit sack guy in the Jets defense and will probably command a contract in the Paul Kruger or lower range. I put this as a 8 with the only thing stopping him from signing with the Jets being if some team tries to offer him more than $10M.
3. OLB O’Brien Schofield, Seattle Seahawks
2013 Stats: 8 tackles, 1 sack
Analysis: You may wonder why Schofield, a backup OLB/DE, is on this list, but he’s actually one of the more intriguing names set to hit the market. Schofield was a college defensive end but transitioned smoothly to OLB when he became a pro. Schofield is very athletic, can drop back in coverage, and rushes the passer effortlessly. He’s had 11.5 sacks in 11 starts.
Likelihood: O’Brien Schofield seems like the perfect player John Idzik would try and sign; think Chris Ivory last year. Schofield is set to become an unrestricted free agent and will cost less than both Orakpo and Worilds. If the Jets choose to resign Calvin Pace and sign Schofield as competition, then i’ll put this as a 7. Schofield could be a potential bookend with Quinton Coples and the fact that he’s only 26 would make him a great signing by Idzik.
4. ILB/OLB Akeem Jordan, Kansas City Chiefs
2013 Stats: 54 Tackles, 2 Forced Fumbles
Analysis: Jordan followed Andy Reid from Philadelphia to Kansas City, where he started 10 games and had 54 tackles. Jordan is a bit undersized, but he has experience playing all four LB positions in the 3-4. In his best season he was able to get 45 tackles, 6 passes defended, 2 INTs, and a sack.
Likelihood: Jordan played under former Jets Linebackers Coach Bob Sutton in KC, so his acclimation to the Jets defense wouldn’t be as difficult as some of the other free agents. I’ll put this as a 5, although Jordan isn’t the kind of signing Jets fans would get excited about seeing yet would be a low cost young player that can play all across the entire LB front.
5. OLB Ernie Sims, Dallas Cowboys
2013 Stats: 31 Tackles, 1 Forced Fumble
Analysis: Sims, the former first round pick by the Detroit Lions, has battled injuries throughout his career and last year was no different. However, playing as a rotational player under Rob Ryan he collected 41 tackles, a pass defended, and a sack. Sims was thought to be undersized for the 3-4, but played well as a run stuffer.
Likelihood: The Jets have a better chance of signing Sims’s teammate Ware (who may be a cap casualty, but he’s not yet so that’s why he’s not on the list). Sims is undersized, similar to Jordan, and does have injury concerns. However, Sims would be a low risk/high reward signing because of his familiarity with the Ryan defense. I’ll put this as a 3.