By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
Calvin Pace has been a mainstay on the New York Jets roster for the past 8 years, and barring his possible retirement, he should be in the green and white again in 2016, at a reasonable salary of course. Although it is true that his numbers have dropped off the past couple of seasons, Pace provides a passion for the game and the leadership abilities that are essential when in the process of transitioning to a younger linebacking corps.
Before you start talking about how he has lost a step or two, or how his better days are behind him, I am not saying that he should be penciled in as a starter for the 2016 campaign. He still has enough left in the tank to serve in a limited role, while mentoring the developing Lorenzo Mauldin, Trevor Reilly and whatever rookies they bring aboard in the upcoming draft.
It is more than obvious that the team needs to get younger and faster at the OLB position as well as at ILB, but an inexperienced group of unproven players on the outside is not going to flourish overnight. They are far better served with a veteran presence leading the way in their development. If Pace is handed his walking papers by the Jets, the group of OLB’s currently on the roster consists of Mauldin, Reilly and Josh Martin.
While Mauldin, a 2015 3rd round pick out of Louisville, has shined from time to time and has all the tools to eventually develop into a star player in this league, he is still quite raw and has a lot to learn before he becomes a solid starter. He did have 17 total tackles, 4 sacks and a fumble recovery in limited action during his rookie campaign, and the arrow is certainly pointed in the upward direction, but time will tell just how good he can be.
Reilly, a 7th round pick from Utah in 2014, hardly qualifies as a young player, only going into his third season at the age of 28, after serving on a Mormon mission during his college years.
Despite the fact that he has seemed to become a more complete player and has been an asset on special teams, Reilly only appeared on the field for 7.5% of the team’s defensive snaps in 2015. He totaled 16 tackles, a sack and forced fumble in his limited action. A solid contributor on special teams, Reilly has yet to find his niche on the Jets defense.
Heading into his fourth season at the age of 24, the undrafted Josh Martin is already on his third team and has a total of 26 tackles in 21 games played to his NFL resume.
He did accumulate 140 tackles, 17 sacks, 29.5 tackles for loss and five fumble recoveries for Columbia University, but that was along time ago against far weaker competition. It remains to be seen whether or not he can ever be more than a special teams player on the NFL level.
In spite of the fact that there will be an interesting crop of OLB prospects available in the 2016 NFL Draft, there is not much to lose by keeping Pace around for another year at around the veteran minimum rate. With the Jets currently picking 20th in the first round, barring a trade up, some of the more attractive names, such as Ohio State’s Joey Bosa and Clemson’s Shaq Lawson, are likely to go well before they are on the clock.
Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith and Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence may or may not be available to them at pick number 20, but they both come with question marks.
Smith is coming off of a surgery to repair a torn ACL and LCL ligament earlier this month, after a serious knee injury he sustained at the Fiesta Bowl on January 1st.
In addition, Spence, a former Ohio State Buckeye, was banned by the Big Ten for multiple failed drug tests, due to an admitted addiction to the drug, Ecstasy, which led to his transfer to Eastern Kentucky in 2015.
Projected to go anywhere between the 2nd and 4th rounds of the draft, Georgia’s explosive, edge-rushing OLB Jordan Jenkins could be a possibility for the Jets, although he needs a lot of work at shedding blocks in order to excel at the next level and he is a bit of a DE/OLB “tweener.”
There will of course be other options available to them in the middle rounds of the draft, but it still makes sense for the Jets to keep a veteran presence like Calvin Pace around for another year while the younger guys learn the game.
The only way to justify letting Pace walk before the 2016 season is if the Jets can find a capable and younger veteran replacement in free agency. Once again, the pickings will be slim with top free agent Von Miller likely to stay in Denver, and even in the unlikely event that he shakes free, he will probably break the bank with his next contract.
Seahawk’s free agent, Bruce Irvin (28), might be the Jets best option if they are looking to replace Calvin with a solid veteran. The problem with that is with their cap restrictions and the competition expected to be in the market for Irvin, Bruce might be out of the Jet’s price range.
Aldon Smith (26), who played for the Oakland Raiders in 2015 after four seasons with the 49ers, is an extremely talented possibility, but with his myriad off-the-field issues and the fact that he cannot be reinstated from his current suspension until November, it is doubtful that the Jets will look his way. They already have enough problems with the strong possibility of Sheldon Richardson losing a few more games to suspension in 2016.
It is not impossible to fathom that the Jets can find a more youthful veteran, in the second tier of free agency, to take Calvin’s place on the outside. But in the event that they cannot accomplish that, they can do a lot worse than to bring him back for a ninth season with Gang Green.
When he does decide to hang up the cleats, Pace will presumably make a great assistant coach, utilizing his leadership abilities as well as sharing his knowledge and passion for the game with future generations of players.
You can read my article from 2/22/16 on a possible low-cost replacement for Pace in free agency by clicking below:
You can read my article from 2/13/16 on a possible replacement for Pace in the NFL Draft by clicking the following link:
You can read my Jets Pre-Combine Mock Draft article from 2/24/16 by clicking below:
You can read my article from 2/19/16 on NYJetsNews.Com about a few options for the Jets in the 1st Round of NFL Draft by clicking the following link: