Adding Haason Reddick gives Jets defensive closer they covet

ByRich Cimini ESPN logo
Sunday, March 31, 2024

A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Loaded D: Coach Robert Saleh gushed so much about Bryce Huff at the NFL annual meetings that it made you wonder why the Jets let him out of the building. He actually compared Huff to a sports icon, saying, "[He] closes games. People want to say that all he does is rush the passer, but all Mariano Rivera did was close ninth innings."

Saleh, who needs pass-rushers for his defense almost as much as he needs oxygen, seemed to be sending a message to the front office.

General manager Joe Douglas responded Friday, delivering Haason Reddick -- a prolific closer. In 2022 and 2023, he led the NFL with 12.5 sacks in the fourth quarter (Huff recorded five, but he had only 124 pass rushes, compared to Reddick's 304).

The Jets' defense, already formidable on all three levels, has a chance to be downright nasty. Huff was a big loss because of his age (25) and rising production, coming off a career year (10 sacks), but Reddick exceeds that on an annual basis. He averaged 12.5 sacks over the last four seasons.

Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Klecko, who attended Reddick's alma mater (Temple) and knows a thing or two about sacks, lauded the addition.

"He's a player-and-a-half," Klecko told ESPN. "I don't care how good they were on defense last year; it wasn't good enough. Reddick makes them a much better football team. The opposite of a great quarterback is having great guys to put the quarterback down. That's how the NFL works. This is a big deal. I love it."

There's a lot to like about Reddick. He's an every-down player (74% play time last season). He's durable (only one game missed in seven years). He's versatile, meaning he can stand up and play linebacker. That could allow them to disguise their fronts.

The Jets, who finished third in yards allowed and 12th in scoring, did a nice job of keeping what they had. They retained defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, who was courted by the San Francisco 49ers. They kept linebacker and captain C.J. Mosley, who re-worked his contract. The big loss was Huff, but they responded Friday by trading with the Philadelphia Eagles, Huff's new team.

It cost the Jets a conditional 2026 third-round pick, which improves to a second-rounder if he plays 67.5% of the snaps and records 10 sacks in 2024, the final year of his contract. Know this: It's unlikely that he reaches the playing-time threshold. The Jets rotate so many players that none of their edge rushers exceeded 65% last season.

The defense is predicated on generating pressure with the front four, and the Jets have six former first-round picks -- Reddick, Quinnen Williams, Jermaine Johnson, Javon Kinlaw, Solomon Thomas andWill McDonald IV. They also have the reliable John Franklin-Myers, although he could be the odd-man out. His roster spot is vulnerable because of a $16.4 million cap charge.

2. Pick for sale? There's always a lot of smoke when it comes to the draft, and it certainly sounded a bit ... well, smoky, when Douglas hinted this week that the Jets could consider a quarterback with the 10th pick.

While the Jets need a young quarterback in their pipeline, assuming Zach Wilson is a goner, the idea of them drafting one that high seems unlikely. Yes, the future is important, but they need a player who can help them now and maximize quarterbackAaron Rodgers' window. He turns 41 in December.

What they'd really like is a trade proposal from a quarterback-needy team, which would allow them to acquire a top-100 pick. A handful of teams behind them, most notably the Minnesota Vikings (11th), Denver Broncos (12th) and Las Vegas Raiders (13th), might be motivated to move up.

It probably will be contingent on the availability of a top quarterback --Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye or J.J. McCarthy. Problem is, it's unlikely that one of them will slip to 10. The Jets needBo Nixto get so hot that a team wants to jump the crowd for him. A team also may covet the Jets' pick as part of a leapfrog plan to a higher spot.

Ideally, they would like to get a second-round pick to replace the one they sent to the Green Bay Packers in the Rodgers trade, but they would have to drop more than three spots to acquire a pick that high. Chances are, it would have to be a third-rounder in return, but at least that would give them two picks in the top 100. Right now, they have only two -- Nos. 10 and 72.

The Jets' work in free agency -- specifically, the acquisition of tackles Tyron Smith and Morgan Moses -- "opens the door to a lot of possibilities at 10," Douglas said at the annual league meetings in Orlando, Florida, earlier this week.

Asked whether one of those options might be a quarterback, Douglas said, "I'm not going to get into whether we're going to take a quarterback at 10 or not. I think I left the door open in terms of we've got a lot of flexibility. If there's a player that we feel helps the Jets, we have the flexibility to do that."

