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Should The New York Jets Bring Veteran Inside Linebacker David Harris Back Next Year?

This is an article I have been meaning to publish for a while now, but I haven't been able to come to a conclusion. At first that prevented me from writing this, but now it encourages me. I want to hear what Jet Nation feels as a whole.

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David Harris is set to become a free agent when his contract expires following the 2014 NFL season. We drafted Harris in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft and he has been with us ever since. He has accumulated 876 tackles, 28 sacks, 6 interceptions and 8 forced fumbles in 8 years with the Jets. When the 2015 season starts, he will be 31 years of age. Should we make the effort to re-sign Harris?

Harris has been a very good Jet, he's been solid without being spectacular, but you need solid players. He has excelled against the run and been exposed against the pass. This year he has been rated as the 29th best inside linebacker out of 60 players who have played at least 25% of the snaps for their respective teams. I'm sure you'll agree that's about right, he's not elite but he's not a liability either, he is in statistical terms, slap bang average.

He's been productive enough, 79 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 QB hits and 4 QB hurries. In coverage he has struggled, allowing 33 receptions on 40 targets for a 82.5% completion percentage and missing a reasonable 5 tackles throughout the season. In short he has been a good linebacker, a great servant to the team and a player who's done all he can for the team and community.

However here is the problem for me.

His partner in crime Demario Davis has made a really positive step this year being rated as the 15th best inside linebacker by PFF. He has a +8.0 rating when playing the run and with 3 sacks, 1 QB hit and 7 hurries he is quickly becoming a very good inside presence for the Jets. He's not Ray Lewis by any stretch of the imagination, however he'll be entering his 4th year next year and that's where you'd want to see him take the next step to becoming one of the very best players at his position.

Here is the problem. Both David Harris and Demario Davis struggle against the pass. While Davis is allowing a lower completion percentage into his coverage at 75.9% he has given up 431 yards including 278 yards after the catch. He has managed to defend a couple of passes unlike Harris but both of them are shown up when being asked to run in coverage with slot receivers, tight ends or running backs.

In today's NFL, you can not have two linebackers who struggle against the pass. You just can't. You'll be exposed all day if your linebackers can't cover. Now this is where you need to make a hard decision.

Demario Davis is rated significantly higher against the run than David Harris. In terms of pass rush, they are very similar and against the pass they both struggle. David Harris is 31 and out of contract, and Demario Davis is 25 and under contract for one more year at a reasonable $854,490. Due to his improvement, you'd want to re-sign Davis to a multi-year deal, but you'll need to pair him with a linebacker who excels in coverage. Inside linebackers need to compliment each other as much as possible. Harris and Davis do the same things well and struggle in the same areas.

Right now, I'm leaning towards letting David Harris walk. We have so many weaknesses in this team, we'll need to attribute a lot of money to other positions, do we want to re-sign David Harris even though he doesn't really work with Davis? Do we sign him and roll with the inside linebackers because we have other areas to worry about, and creating another hole would be counter-productive? This is a very difficult decision.

The question then becomes who do you sign as his replacement? Do you try and get Brandon Spikes who will be a free agent? He's 27 and coming off a very good year but again, he's much better in run support than he is in coverage. Mason Foster is worse than Harris and so is Rey Maualuga. Jamari Lattimore? He's very poor against the pass. Personally I don't see many options in free agency, Brandon Spikes is a better player than David Harris in my opinion but he's also poor against the pass.

Which means you need to look to the draft and hope that you can find a player to contribute from year one, and find someone who can excel in coverage. There is no Luke Kuechly in this years draft, Kuechly is widely considered the best coverage linebacker in the league.

In my mind, this is a tough decision for several reasons:

  • There being no really good alternatives in free agency
  • There being no real elite inside linebackers in the draft.
  • David Harris's service to the Jets over the last 8 years.
  • Us having more pressing needs than replacing the ILB.

I'm still on the fence. If there was a good alternative, I'd be in favour of moving on to improve the team. I just don't see us finding that alternative right now, however should that mean committing to a player who's about to turn 31 long term? Big question. It will also depend if we stay in a 3-4 or move to a 4-3? However we won't know that until the new staff is in place.