One of Rex Ryan's favorite players last season was Calvin Pace, who enjoyed perhaps his best season (career-high 10 sacks) after spending part of the offseason on the NFL's scrap heap (cut and re-signed by the New York Jets). He did it at the age of 33, admitting that getting fired for the first time was a humbling experience that steeled his motivation.
He also happened to be incredibly fortunate, in a right-place, right-time kind of way.
An in-depth breakdown of Pace's 10 sacks reveals that he caught some breaks and benefited greatly from excellent pass coverage. Consider: Six of the 10 sacks occurred when the quarterback held the ball for at least 4.0 seconds, unofficially -- i.e. a coverage sack. Another 1.5 sacks came when he was unblocked -- blown blocking assignments by the offense.
In other words, that 10-sack total is a bit deceiving.
Pace was the first to admit during the season that he benefited from being surrounded by young, talented pass-rushers such as Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Sheldon Richardson. Instead of being the No. 1 or No. 2 pass-rusher, drawing extra attention from the opponent, Pace thrived in a complementary role. Indeed, six of his 10 sacks happened while the quarterback -- under pressure -- was stepping up and/or attempting the escape the pocket, according to a video breakdown of the plays. Pace became the clean-up guy, the finisher.
To his credit, Pace's sacks came at opportune times. In fact, eight of the 10 sacks came in Jets' territory, including two in the red zone.
Now Pace is due to become an unrestricted free agent March 11, and you can bet he's looking for more than the $1 million he made last season on a one-year contract. No doubt, he has earned more leverage, but the Jets have to be careful not to overpay for a player who will be 34 at midseason. Pace said at the end of the season that he wants to return, especially with Ryan staying on, but every man has a price. If Pace prices himself out of the job, the Jets will turn elsewhere.
Either way, the Jets need to look for a strongside linebacker in the draft. It doesn't have to be in the first or second round, but they could use another edge player to put opposite Coples, the rush linebacker in Ryan's 3-4 base scheme. There isn't an heir apparent on the roster, so it would behoove them to use the draft to find their 2015 starter.