Jets' Linebacker Depth Can Mitigate Effect of Mosley's Opt-Out

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If Mike Maccagnan were still the Jets’ general manager, you could probably cue the Jadeveon Clowney signing in 3, 2, 1…

Maccagnan was often successful at helping the Jets win headline battles – the football battles, not so much. Yes, Clowney, a free-agent edge rusher who underwhelmed in Seattle last season (and for much of his six-year career following his first overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft) with a mere three sacks in 13 games, would look just fine in Maccagnan’s tunnel-vision eyes right about now.

For if ever there was a week where Gang Green sorely needed a change in narrative, the end of July was it. Jets fans endured a double whammy, with All-Pro safety Jamal Adams traded to Seattle last Saturday, and then field marshal linebacker C.J. Mosley reportedly deciding on Saturday that he will be opting out of the 2020 season due to family health reasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For all his inconsistency, including a reputation for taking plays off, Clowney is a tantalizing talent, which the Jets defense lacks after the subtraction of their two most highly decorated players.

In this case, however, Joe Douglas, Maccagnan’s successor, is correctly expected to stay the course.

I’ve written a ton about how much Adams impacted what the Jets did on defense in prior posts. In Mosley’s case, though, I don’t believe his absence will be felt as heavily. After all, he played a whopping three healthy quarters in last season’s opener versus Buffalo before suffering a groin injury. Knowing fellow inside linebacker Avery Williamson was already lost for the season with an ACL tear, Mosley attempted to return in Week 7. It did not go well, and Mosley shut it down for good to have surgery.

I know, Mosley did contribute a pick-six and a fumble recovery in his three quarters and then the Jets fell apart after he exited. However, those takeaways were more the result of fantastic fortune (Bills receiver Cole Beasley let a short Josh Allen pass pop out of his midsection right into Mosley’s arms and then Allen’s muffed snap dropped right next to Mosley) than outstanding effort. I would argue that Mosley’s best play came on the one where he was injured, as he dropped deep into coverage to break up Allen’s pass to speedy Bills receiver John Brown.

Still, though it took some time (and an easing of the schedule) for last season’s defense to adjust, the Jets, with third-string linebackers Neville Hewitt and James Burgess, somehow managed to place seventh in the league in yards allowed and second versus the run.

Entering this campaign, linebacker depth isn’t a concern. Williamson, who will start training camp on the PUP list, isn’t even guaranteed to make the final cut, let alone regain his starting job. Douglas brought back Hewitt and Burgess, and also signed former Ravens linebacker Patrick Onwuasor in free agency. In addition, Blake Cashman, who has promising coverage skills, will be returning after his rookie season was cut short by a shoulder injury. Even without Mosley, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will still have options.

When Maccagnan poached Mosley from the Ravens last offseason with a five-year, $85 million free agent contract – one that now tolls until 2024, with only his $10 million up-front roster bonus, plus either a $150,000 or $350,000 advance on his 2021 salary, counting against this year’s cap – it was the equivalent of a luxury purchase. The best defenses of the modern era put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and cover receivers, neither of which Mosley does exceptionally well. He’s a terrific leader on and off the field, one of the “dogs” Adams once said the Jets needed more of.  

But $43 million guaranteed? That’s a misallocation of salary cap resources, no matter how many games Mosley plays.

Like with Mosley, and really anyone who has ever considered coming to this franchise, I can’t see Clowney giving the Jets a discount. If he were to take a one-year “prove-it” deal, it would make more sense for him to find a team that is capable of showcasing his skills in larger forums. Adding Clowney won’t alter a consensus that has the Jets lucky if they can somehow avoid a fourth last-place AFC East finish in the last five seasons.

That said, just a few words on the Jets’ reported release of guard Brian Winters on Sunday:

Mostly, what took so long? The Jets knew back in March that Winters would have a difficult time overtaking either Alex Lewis or Greg Van Roten on the line once both signed their contracts in free agency. With Winters’ $7.28 million salary cap charge for this season, and no dead money hit if he was cut, it would be difficult to justify such an expense on a backup.

Winters has battled through multiple injuries in the last few seasons, which earned him great respect in the Jets’ locker room but did not allow for optimal performance on the field. Of 69 guards with at least 300 pass block protections last season, only 11 allowed a worse pressure percentage than Winters, per ProFootballFocus.com.   

The original line of thinking was that the Jets wanted to let Winters compete in training camp first before making any decision. Fair, except camp still hasn’t even started – not great optics against a team’s longest-tenured player (third round, 2013).

By the way, can you guess which players now share that designation (no cheating, and don’t include out-for-the season Quincy Enunwa)? That would be linebacker Jordan Jenkins (third round) and defensive lineman Steve McLendon (free agent), both of whom joined this woebegone franchise way back in 2016.      

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter: @SteveLichtenst1

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