The New York Jets had one of the best defenses in football last season, but free agency has already taken a chunk out of their interior talent.
New York lost two defensive tackles Wednesday afternoon with defensive tackles Nathan Shepherd and Sheldon Rankins both signing free-agent deals with other teams. Shepherd agreed to a three-year, $15 million deal with the New Orleans Saints while Rankins agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million deal with the Houston Texans.
Rankins was a key member of the Jets’ defense last year that ranked in the top five in key categories. In 15 games with New York last season, the 28-year-old tallied three sacks and a fumble forced. Shepherd, on the other hand, recorded a sack and a half in three starts last season. A 2018 third-round pick out of Fort Hays St., Shepherd graded out at an elite 68.9 by Pro Football Focus.
The loss of Shepherd and Rankins leaves the Jets very thin at the defensive tackle position. Currently, Gang Green only had Quinnen Williams and Tanzel Smart as the only defensive tackles on the depth chart under contract. Williams is currently in the process of pushing for a contract extension as he enters the final year of his rookie deal.
New York has been busy trying to finish the deal that would make quarterback Aaron Rodgers a Jet but has taken losses in free agency to start. Add in the potential free agent loss of Soloman Thomas, and New York could be looking at a very thin position group entering the second wave of free agency.
There are several names to keep an eye on for New York to replace Rankins and Shepherd. Fletcher Cox is 32 years old but has experience with Joe Douglas from their Eagle days together. Other names like Shelby Harris, Michael Brockers, and Jerry Tilery could also be in the mix.
Replacing aging veterans is sometimes a blessing in disguise. For a team like the Jets who rely on interior pressure and stout run-defending, the loss of Rankins and Shepherd won’t be easily replaced as the new league year kicks off.