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Vilma, Jenkins, Faneca — Busy day for the Jets

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 29, 2008

Rare double post today, but I thought these moves deserve some attention. Let's start with Vilma.

According to the New York Times, the Jets received a 2009 4th round pick from the Saints, that could become a third round pick if Vilma reaches certain incentives. In general, the cost of a pick in round X this year is a pick in round X-1 next year; so you could look at this as if it's really a 2008 4th or 5th round pick -- in other words, not very much. Vilma was the defensive rookie of the year in 2004 and made the Pro Bowl in 2005, but has obviously seen his stock drop since then. He underachieved in 2006 and played poorly last year before suffering a season ending knee injury. It's unclear if Vilma will ever return to form, and there's been speculation that it will be two years before Vilma is at full speed -- and who knows exactly what that means for him anymore. Considering he's in the last year of his contract, he certainly wasn't going to command a lot in the trade market.

Nearly everyone blames Vilma's failures in '06 and '07 on the 3-4 defense Eric Mangini installed. I'm not convinced that's accurate, though.

Ray Lewis was a monster his second year in the 3-4, and we all know the success Tedy Bruschi, James Farrior and Donnie Edwards have had in the 3-4 alignment. If you've got solid playmakers around you, the 3-4 doesn't inhibit a linebacker from making plays any more than a 4-3 set does. Vilma's problem was when the Jets lost John Abraham in the 2006 off-season, and the drop in play by Shaun Ellis and Dewayne Robertson, 4-3 players unequipped to eat up blockers as 3-4 defensive lineman. Losing Ty Law didn't help, either. Vilma suddenly become the only star on the defense, and an offense can always gameplan around one linebacker. Abraham commanded double teams, while Ellis and Robertson were above average players at DE and DT, respectively. Vilma was able to roam free and be a playmaker, something he couldn't do after the personnel changes.

Which Vilma will we see in 2008 for the Saints? It will depend on how his rehab is going (early word is that it's going "okay") and the help he gets around him. I think the Saints were wise to take a chance on Vilma, and it won't cost New Orleans much if he doesn't play well. For the Jets, it's a sad way to lose a player that was dominant just three years ago. But Tannenbaum got the best he could for a player who might be two years away from being healthy and has one year left on his contract. Considering how David Harris (the rookie replacement) outplayed Vilma last year, the Jets shouldn't worry much about how Vilma's loss effects the 2008 defense. New York allowed 27.4 PPG when Vilma played last year, and 18.1 PPG in the other nine games.

Kris Jenkins may not be a household name, but he was an All Pro defensive tackle in 2002 and 2003. Jenkins certainly benefited from playing alongside Mike Rucker (double digit sacks both years) and Julius Peppers, along with Brentson Buckner. Those Panthers teams had a terrific defensive line. Here's what my Panthers friend told me about Jenkins:

Tale of two Jenkins...did you guys get the best DL Carolina had last year and who finally looked motivated....or did you get the Jenkins that shows up to camp overweight and has an alcohol problem? He definitely wanted out of Carolina so that may bode well for the Jets. The Jenkins from years 2 and 3 of his career is probably one of the top 3 DTs in the league. At 28 years old he should still have gas in the tank.

I think he was marginally better in '07 than '06 because he showed flashes of being dominant again. I think he's recovered from his injuries. His problem is that he always comes to camp out of shape and overweight. Reports were circulating last year that he was at 360 at the start of camp. I can't recall for sure, but I think he missed a lot of the off-season workouts and mini-camps. Hopefully for the Jets sake he won't be spending that huge bonus on Doritos and Budweiser.

That last line refers to the nice five-year, $35M contract extension Jenkins just received, with $20M of that guaranteed. Considering what Tommy Kelly got yesterday -- $50.5M over 7 years -- I think football fans just have to accept that the cost of defensive tackles is enormous and just leave it at that.

The big worry for the Jets should be Jenkins' ability to play at nose tackle, because he defensive tackle for the Panthers. The Jets might not care too much if Jenkins shows up overweight, as New York has desperately needed a big body in the middle of the defensive line since Mangini arrived. Ultimately, I think the success of the Jets defense -- and maybe the entire team in 2008 -- will depend on what Mangini can get out of Jenkins. If he can be a Pro Bowl nose tackle, the Jets should be right in the thick of the playoffs hunt again. New York could sport one of the best defenses in the league if they add Vernon Gholston or Chris Long in the draft. If Jenkins underachieves, and doesn't have the stamina to excel at nose tackle, New York will be back where they started three years ago. The Jets lost a 3rd and a 5th round pick, no small amount when you consider the big contract extension on top of that. But Jenkins has the ability to be a difference maker, and big, athletic interior lineman in their 20s are very difficult to come by. Jenkins and Shaun Rogers (also traded for a 3rd and a 5th round pick, today) were the only two available this off-season (and there are no elite nose tackles in the draft), and I think the Jets got the better one of the two. It's a risky move, but I'm glad Mangini and Tannenbaum decided to take a chance on a player with elite potential.

And then there's Alan Faneca. Reports are confirming now that the Jets and Faneca agreed to a four year, $32M contract, with about $23M guaranteed. The deal might not be official until tomorrow, but this might be the biggest news of the day for Jets fans. Faneca has been an All Pro and Pro Bowl lineman for each of the last seven years. Obviously guards like this don't become available very often, and the Jets signed the 31-year old ex-Steeler to a pretty reasonable deal. Faneca will replace the turnstile that replaced Pete Kendall in 2007, which was the biggest weakness on the team last year. Placing Faneca between D'Brickashaw Ferguson (who has underachieved so far) and Nick Mangold (who has played well to date) gives New York a chance to have a terrific left side of the line. The loss of Kendall was enormous in 2006, and his awful replacements are largely responsible for why New York allowed 34 sacks in 2006 and 53 sacks in 2007. Adrien Clarke was the starter last year, and was among the worst lineman in the league. Placing an All Pro lineman immediately jumps the Jets offensive line from a glaring weakness to a possible strength. If he plays like he has the last seven years, he's that good.

The Jets have taken some chances today, and handed out a lot of money. It should be a very interesting 2008 season.