Damon Harrison now top priority in Jets’ crowded free agent pool

Nathan Jahnke previews free agency for the New York Jets, naming players to re-sign, let walk, and target.

| 7 months ago
(Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)

(Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)

Damon Harrison now top priority in Jets’ crowded free agent pool


The Jets will be one of the most interesting teams to follow over the next month. Two of the top 20 free agents come from New York’s defensive line. Their top three running backs from last year are all free agents, as well as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Jets were a borderline playoff team in 2015, and if they play their cards right, they could be again in 2016. Here is the blueprint for the Jets to thrive not just for this season, but for years to come.

(Editor’s note: This article was updated on Feb. 29, 2016, upon news that the Jets would be placing the franchise tag on Muhammad Wilkerson.)

Re-sign

NT Damon Harrison

New York has spent the last few drafts building a special defensive line. While the Jets could spend their money making sure they have a balanced team, they would be better off keeping their line together as each of the players start to hit their prime. Thanks to the great defensive line New York has put together, the Jets allowed just two touchdowns on non-quarterback runs, while the NFL average was 10. In order to keep things the same as last year, they need to not only keep Muhammad Wilkerson (89.2), who they franchise tagged, but also re-sign Damon Harrison (91.9).

Harrison was our highest-graded interior defensive linemen against the run in 2015. On 18.1 percent of his plays against the run, he made a stop. That was the best rate in the league for any defensive or nose tackle in the nine years we’ve been collecting run-stop data. Even though he is only on the field for half of the Jets’ defensive snaps, no one is better at doing what he does.

RB Chris Ivory

New York has 20 unrestricted free agents, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them re-sign more than two. Their cap situation won’t let them add too many big contracts, but if they can afford to splurge on one more, it should be running back Chris Ivory (81.2). He forced 47 missed tackles, fourth-most among running backs. There are a few other interesting running back options, and not many teams who need a running back, so the Jets might be able to get him at a discount.

Let walk

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

If the Jets bring back both defensive linemen, they need to make sacrifices elsewhere. They will probably overpay for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (59.6), but they shouldn’t. His yardage and touchdown totals of 3,905 and 31 look impressive, but those had more to do with the players around him and his total number of pass attempts than his ability. His NFL QB rating of 88.0 was the lowest for quarterbacks with 550 or more attempts. He was the least accurate quarterback on deep passes among those with more than 10 deep attempts, posting an accuracy percentage of 31.4 in those situations.

If Fitzpatrick is only looking for $3.0 million or less per season, then the Jets can afford to bring him back. For anything more than that, they can stick with Bryce Petty entering his second year, or bring in someone else, and likely receive equal, if not better, production. Fitzpatrick is 33, past the age that most quarterbacks decline, and it looks likes the former Harvard standout has already begun his descent.

G Willie Colon, TE Kellen Davis, and OLB Calvin Pace

Fitzpatrick isn’t the only veteran the Jets can move on from in free agency. Guard Willie Colon (44.9), tight end Kellen Davis (45.3), and outside linebacker Calvin Pace (56.5) are all over the age of 30, and the Jets have equally good—if not better and younger—players already in house.

LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson and RT Breno Giacomini

In order for the Jets to sign multiple free agents, they need to free up cap space. They already started by letting cornerback Antonio Cromartie (46.5) go, which saved $8.0 million. They can save another $13.4 million by letting both starting tackles D’Brickashaw Ferguson (37.8) and Breno Giacomini (36.3) walk freely. They ranked 60th and 68th, respectively, out of 77 qualifying offensive tackles in 2015. Ferguson’s play has been on the decline the past few years, but in 2015, he allowed 19 combined sacks and hits, and 40 total hurries—both career highs. Giacomini’s overall PFF grade has declined each of the past five years.

TE Jeff Cumberland

Tight end Jeff Cumberland (53.9) saw his role with the offensive decline as the season went on. The Jets would save $1.9 million with no dead money if he is released.

