When it comes to free agency for the Jets, one idea that I have recently seen gain traction is that the Jets already have two defensive ends to replace Muhammad Wilkerson in Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams. What they don't have is another nose tackle to replace Damon Harrison. This rests in the idea that the Jets play a 3-4 defense.
I find myself disagreeing with this argument quite a bit. Mainly it's because I think it is a misnomer to call the Jets a 3-4 defense. Todd Bowles is an adaptable defensive schemer, and he has shown himself capable of adjusting his fronts. He seems to scheme according to the opponent, situation, and talent at his disposal. Bowles is not alone. NFL defenses have grown in complexity to the point where calling a defense a 4-3 or a 3-4 is too simplistic in most cases.
Just take a look at this. Here are various random shots of defensive fronts I found in a few minutes scanning a few games the Jets played.
These are four man lines with Wilkerson at defensive end in all of them. Harrison is a tackle in most of them. Now if Harrison was to leave, you likely would see more fronts like this.
This was a four man line where Wilkerson has slid inside to tackle. Now Lorenzo Mauldin entered at defensive end with Harrison off the field.
I think this is one outline of why Wilkerson is going to be paid more money and why he should be the greater priority. He is the type of player who defies positional labeling. He is a dynamic force who can be moved all over the defense and win his assignments.
It is not that Harrison lacks value. He is a very good player. The Jets are a better team with him than without him. It is that losing Snacks will be easier to overcome than losing Wilkerson. Again, Wilkerson is a dynamic force. So is Leonard Williams, who is the other tackle in this shot. So is Sheldon Richardson. Sure, Harrison is a top notch run defender, but can you tell me you expect the run defense to suffer with two of the three of Wilkerson, Richardson, and Williams playing at tackle in place of Harrison? Is this not going to be a great run defense?
Those three probably have the athleticism to have success off the edge, but all three are going to be most disruptive inside against overwhelmed guards and centers. A guy like Mauldin profiles as more of a prototypical edge rusher. The Jets might have more success giving somebody like him more playing time. Meanwhile replacing Snacks with one of the big guys would certainly add a boost to the pass rush without giving up a whole lot in the run game. If you lose Wilkerson, dropping 12 sacks certainly is going to hurt the pass rush.
It is not that Damon Harrison is a bad player. He is a terrific player. He just might not be as valuable to the Jets as he is most teams because of the tremendous talent on this defensive line. That includes Wilkerson.