The goals of the NFL preseason are simple. Teams want to get a look at the back end of the roster to see who should make the team, get the starters a few reps before Week 1, and, above all else, keep everyone healthy. The New York Jets are not having a good preseason in that last category. Major offseason free-agent signing defensive end Carl Lawson is the biggest name to go down as he is now out for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
With this massive injury loss, the Jets are now scrambling. To help fill the defensive hole left by Lawson, the team just traded for a familiar face who’s played in the AFC East for both the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins.
Carl Lawson is one of several New York Jets injuries on the defensive side of the ball
In need of more pass-rushing help in 2021, the New York Jets went out and signed one of the best available defensive ends on the market.
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted the 6-foot-2, 265-pound Lawson out of Auburn in 2017. In his rookie campaign, he put up 8.5 sacks and now has 20.0 in his career. The versatile DE also has 81 tackles, two forced fumbles, and 83 QB hits in his first four seasons in the NFL.
This production earned the 26-year-old a three-year, $45 million contract with $30 million guaranteed. While there is no denying Lawson’s talent, this isn’t his first significant injury. In college, he tore his left ACL, and in 2018 with the Bengals, he tore the other ACL, per ESPN.
Adding to the Jets’ injury concerns, Safety Zane Lewis went out for the season as well in camp, tearing his patella tendon and spraining his MCL. Additionally, according to ESPN’s Jets’ injury report, the team expects starting linebacker Jarrad Davis to be out until Week 6.
Also, in the last week or so, there have been injuries on the defensive side to DE Ronald Blair (questionable, hamstring), DE Vinny Curry (out for season with blood disorder), CB Corey Ballentine (IR, knee), and CB Brandin Echols (questionable, shoulder).
This rash of injuries led the Jets to make a major move and trade for an old division foe to help stem the tide.
The Jets traded for former AFC East rival Shaq Lawson
Shaq Lawson (no relation to Carl) played his college ball at Clemson before the Bills took him in the first round (No. 19) of the 2016 NFL Draft. During his four seasons in Orchard Park, Lawson racked up 16.5 sacks, 63 tackles, 38 QB hits, and five forced fumbles.
The Bills declined to pick up his fifth-year option. The team had veterans like Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy in place and signed Mario Addison that offseason. The Dolphins liked Shaq’s potential and signed the then-25-year-old to a three-year, $30 million free-agent deal.
In Miami, Shaq was relatively productive (4.0 sacks, 32 tackles, one forced fumble) but didn’t quite live up to his $10 million-a-season contract. The ‘Phins traded the DE, the $10.4 million left on his contract, and a 2021 sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans for a 2021 seventh-round pick.
After just one offseason program in the Lone Star State, the Texans shipped Shaq to the Jets for a 2022 sixth-round pick, per CBS Sports. Financially, the deal isn’t as tough as it seems. The former Clemson Tiger will only make $1.4 million this season and, if he doesn’t perform, New York can cut him and his $9 million 2022 salary without taking on any dead cap.
First-year head coach Robert Saleh has his work cut out for him
Former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh got the Jets head coaching job based on his reputation as a defensive coach. He brought his 4-3 defense to New York, a team that has long run a 3-4 defense.
In implementing the new scheme, defensive end pass-rushers, like Carl Lawson, are essential. And, prior to the injury, Carl and the defensive unit looked good running the new formation. The system is predicated on a strong, four-man pass rush, as opposed to more blitz-heavy 3-4 schemes.
If the D-line can’t pressure opposing quarterbacks, it could expose the Jets’ young secondary. The team’s top four cornerbacks have a combined five years of NFL experience. However, they are backed up by veteran safeties Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner. Promising second-year safety Ashtyn Davis will likely replace Joyner, though, when he returns from injury in the first few weeks of the season.
The Shaq Lawson trade is a last-ditch effort by Saleh and the Jets to keep the team’s QB pressure hopes alive in 2021. If Shaq can step in and provide a reasonable facsimile to the production the team expected from Carl, the Jets D has a chance to be good and carry the young offense when it struggles.
If Shaq isn’t the answer upfront, it will be a long season for the entire New York Jets organization, and they may even be in the running once again for a top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.