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NY Jets should seek a reunion with newly released defender

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By: Michael Nania

Reuniting with Foley Fatukasi could make a lot of sense for the New York Jets

According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the Jacksonville Jaguars released defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi this afternoon.

Fatukasi, who turned 29 today, is a former Jets draft pick. He was taken by his hometown team in the sixth round of the 2018 draft. The Queens native played four seasons with the Jets and developed into one of the league’s best run-stopping defensive tackles. His ascension culminated in a three-year, $30 million contract with Jacksonville in 2022.

For multiple reasons, the Jets should be intrigued by the idea of exploring a reunion with Fatukasi. First and foremost, the Jets simply do not have any defensive tackle depth on their roster, so it is necessary to make some additions to the position group.

Quinnen Williams is the Jets’ only defensive tackle under contract for the 2024 season (excluding reserve/future deals). While the Jets seem likely to try and re-sign Quinton Jefferson and Solomon Thomas, they are free to sign with any team and therefore not guaranteed to return. Both players could find new homes if they are paid handsomely enough, especially with the Jets likely planning to focus their resources on the offensive side of the ball.

Even if the Jets do re-sign both Jefferson and Thomas, they would still need a fourth defensive tackle to fill out the four-man rotation they have typically utilized under Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich. And Fatukasi is an excellent fit to fill that spot.

In 2023, the Jets relied on Al Woods as their fourth defensive tackle and run-stopping specialist. Woods is unlikely to return as he is soon to turn 37 years old and will be coming off an Achilles injury. The Jets need someone who specializes in run defense to fill Woods’ shoes, and Fatukasi is capable of doing that.

Despite his release, Fatukasi continued to post strong numbers against the run in 2023. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked 12th out of 102 qualified defensive tackles (min. 150 run defense snaps) in run-stop rate at 10.5%. Fatukasi was also an efficient finisher, as his run-game missed tackle rate of 3.3% was 11th-lowest. On-off data supported Fatukasi’s impact, too, as the Jaguars allowed 3.9 yards per rush attempt when he was on the field versus 4.4 when he was off.

If the data is painting the right picture, it seems the Jaguars’ decision to release Fatukasi was more about the finances than his performance. Jacksonville doesn’t have an immense amount of cap space ($25.7M, per Spotrac, ranked 18th) and is likely preparing to hand a lucrative contract to free agent edge rusher Josh Allen. Trevor Lawrence’s new contract is also likely coming up at some point in the near future. It’s understandable if they didn’t think $3.5 million was worth it for a run-stuffer in today’s passing league.

So, Fatukasi’s abilities against the run make him an ideal fit to assume Woods’ role as the Jets’ resident run-stuffer in the defensive tackle rotation. In addition, I think it’s worth mentioning that he would be an upgrade in the passing game.

I’ve written a few times about how Woods was a puzzling fit in the Jets’ aggressive, pass-rush-centric defense due to his total lack of impact as a pass rusher, and that the Jets should try to replace him with someone who can match the run defense while being a little more effective in the run game. Fatukasi fits the bill. He gives you more juice in that phase.

Woods had two pressures on 66 pass-rush snaps (3.0% pressure rate) in 2023. Fatukasi was more than twice as efficient, recording 16 pressures on 223 pass-rush snaps (7.2% pressure rate). The Jets wouldn’t sacrifice nearly as much pass-rush production when placing Fatukasi on the field.

With the Jets needing bodies at defensive tackle, adding Fatukasi would make a lot of sense for the right price. Obviously, the Jets will not be going overboard to sign a run-stuffing defensive tackle, but after Jacksonville elected to release Fatukasi for $3.5 million in savings, it would be surprising if he earned more than that number on the open market. Bringing in Fatukasi for $2-3 million would be a smart move for the Jets.

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Originally posted on Jets XFactor