3. Think big: The draft includes "an unbelievable O-line class," according to Douglas, who also said it's "unbelievable at quite a few positions."

Some NFL types who know Douglas say they would be surprised if he passes on a top-notch lineman, knowing Smith and Moses are both 33 and both will be free agents in 2025. Smith's injury history also is a factor.

The consequences could be dire for Douglas (and everybody) if another season is undermined by line injuries.

4. AVT at RG: This became apparent after the first wave of free agency, but Alijah Vera-Tucker is locked in at right guard, Saleh confirmed. Vera-Tucker (Achilles) is expected to be ready for Week 1. They must make a decision on his fifth-year option by May 2.

5. Different pages? Owner Woody Johnson raised eyebrows in February when he said the defensive-minded Saleh will "concentrate on offense" in 2024. In Orlando, Saleh was asked for the first time about Johnson's comments. He didn't exactly echo that sentiment.

"It's no different," he said. "I work with all three phases. I separate my day to make sure that I'm in all those meetings to work with the defense, work with special teams and work with offense. You guys can perceive that one how you guys want to, I guess."


Johnson is hellbent on improving an offense that has ranked in the bottom four in scoring for five straight seasons, which he reiterated to reporters in Orlando. Johnson said he's "pretty impressed" with their free agent moves, claiming the team is "definitely better."

After three straight losing seasons, Saleh is under immense pressure to deliver.

6. Still looking: The Jets have added nine new players, and they still have work to do. They're looking to add at safety, running back (depth) and, possibly, wide receiver.

7. Coach Carter: Saleh offered an interesting take on offensive line coach Keith Carter, whose aggressive style chafed some players in his first season with the Jets. One of his former players with the Tennessee Titans, Taylor Lewan, also has been critical of Carter.

Saleh acknowledged that Carter is a "hard-charging coach," but he insisted he's "a hell of a football coach and sometimes messaging can get lost in tone, and so I know he's working on all that stuff." He said Carter will "continue to grow, not only as a football coach, but as a person."

Some players felt Carter was unnecessarily harsh at times with his critiques. His challenge in 2024 is to galvanize a revamped line that will have three new starters.

8. McCarthy on Smith: One of the challenges will be keeping the freshly-signed Smith on the field. In Dallas, he missed an average of six games per year since 2016 because of injuries, including back and knee issues that flared up last season. When he played, he was terrific, capturing second-team All-Pro honors in 2023.

"He has a lot of football left, I just think he's played a lot of football," Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said in Orlando. "The injury challenges he has, I mean, that speaks for itself. I thought he did an incredible job last year. I thought our plan for him was probably the best that we've had in my time there. ... If he stays healthy, they've got themselves a special player."

Basically, Smith was kept out of live practice drills over the second half of the season. He finished with 13 games played, his highest total since 2019. Saleh said they will communicate with the Cowboys before formulating their own plan.

9. Waiting on Williams: Wide receiver Mike Williams, almost five months removed fromACL surgeryin his left knee, is expected to beginning training camp on the physically unable to perform list. He has "a long way to go" in his rehab, according to Saleh.

Williams' timeline is similar to that of running back Breece Hall, who had ACL surgery in October 2022. Hall made it back for the latter stage of training camp and played in the season opener.

10. All about the money: Johnson sounded adamant about not releasing Wilson, and it's easy to see why -- $5.45 million in guaranteed compensation. That's a lot of money to pay a player to not be on your team.

It's valuable cap space, too, enough to cover their entire draft class. The sense around the league is that the Jets will have to include a draft pick in a trade as an inducement for a team to absorb a chunk, if not the entire salary.

11. Heard around the league meetings: The Jets never pursued tampering charges against the Kansas City Chiefs in relation toMecole Hardman's recent comments, Johnson said. ... Saleh explored the possibility of adding an experienced coach to the offensive staff in an advisory role, but he will stand pat. ... Passing-game coordinator Todd Downing will be the quarterbacks coach, replacing Rob Calabrese, who wasn't retained. Downing already was the primary voice in the QB room. ... There was some surprise that Douglas signed injury-prone players such as Williams and Smith. Douglas defended the moves, saying they have financial protection because the contracts are loaded with playing-time incentives. ... Mosley was lauded by team officials for restructuring his contract, which provided much-needed cap room to sign free agents.

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