Target

LT Donald Penn

If the Jets let Fitzpatrick go and free up a lot of cap space, they would have a little bit of room to add outside free agents. If they let both tackles go, they have one in-house replacement they like in Brent Qvale, but they would need someone for the other tackle spot. That someone could be Raiders free agent tackle Donald Penn (84.5). In 13-of-16 games in 2015, he allowed two or fewer pressures, and has consistently been an above average run-blocking tackle. Ferguson only allowed two or fewer pressures in 4-of-16 games last year, and for a third straight year, was a below-average run-blocker.

TE Ladarius Green

Regardless of the other moves the Jets make, a position of need will be tight end. Their tight ends only played 831 snaps last year, fewest in the league. Even if 2014 second-round pick Jace Amaro develops into a starter after missing all of 2015, the Jets could use two good players at the position. There are a number of directions they could go in free agency, but someone they could gamble on is San Diego’s Ladarius Green (74.3). In a part-time role over the last three years, he has been one of the most effective tight ends on a per-play basis. His 1.54 yards per route run over that span are 11th-best for tight ends with at least 500 routes run. With other tight ends, the Jets can be more sure they can get a reliable starter, but Green has the most potential to be a Pro Bowl player for several seasons.

QB Matt Morre or QB Tarvaris Jackson

The Jets should have a backup plan if Bryce Petty isn’t ready to be a starter by the start of the 2016 season. Matt Moore and Tarvaris Jackson are both players who have spent most of the last few years as backups, but when they were last starters they were average quarterbacks. The Jets only need an average quarterback to succeed with the talent they have at other positions, and this way they can get one for cheap. It also wouldn’t hurt spending a mid-round draft pick on a quarterback as well, just to increase the competition.

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • Scott Messina

    Let Fitzy walk and bank on Bryce Petty being ready for the start of next season? And if not, get Matt Moore or try on relying a rookie QB AGAIN? Because that worked out so well with Sanchez and Geno. Fitz didn’t turn the ball over much, and a rookie would do just that, and the less turnovers is why this team flourished more. If they let D’Brick walk like you suggest, they can also afford to re-sign Fitzpatrick.

    • Jose Duarte

      why not go get rg3 he wont cost must and hes still 24 and has the weapons inn

    • Spadola

      I see your point but, Sanchez and Geno were throwing to a Garbage set of WR’s and were in a lousy system – Geno was a project that should have sat – No way should a Green rookie like that get thrown into a garbage situation trying to run a WCO….. NOW, whoever plays QB benefits like the Bearded Blunder with a great system. Play calling and WEAPONZ!!!!

  • Glen

    Hate to say it but gotta let ivory walk, his running style does not fit with what Chan Gailey wants to do. Although an absolute stud running the ball, injuries have derailed his explosiveness and without the running start backs get in offensive sets with the quarterback under center (pro i, singleback), which the jets hardly run under Chang Gailey, his decline in explosiveness really shows. Also, he can’t do the things that are required for a rb in this kind of offense particularly well. Bilal Powell is a better blocker/receiver and is formidable enough a runner to be a 3 down back for this offense.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Your reasoning here is certainly sound but when a team fails to reward a very productive player with a new contract it definitely gets the attention of other players on the team. It’s hard to keep players committed to winning if they suspect they might get shafted themselves at some point.

  • nyjchris

    Lol. I get if you don’t thibk Fitz is that good. But letting him walk to sign Matt Moore has to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard

    • McGeorge

      It can make sense if:

      1 – the salary savings is 10MM
      2 – the Jets realize they are in rebuild mode and have no business thinking about the play offs.
      3 – the Jets get draft picks for free agents leaving the team

      • Jose Duarte

        rebuild?please with the team we got

        • McGeorge

          Yes, the Jets need to rebuild. They have some aging good players, and need to get a slew of good younger players. Plus a good young QB.
          This will take at a minimum 2 years, with incredible drafting. More likely is 3-4 years.

          • Paul AR

            Really? I assume you said the same thing about the Jets in 2015?

            Things happen quick in the NFL. No owner is going to accept that it will take multiple years to rebuild a team (never mind one that went 10-6 the season before??) — they’ll find a coach that can maximize the talent they have.

