Outside of a pure pass rusher, the greatest defensive weakness for the New York Jets entering this off season is at the inside linebacker spot. The Jets finished the 2015 campaign platooning the aging David Harris with fellow veterans Erin Henderson and Demario Davis. With Davis and Henderson both scheduled to become free agents, all signs pointed to Gang Green letting Davis walk and making a concerted effort to resign Henderson, who had expressed interest in returning to New York.
Recent developments out of Los Angeles, may have thrown a wrench into this plan. In a salary dumping move, the Los Angeles Rams released several veterans who were at the core of their team for the last few years. Most interesting of these, at least from the Jets perspective, is inside linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Drafted out of Ohio State in the second round of the 2009 draft, Lauranitis was a workhorse for the Rams during his time in St. Louis. In his six seasons, he started every single game, amassing 852 tackles and 10 interceptions. He also showed remarkable consistency, amassing at least 100 tackles every one of his seasons. Laurinaitis showed himself to be a versatile sideline-to-sideline defender for the Rams, who could attack downhill and stop the run and had the speed drop back into pass coverage when needed.
The NY Jets desperately need an inside linebacker who can cover running backs and tight ends in the pass game. They were repeatedly exposed this past season when teams were able to isolate a running back on inside linebackers Harris and Davis. This was a problem especially when the Jets blitzed, something that is a staple of head coach Todd Bowles’s defensive strategy. Henderson began to see a dramatic increase in playing time as the season went on due to his ability to match up with skill players in the pass game and he was generally more consistent on the field. It is for this reason that the consensus in the Jets front office seems to be letting the young Davis walk while bringing back the 29-year-old Henderson.
If the NY Jets can make it work with their cap situation, pursuing Laurinaitis is a move that makes a lot of sense. Moving Laurinaitis from playing in the middle in a 4-3 system to an inside linebacker in the Jets’ 3-4 would take pressure off of him, and the strong Jets d-line would occupy blockers and allow him to run free, without having to fight off linemen climbing to the second level on run plays. In addition, adding Laurinaitis would allow the Jets to take Harris off the field in obvious passing downs, and instead opt to play with Laurinaitis and Henderson, two linebackers who are much more adept at defending against the pass. Laurinaitis has also shown greater production historically than either Davis or Henderson. If the price is right, the New York Jets should do everything in their power to sign James Laurinaitis.