Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
Having been named as the interim general manager on Wednesday, Adam Gase wasted no time before making his first splash. Later that same day, the Jets announced that former first-round linebacker Darron Lee had been traded to the Kansas City Chiefs for a sixth-round pick in next year's draft.
There's been plenty of speculation as to whether Lee's roster status was a bone of contention in the rift between Gase and the outgoing general manager Mike Maccagnan and how much input defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had in the decision. However, rumors had been rife that the Jets were likely to part ways with Lee ever since they signed CJ Mosley in free agency.
Whatever the reasons behind the move, the Jets must now plan ahead for a 2019 campaign without Lee on the team. Let's investigate what his role would have been had he remained with the team and how the team will approach replacing his contributions.
Ostensibly, the situation is straightforward. Mosley comes in as a full-time starter, relegating Lee to a bench role. The Jets would be confident they could find someone else to play a reserve role. For example, they could use Neville Hewitt, who started in place of Lee during his suspension at the end of last year, in the same role.
However, it's not quite that simple. Mosley isn't a direct replacement for Lee, as he's going to be the Mike linebacker. That was the role Avery Williamson was in last season. This move will therefore require Williamson to move into Lee's old role at the Will linebacker position.
During the offseason, Williamson downplayed the transition, noting that there is some interchangeability between the two roles and that he had played the Will role earlier on in his career with the Titans. The Jets are taking a gamble if they are going to count on Williamson to be effective in this role full-time though, as there will be additional man coverage responsibilities.
Williamson's coverage wasn't bad last year, with most of his errors being caused by communication issues that the Jets hope to eradicate with Mosley taking over the defensive play-calling. However, Williamson played a limited role and when required to cover over an extended range, he was exploited a few times.
Lee is more athletic than Williamson, who may have bulked up to play the Mike role and therefore might now be required to cut weight to be as efficient as possible in his new role.
In his final year with the Titans, they tweaked Williamson's role so that he often came out of the game in passing situations and he responded with the most efficient season of his career to that point. Had the Jets retained Lee, this would have been an option with Lee entering the game in a coverage role. That was where Lee was at his best last season and would have optimized Williamson's skillset by ensuring he is in the game to defend against the run.
Should Williamson struggle in coverage, that would be a concern now that the Jets no longer have the luxury of being able to use Lee in that role. Hewitt likely isn't viewed as an upgrade in that role because when he was starting last year, the Jets often took him out for Kevin Pierre-Louis on passing downs.
Longer term, the Jets might be banking on rookie Blake Cashman to develop into a specialist role as a coverage linebacker. While it might be premature to lean on the youngster in his rookie season, he appears to have the athletic ability to play the role and moves fluidly in coverage having previously been a cornerback into his senior year of high school.
Lee's move to Kansas City gives the 24-year old a good opportunity to reboot his career.
Being ousted could prove to be the wake-up call that enables him to finally realize his potential. Should that happen, Jets fans are sure to experience some buyer's remorse. However, if Mosley proves to be the upgrade the Jets expect and Williamson and Cashman can contribute as hoped, this will soften the blow.
Ultimately, Lee was a disappointing pick who just about seemed to be figuring things out last year, only to then find himself suspended for the last four games. It's hardly surprising the Jets organization no longer viewed Lee as someone they could rely on after that. However, with the trade compensation they received being so underwhelming, they might find themselves wondering if they perhaps should have just retained him.