          • McGeorge

            Things happen quick – if you draft a stud QB, WR, and LB , plus another couple of starters in a draft. For the rest of the time (99%), it takes a few years. You need a decent QB, and a number of starters and a bunch of above average players. The Jets aren’t close.

  • Anonymous

    Brick is going to restructure/extend. His cap number is $14 million but is salary is $8 million. No reason they can’t extend to lower that number. Fitz also understands being in the Jets offense (Marshall, Decker, Chan Gailey) is his best shot at continuing to perform reasonably well.

    Texans would have been significantly better this season. had they had what he gave them in 2014 before his injury.

    He won’t be looking for $10 million. They won’t have to overpay for him. And he’ll have a full offseason to work with the starters.

    Once Brick restructures, they need to work out a long term deal with Wilkerson that gets his cap number below the franchise tag number. This would leave them with room to sign Damon Harrison and Bilal Powell plus have money for draft picks.

    Then you cut vets that don’t fit or are under performing (Cumberland, Kerley, perhaps Breno). Then you see what Ivory gets offered on the open market. If it’s something out of your range then you look to replace. If it’s reasonable you can bring him back too. They’re also going to bring Erin Henderson and Jamari Lattimore back at inside linebacker at reasonable contracts.

    In the first couple rounds they can draft OT, Pass rush, RB (depending on what happens with Powell/Ivory).

    Now you’ve brought the core of the team back. The young defensive core all has a chance to grow together for another offseason (Pryor, Sheldon, Mo, Snacks, Williams, Mauldin). Plus vets like Revis, Gilchrist, Skrine, Harris.

  • McGeorge

    1. Damon Harrison wants top dollar, so I don’t think it makes sense to retain him.

    2. I’d like to keep Wilkerson, but there is some concern he’d slack off a little with a big contract. The big question is how much he wants. If it’s Suh or JJ Watt money, then no way.

    3. Ivory is very good, but gets hurt, and is older (28 next month). I’d like to keep him, but he needs to earn all he can as he has just 2-3 years left.

    4. I probably would try and keep Bilal Powel, if the price is reasonable.

    5. renegotiate with Dbrick, to lower his salary. Cut him if you have a reasonable replacement. Don’t cut him to save a little if the replacement is terrible, like Wayne Hunter was.

    6. Depending on the price, I’d prefer to keep Fitzpatrick. Geno Smith and Mark Sanchez were a waste of 6 years. They were not an enjoyable team to watch, even if they won. Fitzpatrick may be so-so, but he’s better than what they had before. Bryce Petty wont be ready, and neither will a QB they draft. Keep Fitzpatrick unless you want to tank, the start Geno Smith, and draft a QB in 2017.

  • PackMaster

    The Jets have ~22 mil in cap space. They have over 36 mil after releasing Giacomini, Cumberland, and Ferguson. They sign Wilkerson for ~13 mil, Fitzpatrick for ~9 mil, and Harrison for ~5 mil and they still have over 10 mil left. The franchise tag is also a big probability with Wilkerson (~15 mil) coming off injury. Bringing back their top 3 FAs is probable but leaves them little resources to address their weak o-line and linebackers.

  • Phil

    Couple Thoughts..
    1) Mo Wilkerson is underrated as a player IMO. Forget the stats and rankings, this isn’t baseball. Just turn on the Jets game every week for the last few years and you know Wilkerson is a beast. You cannot let him walk and I would not trade him. Just sign the man already.

    2) I’d bring back Ivory on a team friendly contract with little guaranteed money, but also wouldn’t be devastated if he walked. Better to let a RB go 1 year too early than a year too late.

    3) Richardson is a tough call. He’s great against the run but basically a 2 down guy. Would love to have him back but their cap situation is not great.

  • Jose Duarte

    dont sign fitz please!draft a qb or see what san diego wants for the number 3 to get geoff or wentz or another top qb or if not draft prescott!

  • Geno

    Agreed! Fans don’t want to hear analysis and why his stats ballooned but, this article didn’t even touch on last years Schedule melting and not beating a Good D all year.

  • Rariii

    Perfectly ok with letting Fitzpatrick walk if he demands anything near the deal Bradford just signed with the Eagles.