The New York Jets got back into the free agency game by signing a pair of defensive players today: cornerback Morris Claiborne, previously of the Dallas Cowboys and defensive tackle Mike Pennel, previously of the Green Bay Packers. Here are a few thoughts while we wait for the contract numbers to be released…
Claiborne – 27 years old and the former 6th overall pick in the NFL Draft out of LSU. Claiborne has all the measurables and tools you want in a starting corner (5’11, 192 pounds, 4.5 forty yard dash). After early struggles in Dallas, he played arguably the best football of his career last season
— John Gatta (@PFF_JohnGatta) March 16, 2017
And from Blogging With The Boys
After years of waiting on Claiborne to fulfill his potential, the Cowboys finally started seeing glimpses of it in the 2016 season. Heading into Week 12 of the season, Pro Football Focus had Claiborne rated as their number nine cornerback for the season. The Cowboys secondary was demonstratively better this season and the resurgence of Claiborne was partially responsible for that. He was limiting the number of catches in his area and he was limiting the yards per catch.
After so much investment and patience, the Cowboys would love to reap the benefits if Claiborne has truly turned things around. He’s still young, he’ll be 27 when the season begins, and has enormous potential. This is a guy who scouts thought would be the next, great lockdown corner. He might never be that, but he has the ability to be a very good corner in the NFL.
Here is the problem with Claiborne and why he was on the free agent market for so long: he can’t stay healthy. He has missed 33 out of a possible 80 games so far in his career. Last season, he only played in 7 games, after only playing in 4 games two years before that. Claiborne has never played in 16 games in a single season and hasn’t been over 11 games in a single season since his rookie year. If you can name an injury, Claiborne has probably sustained it some point in his career.
Considering what is left on the market and the state of the Jets roster, this was a logical signing (pending the financials). Claiborne has the talent to be the Jets lead corner in 2017 and was a needed piece to put alongside youngsters Marcus Williams, Juston Burris, Daryl Robers and likely nickel Buster Skrine. Claiborne also has the durability to potentially miss 8-10 games next year. This is a boom or bust move but a reasonable risk to take on a 27 year old in the second week of free agency.
Pennel – 25 years old and a former UDFA who played his best football in 2015, playing in 16 games and racking up 25 tackle and 1 sack at predominantly nose tackle. He is 6’4, 332 pounds. Unfortunately, Pennel was suspended not once but twice for a total of eight games in 2016 for substance abuse violations. According to Acme Packing Co, he was in line for a larger role last season until the suspensions occurred.
If he were starting the season on the active roster, Pennel might be the starter at nose tackle with Guion at 5-tech. However, Pennel was suspended for the first four games of the season due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. He will still likely have a spot when he returns from suspension – if he has a solid camp – and projects to be an important part of the rotation early on. But he’ll be kept out of a few weeks of practice early in the season before he can contribute.
We do know this is a one year deal so it is a low risk investment that he will keep his head on straight and become a contributing member of the Jets defensive line rotation. Could this be a precursor to a Steve McLendon release or Sheldon Richardson trade?
Photo Credit: DallasCowboys.com