Assessing the Roster- Outside Linebacker Tweet
Calvin Pace- The Jets have paid Calvin Pace a lot of money to rush the passer and he continues to be completely unproductive. In 2008 the Jets signed Pace to a $42 million dollar deal to the pass rusher they were missing. His $20 million in guarantees ranks right near the top of the position. For that price the Jets received a total of 28 sacks in 5 years, and no season of double digit sacks. For some reason Pace is often overlooked as being one of the worst signings of the Tannenbaum regime. People pick more on the Bart Scott contract, who was admittedly way overpaid, because Scott had a big mouth and little statistical production. But Scott was at least a good player for two years. Pace has put together a few good half seasons but has yet to have one year where you would say he justifies the investment.
As a pass rusher Pace consistently ranks as one of the worst among 34 linebackers. He makes almost no impact ďat the lineĒ plays against the run. He is not strong in coverage. Pace, who did at one point have pretty terrific athletic ability, is just another slow body on the field for what has become a very slow defense. Bill Polian the other day discussed how the NFL can never be moneyball like baseball. I think he is right to an extent. No matter how much you analyze the numbers careers are too short and numbers often too scheme dependent to really forecast the way they do in baseball and basketball where careers last forever and the game is individualized. But what they do is get you to avoid players like Pace. Last year when the Bills signed Mario Williams to that crazy contract I said they were nuts because his overall pass rushing was never even top 10 once you go beyond the sack number and you calculate the real effect of a pressure on a QB. The same went for Jason Pierre Paul, who had an extremely high amount of sacks in 2011 off a limited set of pressures. You can look at those stats and say do not pay these guys mega money. You canít build a moneyball team but you sure can keep from screwing your salary cap up by really examining players, especially ones off career seasons.
Pace is an example of a team that doesnít want to spend on a player like Julius Peppers which is understandable. There is a huge difference between $7 million a season and $14 million a year. $7 million at that point looks like a good value. The problem is that the market drives the presumed value player up too high to make it a reasonable investment. The overspend is just as much for a Pace than it is for a guy like Peppers, even though the price tags are different. The difference between Pace at $7 million and someone like Jared Allen is gigantic in terms of performance. The options at the position need to be to spend near the top or go to the draft and sign a low bubble free agent for $1-2 million while you wait for a player to develop. Getting stuck in the middle as the Jets did with Pace hurts the team from both a salary and a productivity standpoint and it is something that could have been avoided.
Bryan Thomas- It has been an 11 year career with the Jets for Thomas and it is probably time to call it a career. Thomas battled injuries for the second straight season and can no longer be counted on as a consistently contributing linebacker, let alone a starting one. Thomas has had his share of ups and downs with the team. He never lived up to his draft billing but turned into a pretty good run defender before putting together a nice season under Eric Mangini that he parlayed into a moderate contract. It was a fluky season and he never came close to approaching it again, but Thomas was always dependable. He was a versatile player that could cover many tight ends and running backs and contribute in the run game when the Jets finally came to the realization that the pass rush thing would never happen. Heíll never be my favorite player by any stretch and I donít think most fans will think much when he goes but he has earned the right to certainly get the nice little retirement ceremony in March.
Garrett McIntyre- When former Jet Aaron Maybin fell completely flat, McIntyre finally got his opportunity to contribute. He would be brought in for rush opportunities and with Thomas down with injury to be a more complete player. The results were mixed. McIntyre registered 3.5 sacks, which for the Jets is good, but generated almost no pressures in doing so. They were a bit of a faÁade and I think the Jets can actually close the door on him as a pass rusher. At one point they seemed to do that when he was replaced for a few games in the rotation, but eventually he earned his job back. He was better playing the run though he has plenty of times where he is caught out of position in that regard as well. I doubt tht he can be more than a backup who contributes on special teams.
Ricky Sapp- A midseason call up from the practice squad the Jets seem to like Sapp and immediately gave him a chance to contribute in a few packages. After 3 games he completely disappeared from the rotation. Sapp is a former 5th round pick and likely has more upside than McIntyre but he didnít show much one way or the other in limited action.
Certainly not a pretty picture for the Jets long term prospects. The fact is they do not have a quality OLB on the roster, which is difficult when you run the kind of defense the Jets run. The weakness of this unit really points to the strength of Rex Ryan as a defensive mastermind because a defense with this poor production from the pass rushers should be eaten alive, yet the Jets have found a way to have one of the best pass defenses in the league despite no production from the rush spots.
The poor depth actually gives Pace, who has a high cap hit next season, a chance to come back on a restructured contract. Pace plays in over 90% of the Jets defensive snaps and replacing him outright may not be an option. My guess is that the Jets will cut Pace and then let him see if he can find a deal elsewhere. My feeling is that he will have a difficult time doing so and the Jets can get him for around the veteranís minimum, which is more in line with his production.
I canít see any scenario in which Thomas is back next season. Even on a minimum salary he is too fragile to be back. It is a position that the Jets need to draft unless they want to try DeMario Davis exclusively on the outside next season. The difficulty in saying the Jets should spend a pick on a linebacker is the fact that they need so much help on offense, but if the option next year is McIntyre and Pace thatís scary bad. These are the little things that the Jets have neglected with their draft and trade strategies the past few years. At the least they have to find a low level veteran that is a bit younger than Thomas that they hope can fit into the system.